427 votes
Accepted

Are "whores" and "horse" homophones?

In most varieties of English, these two words are not homophones. But there is an interesting story about why this is so. In English the alveolar fricatives /s/ and /z/ are contrastive. Notionally, ...
Araucaria - Him's user avatar
291 votes
Accepted

Why are the vowels in Christ and Christmas different? (and other strange diphthong behaviour)

Short answer The PRICE vowel that we hear in the word wise, /waɪz/, has a systematic relationship with the KIT vowel which we hear in the word wizard, /'wɪzəd/. As we add syllables to the base of a ...
Araucaria - Him's user avatar
55 votes

Is the mispronunciation of foreign words especially likely in English?

The problem is that there are a number of hidden assumptions behind this question that need to be picked away before the question can even be posed. Let me take them one by one. Are there other ...
John Lawler's user avatar
37 votes

Why is /sɪ/ pronounced differently in "six" /sɪks/ and "sit" /sɪt/?

TL;DR: You’re right that six and sit have ever so slightly different phonetics, but those all tally to the same underlying phoneme /ɪ/ in the minds of us native speakers. Your challenge is to learn ...
tchrist's user avatar
  • 135k
35 votes

Psychology of diphthongs

TL;DR All tense monophthongs in English become non-phonemic, phonetic-only diphthongs with weak off-glides in most speakers and contexts. Minor phonologic effects like this are part of getting an ...
tchrist's user avatar
  • 135k
33 votes

Why is the zh (ʒ) sound so infrequent in English?

I would say it is a combination of two factors that show up separately in other sounds with token frequency on the low end. /ʒ/ never developed in vocabulary inherited from Proto-Germanic English is ...
herisson's user avatar
  • 81.9k
28 votes
Accepted

Is there such a thing as Intrusive-L (as opposed to Intrusive-R)?

Short answer Yes, there are varieties of English that use linking and intrusive l in a similar way to how other non-rhotic varieties use linking and intrusive r. spa /spa:/ is /ɪz/ the spa is /ðə ...
Araucaria - Him's user avatar
24 votes

How shall the word "biology" be interpreted, if no English word can start with two stressed syllables?

"No English word can start with two stressed syllables" is just false, unless you define "stressed syllable" as "primary-stressed syllable", in which case it is trivially ...
herisson's user avatar
  • 81.9k
23 votes
Accepted

Is "the" ever pronounced "knee"?

TL;DR: Yes. Surprisingly, perhaps, the word the is sometimes pronounced [ni] "knee". This requires two processes. The first is phonological and relates to the changing to /ði/ when followed ...
Araucaria - Him's user avatar
23 votes
Accepted

How many syllables do these rules say that ‘every’ has?

No fixed answers Your problem with every is that many but hardly all words whose pronunciations end in [ɹi] or [ɹiz] have a variable number of syllables depending on how reduced the vowel sound ...
tchrist's user avatar
  • 135k
22 votes

Is the mispronunciation of foreign words especially likely in English?

Whether people can pronounce a foreign word depends more on if the sounds are familiar than on if they have a familiar way to write them. Many Japanese speakers are well aware of the difference ...
herisson's user avatar
  • 81.9k
22 votes

Is /kləʊðz/ really the correct phonetic transcription of the word "clothes"?

You need to keep a couple of things in mind: The glyphs employed in the pronunciations you find in dictionaries are not "phonetic transcriptions" but phonemic representations (note that they are ...
StoneyB on hiatus's user avatar
22 votes
Accepted

What is the difference between /ʌɪ/ and /aɪ/ in English?

The notations /ʌɪ/ and /ɑɪ/ represent a contrastive phonemic difference that some native speakers of English produce and perceive between certain minimal pairs. For those speakers, the following are ...
tchrist's user avatar
  • 135k
21 votes

Is the mispronunciation of foreign words especially likely in English?

Are there other languages out there, more phonetic than English, in which the sound of foreign words can be specified adequately? (I think you may have meant to say 'with a more robust writing system'...
Jeutnarg's user avatar
  • 1,021
21 votes

What is /iə/ in English?

Take, for example, the word beer. Here we would use the transcription /bɪə/ in Southern Standard British English (SSBE). Notice that this word has two phonemes, the consonant /b/ and the vowel /ɪə/. ...
Araucaria - Him's user avatar
21 votes
Accepted

Why are dictionary transcriptions contradictory for the phonetic representation of oranges?

A non-negotiable phonological rule of all standard Englishes inserts a vowel (either /ə/ or /ɪ/, depending on the variety of English) between base-final sibilant consonants and the plural morpheme /z/....
Araucaria - Him's user avatar
20 votes
Accepted

Difference between /əʳ/ and /ɚ/

One is the Standard British English pronunciation, and the other is the General American English pronunciation. In the British pronunciation, you don't pronounce the /r/ after /ə/ unless the next ...
Peter Shor 's user avatar
19 votes

Why are there 4 ambiguous phonetic symbols in IPA representations of English?

Actually, it's "worse" than that. Nearly all the vowels of English have more than one possible representation in IPA. For example: The vowel sound of the word "kit" can be written as [ɪ] or [i] The ...
herisson's user avatar
  • 81.9k
19 votes

How many syllables do these rules say that ‘every’ has?

Short answer: Because of a phonological process know as compression, every can be said with either 2 or 3 syllables. This happens to coincide with the "written method" described (see full ...
Araucaria - Him's user avatar
18 votes

Why are there 4 ambiguous phonetic symbols in IPA representations of English?

Within one language community, the IPA may be simplified for dictionary entries. The /r/ is a classic example. In strict IPA usage, it is the sign for an r sound with a short trill, as in Italian Roma,...
KarlG's user avatar
  • 28.1k
18 votes
Accepted

Why "thine heart" but "thy whole heart"?

As pointed out by @Jeff Zeitlin, the rule was phonetic, it's just that initial h's are highly prone to elision/deletion. The Wikipedia article on thou says that thine was used before nouns beginning ...
Decapitated Soul's user avatar
15 votes

Are "phonics" and "Phoenician" related?

Etymology is much, much more complicated than most people think! Just because words sound similar, that doesn't mean they are related. In this case, chances are negligible that they should be. Greek ...
Cerberus - Reinstate Monica's user avatar
15 votes

Is there such a thing as Intrusive-L (as opposed to Intrusive-R)?

I was not aware of /l/ being ever used in the way /r/ is in RP to link two words ending and beginning with a vocalic sound respectively until I read Araucaria's answer. In any event, it might be ...
grandtout's user avatar
  • 1,728
15 votes
Accepted

Solve and resolve pronunciation

The alternation between /s/ and /z/ in word pairs like that isn't caused by any major part of how modern English works. Instead, it's a fairly restricted phenomenon that shows up because of historical ...
herisson's user avatar
  • 81.9k
15 votes
Accepted

The strange pronunciations of "assume"

Brief answer Asyoom is sometimes pronounced ASHOOM in some accents because there's a tendency to assimilate (coalesce) ‹S› with the following ‹Y› to a ‹SH› sound. The same thing happens in bless you ...
Decapitated Soul's user avatar
14 votes
Accepted

Does [z] + [j] equal [ ʒ ]?

Yes, [z] + [j] → [ʒ]. The [z] is an alveolar sound (i.e. articulated at the alveolar ridge) while [j] is a palatal sound (articulated at the hard palate), so when [j] comes right after [z], it pulls ...
Decapitated Soul's user avatar
14 votes

"Superhands" vs "Super Hans" pronunciation

In certain dialects of English, superhands and Super Hans may sound identical because of two reasons: 1. Insertion of [d] in Hans Hans may be pronounced with an epenthetic/intrusive [d] because of a ...
Decapitated Soul's user avatar
13 votes
Accepted

Why do American speakers pronounce "the" as "/ðə/" before vowels?

Many speakers of Gen Am and also speakers of British Englishes, including some young RP speakers, use a hard attack on the second word to separate a word-final and word initial vowel. For a minority ...
Araucaria - Him's user avatar
13 votes

How shall the word "biology" be interpreted, if no English word can start with two stressed syllables?

You're conflating two things. Stress and vowel reduction. I too pronounce the word as /baɪˈɒl.ə.dʒi/; the only stressed syllable being the second one. The only reduced vowel is the third one. The ...
Nicholas Shanks's user avatar

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