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Wed Nov 12, 2014, 04:11 PM

Pronunciation of articles in English

Everyone knows that the pronunciation of the indefinite article depends on whether the following word begins with a vowel or a consonant. The spelling reflects the pronunciation. Thus we say "a dog" and "an owl". (There are borderline cases: some say "a historical drama"; others say "an historical drama".)

Did you know that the pronunciation of the definite article also depends on whether the following word begins with a vowel or a consonant? The spelling is always "the", but "the" usually rhymes with "knee" in front of a vowel, and usually rhymes with "uh" in front of a consonant. (There are exceptions; can you find them?)

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Arrow 11 replies Author Time Post
Reply Pronunciation of articles in English (Original post)
Lionel Mandrake Nov 2014 OP
CurtEastPoint Nov 2014 #1
Lionel Mandrake Nov 2014 #5
Igel Nov 2014 #8
Lionel Mandrake Nov 2014 #9
Scuba Nov 2014 #2
Lionel Mandrake Nov 2014 #3
Scuba Nov 2014 #4
Lionel Mandrake Nov 2014 #6
Scuba Nov 2014 #7
Odin2005 Nov 2014 #10
Lionel Mandrake Nov 2014 #11

Response to Lionel Mandrake (Original post)

Wed Nov 12, 2014, 04:53 PM

1. What the ____?

English is so rich yet so weird sometimes.
I just Googled this and really hadn't thought much about it but when the following SOUND is like a consonant, you say thuh, e.g., the university. Thuh house but thee hour.

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Response to CurtEastPoint (Reply #1)

Wed Nov 12, 2014, 06:34 PM

5. Verily I say unto thee ...

if thou art a native English speaker, thou hast followed this rule thy whole life without knowing it.

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Response to CurtEastPoint (Reply #1)

Wed Nov 12, 2014, 08:23 PM

8. My speech prefers schwa before everything but a stressed vowel.

"thuh hour"

"thee hourly newscast."

We're not talking about citation-form stress, but full stress after resolution of stress clash and stress reduction to show noun phrase boundaries. So "hourly" may officially have initial stress, but in "hourly newscast" the word "hourly" has scant secondary stress. The /i/ in "the" is reduced in any event.

It's a hiatus resolution strategy, to avoid schwa next to a (non-high front) stressless vowel (which tends to be phonetically reduced anyway).

As soon as I say, "no, not the 6 pm newscast, but the HOURly newscast," the schwa is back and anything else sounds weird.

However, as soon as I swap out "hourly" for "evening," "thuh evening news" with stress on "news" is fine. Don't want the two high front vowels in hiatus any more than I want two reduced non-front non-high vowels in hiatus.

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Response to Igel (Reply #8)

Wed Nov 12, 2014, 09:36 PM

9. Interesting but cryptic, as always.

Let me see if I have this straight. Schwa is that upside down e character which represents the (non-high front vowel) vowel sound in "uh" or "um". The vowel in "thee" is /i/, which is a high front vowel. Hiatus is two adjacent vowels that don't form a diphthong. Hiatus bothers you most if the two vowel sounds are similar, i.e., both high front or neither high front. Did I get all that right?

I'm confused by your example: "no, not the 6 pm newscast, but the HOURly newscast." Do you say "thuh HOURly ..." or "thee HOURly ..."? In this example you have "the" before a stressed vowel. The title of your post suggests "thee", but you say that the schwa is back and anything else sounds weird.

I suppose there are geographical variations, and maybe individual variations in the vowel sounds of "the" in context. In the past there were masters of "elocution" who taught that unaccented vowels should avoid the tendency toward schwa. That was like trying to push back the tide, but it may have had some residual effect.

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Response to Lionel Mandrake (Original post)

Wed Nov 12, 2014, 05:36 PM

2. The answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind.

 

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Response to Scuba (Reply #2)

Wed Nov 12, 2014, 06:13 PM

3. Heathcliff! Heathcliff! n/t

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Response to Lionel Mandrake (Reply #3)

Wed Nov 12, 2014, 06:16 PM

4. I don't get the reference. Please help.

 

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Response to Scuba (Reply #4)

Wed Nov 12, 2014, 06:52 PM

6. Heathcliff is a character

in Emily Brontė's novel Wuthering Heights.

According to Wikipedia:

At the very close of the novel, a servant boy tells Nelly that he has seen the ghosts of Heathcliff and Catherine walking the moors together, although Nelly and Lockwood both insist that they must be treated as if their souls were at peace. The novel closes with Lockwood wandering past their graves and wondering "how any one could ever imagine unquiet slumbers for the sleepers in that quiet earth."

read more: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heathcliff

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Response to Lionel Mandrake (Reply #6)

Wed Nov 12, 2014, 06:55 PM

7. OK, but what's that got to do with "thu" and "thee"?

 

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Response to Lionel Mandrake (Original post)

Thu Nov 13, 2014, 04:01 AM

10. The technical term for this is morphophonology.

Another example of this is in "-'ve", it is pronounced "uhv" before a vowel and "uh" before a consonant. Hence "would-a", should-a, and could-a.

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Response to Odin2005 (Reply #10)

Thu Nov 13, 2014, 02:05 PM

11. Interesting.

My dictionary says:
morphophonology
noun
the branch of linguistics that deals with the phonological representation of morphemes.
which seems to cover my topic and a lot more.

I often say "would-uhv", "should-uhv", or "could-uhv" before consonants as well as vowels, but when I am careless the "v" sound is not very loud, i.e., what I say before a consonant is close to "would-uh", "should-uh", or "could-uh".

A common mistake in writing is to replace "have" with "of", e.g., "should of gone". This mistake reflects the pronunciation of "have" in context.

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