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The influence of syllable structure and position in the word on vowel reduction
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Generally, vowel reduction preferably targets unstressed vowels in open syllables (see The influence of vowel quality on vowel reduction for the general patterns), whereas vowels in closed syllables resist reduction. Still, there are cases where reduction is possible in closed syllables; the reducibility depends on the structure and quality of the vowel / coda consonant. Furthermore, reduction is more likely to occur in word-medial than in word-initial syllables.

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[+] General information

Vowel reduction is more likely to occur in open than in closed syllables. Below, we discuss the reduction pattern for open and closed syllables in word-initial and word-medial position.

[+] Reduction in word-initial closed syllables

Reduction can occur in word-initial closed syllables:

  • if the consonant following the target vowel is ambisyllabic in the non-reduced form. The following examples are taken from Booij (1995:131)
    Example 1

    syllabe [sɪ.ˈla.bə] [sə.ˈla.bə] syllable
    misschien [mɪs.ˈxin] [məs.ˈxin] perhaps
    supporter [sʏ.ˈpɔr.tər] [sə.ˈpɔr.tər] supporter
    dessert [dɛ.ˈsɛrt] [də.ˈsɛrt] dessert
    rapport [rɑ.ˈpɔrt] [rə.ˈpɔrt] report
  • if there is the sequences /ɛr/ and B-class vowels plus tautosyllabic /s/.
  • if the coda consonant of an initial unstressed syllable is deleted (object to inter-speaker variation).
Example 2

person [pɛr.ˈson] [pər.ˈson] person
percent [pɛr.ˈsɛnt] [pər.ˈsɛnt] percent
pastoor [pɑs.ˈtor] [pəs.ˈtor] pastor
pastei [pɑs.ˈtɛi] [pəs.ˈtɛi] pie
  • if the coda consonant of an initial unstressed syllable is deleted. However, in this case intuitions concerning the reducibility of vowels differ between different speakers / scholars. Booij explicitly refers to his own idiolect, when he says that “I have to delete the consonant first before being able to reduce the vowel. In that way, the vowel becomes reducible, being in syllable-final position” (Booij 1995:132). Kager (1989), on the other hand, argues that reduction is possible without coda deletion. This leads to the following possible and impossible surface forms:
Example 3

benzine [bɛn.ˈzi.nə] petrol
kanton [kɑn.ˈtɔn] canton
portier [pɔr.ˈtir] porter

Table 1: Trisyllabic words
Trisyllabic words σ ˈσ σ
Unreduced form bɛn ˈzi
Possible:

vowel reduction + coda deletion

ˈzi
Possible (Booij)/ Impossible (Kager):

vowel reduction, no coda deletion

(*)bən ˈzi
Impossible:

coda deletion, no vowel reduction

*bɛ/*be ˈzi

Table 2: Disyllabic words
σ ˈσ
Unreduced form kɑn

pɔr

ˈtɔn

ˈtir

Possible:

vowel reduction + coda deletion

ˈtɔn

ˈtir

Possible (Booij)/ Impossible (Kager):

vowel reduction, no coda deletion

(*)kən

(*)pər

ˈtɔn

ˈtir

Impossible:

coda deletion, no vowel reduction

*kɑ/*ka

*pɔ

ˈtɔn

ˈtir

[+] Reduction in word-medial closed syllables

Booij (1981:149) and Kager (1989:282) argue that vowel reduction is more likely in word-medial syllables than in initial syllables. The following examples are taken from Booij (1995:132pp):

Example 4

identiek [ˌi.dɛn.ˈtik] [ˌi.dən.ˈtik] identical
compensatie [ˌkɔm.pɛn.ˈza.si] [ˌkɔm.pən.ˈza.si] compensation
anekdote [ˌa.nɛg.ˈdo.tə] [ˌa.nəg.ˈdo.tə] anecdote
directeur [ˌdi.rɛk.ˈtør] [ˌdi.rək.ˈtør] director
alimentatie [ˌa.li.mɛn.ˈta.si] [ˌa.li.mən.ˈta.si] alimony
sentimenteel [ˌsɛn.ti.mɛn.ˈtel] [ˌsɛn.ti.mən.ˈtel] sentimental
paviljoen [ˌpa.vɪl.ˈjun] [ˌpa.vəl.ˈjun] pavilion
infiltreer [ˌɪn.fɪl.ˈtrer] [ˌɪn.fəl.ˈtrer] to infiltrate
amalgaam [ˌa.mɑl.ˈɤam] [ˌa.məl.ˈɤam] amalgam
adopteer [ˌa.dɔp.ˈter] [ˌa.dəp.ˈter] to adopt
[+] Reduction in word-initial open syllables

In words with primary stress on the second syllable (disyllabic or trisyllabic), an A-class vowel in (open) first syllables can reduce. However, reduction will be found more often in word-medial open syllables. Some examples of vowel reduction in initial syllables are given below:


Table 3
Disyllabic items Possible reduction Trisyllabic items Possible reduction
banaan/ba.nan/banana [bə.ˈnan] familie/fa.mi.li/family [fə.ˈmi.li]
lokaal/lo.kal/class room [lə.ˈkal] kolonie/ko.lo.ni/colony [kə.ˈlo.ni]
metaal/me.tal/metal [mə.ˈtal] sequoia/se.kʋo.ja/sequoia [sə.ˈkʋo.ja]
muziek/my.zik/music [mə.ˈzik] munitie/my.ni.tsi/ammunition [mə.ˈni.si]
minuut/mi.nyt/minute [mə.ˈnyt] kimono/ki.mo.no/kimono [kə.ˈmo.no]

[+] Reduction in word-medial open syllables

  • Interstress position

Unstressed A-class vowels in between two stressed syllables reduce more easily than vowels in other positions. In interstress position, highly frequent words will show a strong tendency towards reduction, also those with a high vowel (which usually do not reduce easily). The following examples are taken from Booij (1995:130):

Example 5

dominee [ˈdo.mi.ˌne] [ˈdo.mə.ˌne] parson
aspirine [ˌɑs.pi.ˈri.nə] [ˌɑs.pə.ˈri.nə] aspirin
lucifer [ˈly.si.ˌfɛr] [ˈly.sə.ˌfɛr] match
  • Two adjacent unstressed syllables

The reducibility of the vowels in two adjacent stressed syllables differs. Consider quadrisyllabic words with final primary stress and initial secondary stress (ˌσσσˈσ). In these words, we can see an interesting effect: vowel reduction in the penultimate syllable necessarily implies that the vowel in the antepenult is reduced as well, but not vice versa. Note, however, that this has been claimed to be obligatory only if both vowels are of similar quality, as reducibility also interacts with vowel quality. The possible and impossible reduction patterns are shown below for the words fonologiephonology and economie economy:


Table 4
Syllable PAPUˌσ APUσ PUσ Uˈσ
Unreduced form ˌfo

ˌe

no

ko

lo

no

ˈɣi

ˈmi

Partial reduction ˌfo

ˌe

lo

no

ˈɣi

ˈmi

Full reduction ˌfo

ˌe

ˈɣi

ˈmi

Impossible reduction ˌfo

ˌe

no

ko

ˈɣi

ˈmi

[+] Word-final syllables

Vowel reduction usually does not take place in final syllables (Booij 1977, 1982). There are, however, some exceptions: Booij (1995:135) mentions words ending in vowel + /r/, and words ending in /ɪ, ɛ/ + consonant.

Example 6

motor [ˈmo.tɔr] [ˈmo.tər] engine
kermis [ˈkɛr.mɪs] [ˈkər.mɪs] fair
kennis [ˈkɛ.nɪs] [ˈkɛ.nəs] acquitance
koning [ˈko.nɪŋ] [ˈko.nəŋ] king
monnik [ˈmɔ.nɪk] [ˈmɔ.nək] monk
idem [ˈi.dɛm] [ˈi.dəm] idem
amen [ˈa.mɛn] [ˈa.mən] amen
vonnis [ˈvɔ.nɪs] [ˈvɔ.nəs] verdict
[+] The influence of syllable onsets on vowel reduction

The syllable onset can influence the reducibility of the following vowel. First of all, the quality of the onset consonant can block reduction: if an unstressed syllable begins with [h] or [ʔ] (the latter can only occur in word-initial unstressed syllables), it cannot reduce to schwa. Other simplex onsets have no influence on the reducibility of the vowel. Moreover, vowels in onsetless syllables cannot reduce. Note that syllables starting with [hə], [ʔə] or [ə] are not only prohibited as a result of vowel reduction, they are generally avoided in prosodic words.

Example 7

anaal [a.ˈnal] [*ə.ˈnal] anal
elite [e.ˈli.tə] [*ə.ˈli.tə] elite
erotisch [e.ˈro.tis] [*ə.ˈro.tis] erotic
maoist [ma.o.ˈʋist] [*ma.ə.ˈʋist] Maoist
heraut [he.ˈrɑut] [*hə.ˈrɑut] herald
heroisch [he.ˈro.ʋis] [*hə.ˈro.ʋis] heroic
humaan [hy.ˈman] [*hə.ˈman] human
References:
  • Booij, Geert1977Dutch morphology. A study of word formation in generative grammarLisse / DordrechtThe Peter de Ridder Press / Foris Publications
  • Booij, Geert1981Generatieve fonologie van het NederlandsAula paperbacksUtrecht / AntwerpenHet Spectrum
  • Booij, Geert1982Fonologische en fonetische aspecten van klinkerreductieSpektator11295-301
  • Booij, Geert1995The phonology of DutchOxfordOxford University Press
  • Booij, Geert1995The phonology of DutchOxfordOxford University Press
  • Booij, Geert1995The phonology of DutchOxfordOxford University Press
  • Booij, Geert1995The phonology of DutchOxfordOxford University Press
  • Booij, Geert1995The phonology of DutchOxfordOxford University Press
  • Kager, René1989A Metrical Theory of Stress and Destressing in English and DutchDordrechtForis
  • Kager, René1989A Metrical Theory of Stress and Destressing in English and DutchDordrechtForis
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