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For example what is the rule that says that, "Enough" (ɪˈnʌf) can be pronounced as /ənʌf/ But for "Introduce" (ɪntrəˈdjuːs) the /ɪ/ can't be pronounced as a /ə/?

  • Hmm, I would have said that "enough" had initial vowel /i/, but I see that the major dictionaries agree with you. In any case, I suspect the answer lies in where the syllables break: /ɪˈnʌf/ (syllable break between "i" and "n") versus /ˌɪn·trəˈdus/ (syllable break after "in"). – 1006a May 29 '18 at 21:33
  • The only rule I know about pronouncing English is that one pronounce it so others understand. As to "enough", I have "uh nuff" or "eh nuff" but not "ih nuff". – J. Taylor May 29 '18 at 21:38
  • Accent. Or stress. /ə/ is what happens in unstressed syllables, not in stressed. Also, I don't think you mean 'voiced' (that has a technical meaning when used in pronunciation). – Mitch May 29 '18 at 22:24
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Introduce actually has a secondary stress on the first syllable: /ˌɪntrəˈdjuːs/. Vowel reduction to schwa does not occur in syllables with any kind of stress.

Almost all English words have some kind of lexical stress (either primary or secondary) on either the first or the second syllable ("GIGO", John Wells’s phonetic blog). The second syllable of "introduce" can have a reduced vowel (as indicated by your transcription), which is a hint that the first syllable has secondary stress.

In fully unstressed syllables, reduction to schwa may occur based on complicated rules that differ between accents/dialects. Reduction to schwa does not always occur in all fully unstressed syllables.

  • Yes, but there are also words without any stress on the syllable starting with /ɪ/ that don't reduce. "Intend", for example, has the exact same stress pattern as "enough", but /ənˈtend/ sounds (or feels) very unnatural to me. – 1006a May 29 '18 at 21:39
  • @1006a: Rules for vowel reduction in unstressed syllables are definitely more complicated. To me, /ənˈtɛnd/ seems fine, and the OED seems to suggest that this is a possible American English pronunciation by giving the transcription "U.S. /ᵻnˈtɛnd/", which I understand to be equivalent to "/ɪnˈtɛnd/ or /ənˈtɛnd/". Speakers vary in the extent to which they have the "weak vowel merger" and the extent to which they weaken vowels in closed syllables that are prefixes (e.g. we also see variability between unreduced /ɛ/ and some kind of reduced vowel in words starting with unstressed en- or ex-). – sumelic May 29 '18 at 21:44
  • Unstressed vowels have almost no contrasts and vary all over the (central) lot, especially when they're initial. They can't be captured by IPA because they're often rolled into surrounding consonants or deleted. In American English, if it's unstressed and initial, it's not worth describing further. – John Lawler May 29 '18 at 23:33
  • @1006a To me, intend has secondary stress on the first syllable (and a schwa pronunciation is not possible), so it fits rather neatly. – Janus Bahs Jacquet May 30 '18 at 6:31
  • @JohnLawler Depends on the word though, right? Some unstressed syllbles need to be full vowels, at least in SSBE, for example in the word volcano – Araucaria May 30 '18 at 10:23
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More often than not, the pronunciation of a word comes from its origin, as does its spelling.

enough (etymonline)

"First element is Old English ge- "with, together"

introduction (etymonline)

"from intro- "inward, to the inside"

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