(L&N) Q&A Thread - Quick questions go here

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Re: (L&N) Q&A Thread - Quick questions go here

Post by Sequor »

Vlürch wrote: 18 Jul 2022 04:35 Sorry for the incredibly stupid question(s), but... I'm trying to learn Spanish again, now more than just to understand a little but to be able to use it myself in a grammatically correct way, and...

If the accusative of ustedes is just los/las depending on gender (and can be suffixed to the verb)... in most contexts I get why it works. But what if there's no context to clarify a second-person plural as the object, while a third-person plural object has been established? Wouldn't it then be literally impossible to tell that it doesn't refer to that third-person plural object that was referred to previously? What can be done in that case?

Is it like how in Japanese, then it'd first be necessary to establish the new referent? You know, so it might get kinda clunky? In other words, it needs to be explicitly established if it happens and as a result a context like that would never "naturally" arise?

Or is it like how in English, singular and plural you are indistinguishable in that same kind of context, where first there's singular and then plural or vice versa? But in English, there are ways around it like "all of you" and "only you" and whatnot. I can't figure out a similar way in Spanish with second and third person plural object pronouns.

Or is it possible to just add the suffix -os on the verb instead, or is that violating some kind of pronominal consistency? Based on googling, it seems possible (as in I found stuff where ustedes is used together with -os), but I'm not sure if that's only in countries where ustedes is the default and not formal, and/or if it's seen as incorrect but something people online do? Either way, I wouldn't mind doing it, but... well, I'd prefer to know.
Well, context and real-world knowledge, pragmatics, always come into play. Understanding sentences isn't only about morphosyntax...

If there is really "no context", then you're not dealing with real-world Spanish, but floating example sentences from a textbook exercise or something. And in that case the correct answer is to give both possibilities, 2nd or 3rd person.

And in Latin American Spanish the vosotros forms are pretty much never used, no. Using ustedes with os sounds like something someone only from Spain would do.
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Re: (L&N) Q&A Thread - Quick questions go here

Post by Vlürch »

Sequor wrote: 18 Jul 2022 10:17If there is really "no context", then you're not dealing with real-world Spanish, but floating example sentences from a textbook exercise or something. And in that case the correct answer is to give both possibilities, 2nd or 3rd person.
Sorry, it was really late when I posted the question so I kinda misworded it and what I meant by context. I meant that there's no context of establishing a second-person plural object, not sentences just floating in a void. A second-person plural object may well have been referred to earlier and would likely be referred to later... but what if there's a brief moment where it switches between third-person plural and second-person plural?

Like this for example, not sure if it's entirely grammatically correct (I tried to make sure it is, but...) but:

Si encontraría los leones que comieron mis unicornios, los comería como los comieron mis unicornios.

It'd sound like "I'd eat the lions like they ate my unicorns" but what if the intended meaning was actually "I'd eat you like the lions ate my unicorns"? It's an intentionally far-fetched example with how weird the meaning is, but the "contextless" and ambiguous referent-switching is my question. Like, even if there was ustedes in both the previous and the next sentence, wouldn't it still be interpreted as referring to eating the lions since that'd just "be obvious" even if it's actually not the intended meaning? How could it be made unambiguous?

If it was an infinitive or something, then -os should clear up any ambiguity, but if that's not good to use with ustedes... and if os as a standalone pronoun isn't used at all with ustedes... well, again, personally I'm fine with my Spanish not being consistent with any particular variety and even being clearly non-native, but of course not causing misunderstandings is still important and I'd want everything to be grammatically correct at least somewhere. And I'd still like to know how this kind of thing is handled within dialects/varieties that only use ustedes and los/las, even if it'd be understood if I was inconsistent as a non-native speaker...
Sequor wrote: 18 Jul 2022 10:17And in Latin American Spanish the vosotros forms are pretty much never used, no. Using ustedes with os sounds like something someone only from Spain would do.
Ah, so then in Latin American Spanish it would always be los/las and more ambiguous? Would you say it's OK/understandable to use ustedes and os, or would it only be understood by people from Spain? And would it then be inherently perceived as an "emulating Spanish as spoken in Spain" thing to do? And would it be seen as "too formal" by people from Spain and "too informal" by people from other countries, or...?

If it'd be possible, I'd want to learn all the unique things about all the different dialects/varieties, at least to recognise them, like with English (at least in general), but that's pretty unrealistic...
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Re: (L&N) Q&A Thread - Quick questions go here

Post by Sequor »

Vlürch wrote: 18 Jul 2022 13:59Sorry, it was really late when I posted the question so I kinda misworded it and what I meant by context. I meant that there's no context of establishing a second-person plural object, not sentences just floating in a void. A second-person plural object may well have been referred to earlier and would likely be referred to later... but what if there's a brief moment where it switches between third-person plural and second-person plural?

Like this for example, not sure if it's entirely grammatically correct (I tried to make sure it is, but...) but:

Si encontraría los leones que comieron mis unicornios, los comería como los comieron mis unicornios.

It'd sound like "I'd eat the lions like they ate my unicorns" but what if the intended meaning was actually "I'd eat you like the lions ate my unicorns"? It's an intentionally far-fetched example with how weird the meaning is, but the "contextless" and ambiguous referent-switching is my question. Like, even if there was ustedes in both the previous and the next sentence, wouldn't it still be interpreted as referring to eating the lions since that'd just "be obvious" even if it's actually not the intended meaning? How could it be made unambiguous?
Again, this is a contrived, floating sentence... But sure, I suppose the los of los comería would be more easily interpreted as 3rd person.

But really, morphosyntactic ambiguity is just a normal part of human language. Things are left up as ambiguous all the time. Talking about conditional sentences, European languages insist in distinguishing all sorts of things related to (un)reality and time in them, usually involving some very grammaticalized tense patterns (if you ask I'll say it, if you had asked I would've said it, if you (really) asked me at the time then I (must've) said it, etc.), but Mandarin distinguishes pretty much none of them. Not a problem given context and real-world knowledge though.

If you want to make it unambiguous, you could add ustedes explicitly: "..., los comería a ustedes como ellos comieron mis unicornios", or some phrase afterwards like, "..., los comería como ellos comieron mis unicornios, sí, yo a ustedes".

While we're at it, you may also enjoy hearing that "que" on its own, alone, is ambiguous as to whether it's standing for a subject or direct object (contrast subject qui vs. direct object que in French), and since verb-subject order is also possible, this means "Si encontrara los leones que comieron mis unicornios," is ambiguous about who ate who. "If I found the lions that ate my unicorns" ~ "If I found the lions that my unicorns ate".

(By the way, the conditional tense is never used inside if-conditions, but in the apodosis, i.e. the main clause. Should be "si encontrara".)
Ah, so then in Latin American Spanish it would always be los/las and more ambiguous? Would you say it's OK/understandable to use ustedes and os, or would it only be understood by people from Spain? And would it then be inherently perceived as an "emulating Spanish as spoken in Spain" thing to do? And would it be seen as "too formal" by people from Spain and "too informal" by people from other countries, or...?

If it'd be possible, I'd want to learn all the unique things about all the different dialects/varieties, at least to recognise them, like with English (at least in general), but that's pretty unrealistic...
I think many people in Latin America are aware of the vosotros/os of Spain, and otherwise they can manage to understand it... from... context... You'd be seen as emulating something about the Spanish of Spain, sure. Yes, any use of usted or ustedes is usually considered too formal by people in Spain, or too Latin American, especially these days, unless they speak some form of Andalusian Spanish where ustedes still isn't too weird. In today's Spanish, the difference between ustedes and vosotros is mostly one of Latin America vs. Spain, rather than formal vs. informal.
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Re: (L&N) Q&A Thread - Quick questions go here

Post by Vlürch »

Sequor wrote: 18 Jul 2022 15:47If you want to make it unambiguous, you could add ustedes explicitly: "..., los comería a ustedes como ellos comieron mis unicornios"
Ah, I didn't know that was possible. Nice. I understand that most of the time, it wouldn't be necessary, but it's really good to know that can be done within the same sentence.
Sequor wrote: 18 Jul 2022 15:47While we're at it, you may also enjoy hearing that "que" on its own, alone, is ambiguous as to whether it's standing for a subject or direct object (contrast subject qui vs. direct object que in French), and since verb-subject order is also possible, this means "Si encontrara los leones que comieron mis unicornios," is ambiguous about who ate who. "If I found the lions that ate my unicorns" ~ "If I found the lions that my unicorns ate".
Interesting! Makes sense and made me realise that there's similar ambiguity possible in Finnish, just depending on the placement of the verb:

Jos löytäisin leijonat jotka söivät yksisarviseni...
If I found the lions that ate my unicorns...

Jos löytäisin leijonat jotka yksisarviseni söivät...
If I found the lions that my unicorns ate...

Finnish syntax really matches English syntax 100% lol, but technically in Finnish the latter could also have the same meaning as the former while I'm pretty sure that's not the case in any variety of English. If I came across the latter with the former meaning intended, it's not like my brain would shortcircuit or anything, and I'd probably even assume that meaning based on unicorns being more likely to be eaten by lions than lions being eaten by unicorns (although I guess that's an impossible assumption to make since unicorns don't actually exist, but it's true about horses and unicorns are a type of horse🤔), but it would sound like it should mean that the unicorns were the ones that ate the lions. And no one would ever say the latter with the former meaning intended because it sounds "poetic" or "archaic" or whatever... even though I'm pretty sure in actual poetry or archaic Finnish it would be something even weirder. I think joka is used the way it is under English influence, but that might not be true.

But of course the second half of the sentence was intentionally explicit about the unicorns being eaten, anyway, which I guess in Spanish would be the same as in Finnish and English in that IRL it would most likely not be disambiguated. Well, it's not like this kind of sentences are common... thankfully.😂

(EDIT: Also, maybe I should clarify that in Finnish it'd only be a few types of constructions like this where it could be ambiguous to begin with, otherwise they're declined differently. I also thought about whether it's actually accurate to say no one would ever say something like this, and I'm pretty sure a lot of people do in fact say sentences like this sometimes, just not if they'd be ambiguous. Maybe even I do...? Not really sure. But like, at least for me löysin yksisarvisen joka minua puski ("I found the unicorn that headbutted me") wouldn't be at all weird in writing, or in speech if it was mua instead of minua. Well, I mean, the meaning of sentence would still be weird but not grammatically.)
Sequor wrote: 18 Jul 2022 15:47(By the way, the conditional tense is never used inside if-conditions, but in the apodosis, i.e. the main clause. Should be "si encontrara".)
Oops, that's clearly my Finnishness intruding on how I'm learning Spanish. [>_<] No one had corrected it before, not that I'd have tried to actually productively use Spanish much, but I know I've always done conditionals like that. Well, obviously I don't correct people's Finnish or English either in contexts other than language forums (and usually not even then), so it's not like I'm surprised that no one had told me it's wrong. Thanks! [:)] It's closer to how English does conditionals, so it should stick since I'm mostly learning Spanish through English resources.
Sequor wrote: 18 Jul 2022 15:47I think many people in Latin America are aware of the vosotros/os of Spain, and otherwise they can manage to understand it... from... context... You'd be seen as emulating something about the Spanish of Spain, sure. Yes, any use of usted or ustedes is usually considered too formal by people in Spain, or too Latin American, especially these days, unless they speak some form of Andalusian Spanish where ustedes still isn't too weird. In today's Spanish, the difference between ustedes and vosotros is mostly one of Latin America vs. Spain, rather than formal vs. informal.
So I guess I shouldn't really be too concerned about it, if it's seen as more a regional thing and not a formality thing. I mean, if it's not like it'll be seen as either too casual or impolite or whatever to use the Spain-things...
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Re: (L&N) Q&A Thread - Quick questions go here

Post by Nel Fie »

I've been reading the Wikipedia page on symmetrical voice, and one bit is mystifying me: according to them, a language with symmetrical voice can not promote an oblique argument to direct object, only to subject - specifically mentioning Indonesian as an Austronesian language that is "disqualified" from having symmetrical voice for that reason. But they don't explain why.

So, my question is: why is that? What is there about the theoretical definition of a symmetrical voice system that disallows such a promotion? Is there some hidden line where a language which allows this kind of promotion would automatically fall under the purview of some other type of alignment?
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Re: (L&N) Q&A Thread - Quick questions go here

Post by Creyeditor »

There are languages that predominantly have symmetrical voices like agent voice, patient voice, and circumstantial voices, e.g. several Nilotic and Austronesian languages. These languages do not use the passive voice very frequently.
There are other languages like Indonesian that predominantly use active and passive voice. Indonesian only uses patient voice forms infrequently because they only occur in a very restricted context. The passive voice is much more common.

I guess there is a way to define language types by the frequency and number of contexts that these constructions are used with/in. IMHO, it is more interesting to look at constructions across languages. The difference between patient voice and passive voice is easier to define than the difference between a symmetrical voice language and an asymmetrical voice language. In principle a language can have both. I am not so sure how to group 'symmetrical' voice languages wrt alignment. This might very well be an orthogonal question.
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Re: (L&N) Q&A Thread - Quick questions go here

Post by Salmoneus »

The wikipedia page explicitly uses "symmetrical voice" as a synonym for "Austronesian alignment, the Philippine-type voice system or the Austronesian focus system".

This is stupid. However, not being a linguist, I don't know whether it's "random wikipedia editor" stupid, or "current linguistic fashion" stupid.

I do know that other linguists consider - or considered - Western Indonesian Alignment (which modern standard Indonesian is an example of, at least in theory, though noting Creyeditor's comments on frequency) to be just as paradigmatically "symmetrical" as Philippine Alignment.

The defining feature of a symmetrical voice in that sense is simple that there are two or more 'voices' that alter the assignment of core roles to arguments without changing the valency of the verb. You could also go one step further and demand that neither voice be obviously morphologically primary to the other (that is, one isn't just the other plus an affix - this would make the voices morphologically symmetrical as well as syntactically).


However, if you treat 'symmetrical' voice as a synonym for Philippine alignment, then it becomes true at least in practice that there are no applicatives. Although I still don't think it's essential to Philippine alignment that there be no applicative - it goes against the 'logic' of the system, but it's not conceptually incompatible in my opinion.

[I say it goes against the logic because Philippine alignments can sort of be thought of as only really having one argument for the verb, in some sense, as though they were all nominal constructions ("the dog-eating", "the car-wash", etc), which may well be the origin of the system. The verbal (or perhaps originally deverbal) marking then shows the connection of that argument to the verb. In a 'pure' version of this system, there's no promotion to direct object because 'direct object' kind of isn't a thing to begin with; likewise, the valency of the verb doesn't change because in some underlying, theoretical way the verbs are only ever univalent anyway. However, systems aren't pure in reality; Austronesian languages may have started out only with nominal constructions, but they've gradually turned these into full, productive verbal systems, and there's no reason why an applicative couldn't have developed as part of that process while the rest of the language retained a broadly Philippine system]

But again, whether treating them as synonymous is just some random guy being stupid, or whether it's actually what a bunch of modern linguists stupidly do, I couldn't tell you.
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Post by Creyeditor »

Just a very brief comment. In modern standard Indonesian the patient voice is morphologically unmarked and the active/agent voice is morphologically marked with the prefix meN-. This would mean that this is not a symmetrical voice system in the strictest sense, at least not morphologically. Relatively closely related languages are similar. Additionally, modern standard Indonesian really has a lot of applicatives/causatives. I should really make a post on this in the AMA thread.
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Re: (L&N) Q&A Thread - Quick questions go here

Post by Nel Fie »

Thank you both for the in-depth answers. I'm not sure I understand every detail that's been brought up, but I think I get the picture. If I get this correctly, there's a big jumble going on between terms like "Austronesian/Phillipine voice/focus/alignment", "symmetrical voice", "trigger system", etc... that get used synonymically sometimes and sometimes not, and it causes lots of confusion and misunderstandings?
Salmoneus wrote: 03 Aug 2022 18:14 The defining feature of a symmetrical voice in that sense is simple that there are two or more 'voices' that alter the assignment of core roles to arguments without changing the valency of the verb. You could also go one step further and demand that neither voice be obviously morphologically primary to the other (that is, one isn't just the other plus an affix - this would make the voices morphologically symmetrical as well as syntactically).
Creyeditor wrote: 03 Aug 2022 20:33 Just a very brief comment. In modern standard Indonesian the patient voice is morphologically unmarked and the active/agent voice is morphologically marked with the prefix meN-. This would mean that this is not a symmetrical voice system in the strictest sense, at least not morphologically. Relatively closely related languages are similar. Additionally, modern standard Indonesian really has a lot of applicatives/causatives. I should really make a post on this in the AMA thread.
So, if I understand you correctly, one needs to distinguish "morphological symmetry" and "syntactic symmetry", with the first being understood in the sense that all the voices are equally marked; whereas the second means that the valency of the verb remains unchanged?
Salmoneus wrote: 03 Aug 2022 18:14 [I say it goes against the logic because Philippine alignments can sort of be thought of as only really having one argument for the verb, in some sense, as though they were all nominal constructions ("the dog-eating", "the car-wash", etc), which may well be the origin of the system. The verbal (or perhaps originally deverbal) marking then shows the connection of that argument to the verb. In a 'pure' version of this system, there's no promotion to direct object because 'direct object' kind of isn't a thing to begin with; likewise, the valency of the verb doesn't change because in some underlying, theoretical way the verbs are only ever univalent anyway. However, systems aren't pure in reality; Austronesian languages may have started out only with nominal constructions, but they've gradually turned these into full, productive verbal systems, and there's no reason why an applicative couldn't have developed as part of that process while the rest of the language retained a broadly Philippine system]
That's a very useful and interesting description.
I'm slightly confused by one aspect of it though: if they can be considered to be nominal constructions, how could they have arguments or be considered to be like univalent verbs at the same time? Or do you mean that they behave like univalent verbs that have been nominalized?
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Re: (L&N) Q&A Thread - Quick questions go here

Post by Salmoneus »

Nel Fie wrote: 04 Aug 2022 15:03 Thank you both for the in-depth answers. I'm not sure I understand every detail that's been brought up, but I think I get the picture. If I get this correctly, there's a big jumble going on between terms like "Austronesian/Phillipine voice/focus/alignment", "symmetrical voice", "trigger system", etc... that get used synonymically sometimes and sometimes not, and it causes lots of confusion and misunderstandings?
Yes, I believe so.

Specifically, I think there's three things there:

Philippine alignment - a system with more than two symmetrical voices defining the role of the primary argument of a clause. Because symmetrical voices aren't like normal voices, and the 'primary arguments' (my phrase) aren't entirely like conventional subjects (for a start, they're more commonly patients than agents), sometimes people avoid using 'voice' to describe these systems altogether, prefering 'focus' or 'trigger' or a number of other things.

Austronesian alignment - sometimes treated as synonymous with Philippine alignment, even though most Austronesian languages do not have Philippine alignment. Others, if they use the phrase, consider Austronesian alignment a broader case of Philippine alignment, and include Indonesian languages, which traditionally had only two symmetrical voices, rather than the three or four of Philippine alignment. Apparently modern Indonesian itself may no longer have an Indonesian alignment, although in the past it did (the inherited symmetrical passive is the di-passive, the null-passive being I think a later development, as is the use of a preposition in the di-passive). However, proto-Austronesian itself presumably had a Philippine alignment, with the simplification being a later areal development.

Symmetrical voice - one of the defining characteristics of Austronesian/Philippine alignment.

But, as you say, I'm not sure everyone uses these terms in the same way!
So, if I understand you correctly, one needs to distinguish "morphological symmetry" and "syntactic symmetry", with the first being understood in the sense that all the voices are equally marked; whereas the second means that the valency of the verb remains unchanged?
I wouldn't say 'need to', but you can, yes. [I've no idea to what extent these two things go together in practice]
That's a very useful and interesting description.
I'm slightly confused by one aspect of it though: if they can be considered to be nominal constructions, how could they have arguments or be considered to be like univalent verbs at the same time? Or do you mean that they behave like univalent verbs that have been nominalized?
It's common for nominalised verbs to still have an argument, but much more common to have one than to have two. In English, for example, it's very common to have nominalised verbs with an argument: car crash, javelin-throwing, truth-telling, water leak, headlock, asset forfeiture, etc. English does have a gerund form with two arguments - "me eating the ham is not a big deal!" - but they're used comparatively rarely, and in speech they're often now treated as having only one argument, due to influence from the verbal noun: "my eating the ham is not a big deal!" [where the subject arrgument of the gerund, 'me', has been extracted and converted into a marked possessor of the gerund, 'my'].

The alignment of the arguments of nominalised verbs is (not always but) usually ergative-absolutive: the noun can be an agent of an intransitive verb ("water leak"), but where the verb is semantically transitive the retained argument is usually the object (the assets are forfeited, the head is locked, etc). [in English this isn't absolute - there are exceptions, like 'police forfeiture'. In some languages this is stricter; in others weaker; but I believe the general tendency toward erg-abs alignment is if not universal then very widespread].

This is one of the main ways erg-abs alignments in active verbal clauses can develop, and why ergative cases are often identical to genitive cases: the nominalised construction is re-analysed as verbal, the unmarked argument retains erg-abs alignment, and any further ergative is supplied through a possessive, just as in "my eating the ham", "the man's stamp auction". But the univalent tendency of nominalised verbs remains, with that possessive argument being less 'core' than the unmarked erg-abs argument.

Note also however that although the alignment of nominalised verbs is usually erg-abs, it's often possible not only to have an agent argument be the single argument (police forfeiture) but also to have the single argument be an oblique argument (usually a locative or benefactive) that wouldn't normally be allowed as a core argument: a 'car boot sale' is not a sale of, or even by, car boots, but OUT OF car boots. A charity auction is an auction not of charity, but FOR charity.

One way to understand where Philippine alignment comes from, therefore, is to see the 'trigger' (subject, focus, topic, whatever you want to call it) as the argument of a nominalised verb (by default erg-abs, but with the possibility for transitive agents and even benefactive/locatives to be used instead), where the language has reduced ambiguity by marking the role of the argument on the verb itself. The entire construction has then been analysed as a verbal construction, but retaining oddities that develop from the nominalised origin, including:
- the 'subject' is by default the patient (that is, 'passive' is the default voice for transitives)
- the 'voices' don't change the valency
- there are no applicatives or dative shifts and in general the 'object' slot has no particular importance
- 'voices' can promote benefactives and locatives to 'subject'


Synchronically, Philippine clauses probably are not nominalised (although it's harder to be sure than you might think; in general, Austronesian languages have relatively little distinction between nouns and verbs). Diachronically, they probably arose from nominalised constructions, and this may explain some of their oddities. Technically, they probably are not univalent (although, again, that's probably something people have argued), but their nominal origin gives them some properties of that, and it can sometimes be helpful to think of them that way.


That's my (non-native, non-linguist) understanding, at least.
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Post by Nel Fie »

Thank you very much for the detailed explanation! That's exactly what I needed to make sense of things, and then some more.
And with that, I think I'm going to start a digital scrapbook of good answers and solid information I get on this forum, because I certainly don't trust myself to digest and memorize it all on the spot, ha ha!
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Post by Omzinesý »

English (some dialects) have two reduced wovels (marked with ï and ə). What vowels do they derive from? It isn't evident from orthography, I think.
My meta-thread: viewtopic.php?f=6&t=5760
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Marked by whom!? That's not how we usually spell English! [nor is it IPA]

I'm not really sure what you mean by these 'two reduced vowels', but I'm guessing the second one is /ɪ/? This is just... a vowel. It generally descends from simple short /i/, although I think in some unstressed syllables it used to also descend from short /e/ in some dialects. [these vowels are usually reduced to schwa now instead, IMD, but I don't know if this is a spelling pronunciation, influence from another dialect, or simply the survival of another dialect (SSBE doesn't necessarily descend from RP, even though it functionally replaced it).] And I think it can also come from unstressed (/shortened) long A? (eg -ace, -age endings traditionally have /I/, not schwa or /ej/).
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Post by sangi39 »

Salmoneus wrote: 07 Aug 2022 20:08 Marked by whom!? That's not how we usually spell English! [nor is it IPA]

I'm not really sure what you mean by these 'two reduced vowels', but I'm guessing the second one is /ɪ/? This is just... a vowel. It generally descends from simple short /i/, although I think in some unstressed syllables it used to also descend from short /e/ in some dialects. [these vowels are usually reduced to schwa now instead, IMD, but I don't know if this is a spelling pronunciation, influence from another dialect, or simply the survival of another dialect (SSBE doesn't necessarily descend from RP, even though it functionally replaced it).] And I think it can also come from unstressed (/shortened) long A? (eg -ace, -age endings traditionally have /I/, not schwa or /ej/).
Apparently there are dialects that have just [ə] where others have [ɨ̞] and [ə] (because of a merger of vowels in unstressed syllables), but like you've said, the [ɨ̞] seems to comes from /ɪ/, /ɛ/, and, occasionally, long /aː/ (which looks to be mainly a thing in French loans?) appearing in unstressed syllables. There's a similar sound, [ʉ̞] that seems to be a variant of /ʊ/ in unstressed syllables as well.

Interestingly, Faroese does something similar. All vowels in unstressed syllables reduce down to [ɪ], [ʊ], and [a], but then some dialects merge [ɪ] and [ʊ] into [ə], and I'm sure I've read of one that merges all three, including [a] into [ə], but I could be wrong
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Re: (L&N) Q&A Thread - Quick questions go here

Post by Salmoneus »

sangi39 wrote: 08 Aug 2022 13:33
Salmoneus wrote: 07 Aug 2022 20:08 Marked by whom!? That's not how we usually spell English! [nor is it IPA]

I'm not really sure what you mean by these 'two reduced vowels', but I'm guessing the second one is /ɪ/? This is just... a vowel. It generally descends from simple short /i/, although I think in some unstressed syllables it used to also descend from short /e/ in some dialects. [these vowels are usually reduced to schwa now instead, IMD, but I don't know if this is a spelling pronunciation, influence from another dialect, or simply the survival of another dialect (SSBE doesn't necessarily descend from RP, even though it functionally replaced it).] And I think it can also come from unstressed (/shortened) long A? (eg -ace, -age endings traditionally have /I/, not schwa or /ej/).
Apparently there are dialects that have just [ə] where others have [ɨ̞] and [ə] (because of a merger of vowels in unstressed syllables), but like you've said, the [ɨ̞] seems to comes from /ɪ/, /ɛ/, and, occasionally, long /aː/ (which looks to be mainly a thing in French loans?) appearing in unstressed syllables. There's a similar sound, [ʉ̞] that seems to be a variant of /ʊ/ in unstressed syllables as well.

Interestingly, Faroese does something similar. All vowels in unstressed syllables reduce down to [ɪ], [ʊ], and [a], but then some dialects merge [ɪ] and [ʊ] into [ə], and I'm sure I've read of one that merges all three, including [a] into [ə], but I could be wrong
Yes, it's worth pointing out that the textbook 'phoneme' of schwa is a lot more complicated than that in practice. Vowels are variably reduced in unstressed syllables in different contexts, often variably, and phonetically they can retain some 'colouring' from their former value (or from the surrounding environment). A-coloured schwa and U-coloured schwa are not phonemically distinct, but I pronounce them differently and can often hear the difference. Unstressed /I/ is in theory distinct, but can be reduced to an I-coloured schwa in practice, phonemically identical to the other schwas (which can become I-coloured in certain situations). So, for many speakers at least, it can be unclear whether a given word should have /I/ or /@/.

Then there's the phonemicity of schwa in general, and the phonemicity of secondary stress. If you only accept stress and non-stress, then schwa can be phonemically distinguished from almost all vowels; but if you accept secondary (or tertiary?) stress, then schwa may not be a phoneme at all, as it only occurs in fully unstressed syllables and other vowels only occur outside of fully unstressed syllables. Or perhaps in some dialects it might be phonemically distinct from /I/, but from no other vowels...
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Re: (L&N) Q&A Thread - Quick questions go here

Post by Omzinesý »

So, do I understand your answers correctly: unstressed /ɪ/, /ɛ/, and /ei/ change/changed to ï (or whatever letter you use for it), as a basic rule, but that it very often "sporadically" mergers with ə even in the dialects that keep the distinction?
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Re: (L&N) Q&A Thread - Quick questions go here

Post by Salmoneus »

/I/ is /I/; I'm not sure why you need a separate letter for it at all. [it's true, of course, that it will be phonetically different in different contexts, including probably laxer when unstressed, but that's true for any vowel].

In "fully unstressed" positions, however those are defined, English has progressive reduced its short vowels to /I/, /@/ and /U/. [repeatedly; at one point all fully unstressed short vowels were reduced to schwa, but later shortening, destressing and borrowing have introduced other vowels again].

The latter two probably lost all minimal pairs when final /U/ was raised to /u/. Some linguists still believe they are distinct, while others believe they are not (it probably depends on your views on stress). For instance, I just saw a transcription of 'communal' as /kQmjUn@l/; but for me, the final two vowels are the same, the /U/ having been somewhat derounded in a fully unstressed position and the /@/ having been somewhat rounded by the following /l/. I would probably talk of a-coloured and u-coloured schwa instead.

The same process occured with /I/, when final /I/ was raised to /i/. However, many minimal pairs existed, so these vowels were not fully merged.

In some dialects, they are now merged. In others, they are not. However, schwa is sometimes i-coloured by context (particularly before alveolars?), and i-coloured schwa is easily confused for fully unstressed /I/. As a result, there are words where I can pronounce the word either way in isolation and hear the difference, but my actual pronunciation allegro is probably intermediate. In some cases, I have reanalysed these words as containing schwa, and this is very common, even in dialects without a full merger. This reanalysis is word-by-word, though more common in certain contexts. [but sometimes completely word-by-word. For instance, I pronounce the suffix -ness as /n@s/, but "business" instead has /nIs/.] Phonologically, however, the change is actually toward [ I ] in many cases.

As for which vowels ended up as /I/ anyway: it depends on the individual word, the dialect it was drawn from, the position in the word, the surrounding consonants. Later loanwords seem to retain /I/ more often; it's more retained before /k/ and /S/. The suffixes -ing, -ish, and -ic, for example, always contain /I/. [so, /kQmIk/, but /kQm@t/. Although personally I've now reanalysed 'comet' as /kQmIt/]. Pretonic /I/ was more likely to remain, although this is the context where reanalysis is now most likely. [eg edition/addition, elusion/illusion/allusion and so forth are often merged today].

But sometimes it's just random, seemingly. "Certain" was always /@/, whereas "captain" was traditionally (and I think still usually?) /I/.

Ultimately, this is probably because it's a stress-conditioned shift, and stress levels were non-binary and highly variable, with the same speaker using different pronunciations at different times. At one point, the same person could in different sentences have pronounced the final syllable of "emperor" as /oUr/, /Ur/, /@r/ or /@/...
Last edited by Salmoneus on 08 Aug 2022 18:16, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: (L&N) Q&A Thread - Quick questions go here

Post by Salmoneus »

Omzinesý wrote: 08 Aug 2022 15:34 So, do I understand your answers correctly: unstressed /ɪ/, /ɛ/, and /ei/ change/changed to ï (or whatever letter you use for it), as a basic rule, but that it very often "sporadically" mergers with ə even in the dialects that keep the distinction?
To answer again and more specifically: there are three stages of merger here.

In stage 1:
fully unstressed /ej/ merged with... I'm not sure, /E/? /I/?
Likewise fully unstressed /ow/ merged with /U/

In stage 2:
fully unstressed vowels were reduced to schwa, possibly excluding /I/ (or maybe this just wasn't fully unstressed in some words)
surviving unstressed /E/ merged with /I/ (and /O/ with /U/)

In stage 3a (some dialects):
unstressed /I/ is reduced to schwa

In stage 3b (other dialects)
schwa is i-coloured in certain contexts, leading to merger or near-merger with /I/ i those contexts
as a result, speakers inconsistently analyse some words with /I/ and others with /@/

[there's also lengthening of unstressed /I/ to /i/ in some dialects]
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Re: (L&N) Q&A Thread - Quick questions go here

Post by Omzinesý »

OK, thank you, I think I understand.

Are those contexts coloring schwa by the way language-specific or universal?
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Re: (L&N) Q&A Thread - Quick questions go here

Post by Salmoneus »

Everything that happens in a language is language-specific; nothing is universal. Some things may be more universally likely than others, but the precise events will be specific to that language and its context.

Some environments are obviously more likely to cause raising and fronting than others, as I'm sure you're aware - consonants with raised, fronted tongue positions (coronals, perhaps palatals) and an absence of rounding are more likely to cause adjacent vowels to move toward [ I ]. Consonants with lowered, backed tongue positions (uvulars) and rounding (bilabials) are less likely to cause adjacent vowels to move toward [ I ].

...except when exactly the opposite is true because of dissimilation, of course!

And of course often vowels just shift in all positions.
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