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7. Special processes

© 2015 Greg Brooks, CC BY http://dx.doi.org/10.11647/OBP.0053.07

In this category I include processes which function outside the strict range of phoneme-grapheme correspondences but which are essential for understanding them. I have identified four:

  • /r/-linking, which is dealt with in section 3.6
  • elided vowels, which are dealt with just above in section 6.10
  • dual-functioning
  • surfacing sounds.

The last two have been referred to frequently in previous chapters and are drawn together in the next two sections.

7.1 Dual-functioning

I have invented this term to cover cases where, in my opinion, particular letters belong to two graphemes simultaneously. In my analysis this process affects only the letters <e, r, w, y>. For more background on this see section A.8 in Appendix A.

7.1.1 Letter <e>

Dual-functioning <e> occurs where the word-final consonant digraphs <ce, ge, ve> overlap with split vowel digraphs and the <e> belongs to both. For details see variously sections 3.7.4, 3.7.6 and 3.8.4 for <ce, ge, ve>, and sections 10.4/17/24/28/38/40 for the split digraphs. Conversely, see section 3.7.8 for why I never treat the <e> in <-ze> as part of a split digraph. I have also found it unnecessary to treat the <e> in <-se> as part of a split digraph.

7.1.2 Letter <r>

The major category of dual-functioning involving <r> is /r/-linking, or most of its instances - see Table 3.2 in section 3.6, where I point out which examples of /r/-linking do not count as instances of dual-functioning. Conversely, there are also cases of <r> having dual functions which are internal to stem words and therefore do not arise from /r/-linking. In all such cases the phoneme following the /r/ is a vowel:

  • Words in which the word-initial morpheme air is followed by a vowel phoneme and is spelt <aer>, e.g. aerate, aerial, aerobic, aerodrome, aeroplane, aerosol. These all have the word-initial 2-phoneme sequence /eər/ in which /eə/ is spelt <aer> and the <r> also spells /r/
  • Many cases of medial /eər/ spelt <ar> in which the <r> functions as part of <ar> spelling /eə/ and also spells /r/, e.g. area, garish, gregarious, parent
  • Two cases of medial /eər/ spelt <er> in which the <r> functions as part of <er> spelling /eə/ and also spells /r/, namely bolero (/bəʽleərəʊ/ ‘dance’), sombrero
  • Two cases of word-initial /ɪər/ in which the <r> functions as part of <eer, eyr> spelling /ɪə/ and also spells /r/, namely eerie, eyrie
  • Words in which medial /ɪər/ is spelt <er> and the <r> functions as part of <er> spelling /ɪə/ and also spells /r/, e.g. adherent, cereal, coherence, coherent, ethereal, funereal, hero, inherent, managerial, material, perseverance, serial, series, serious, serum, sidereal, venereal, zero
  • Words in which medial /aɪər/ is spelt <ir> and the <r> functions as part of <ir> spelling /aɪə/ and also spells /r/, e.g. biro, giro, pirate, virus
  • One word (and derivatives) in which initial /jʊər/ is spelt <eur> and the <r> functions as part of <eur> spelling /jʊə/ and also spells /r/, namely Europe
  • urea and many words derived from it in which initial /jʊər/ is spelt <ur> and the <r> functions as part of <ur> spelling /jʊə/ and also spells /r/
  • Words in which medial /(j)ʊər/ are spelt <ur> and the <r> functions as part of <ur> spelling /(j)ʊə/ and also spells /r/, e.g. (with /ʊər/) during pronounced /ˈʤʊərɪŋ/, juror, jury, rural; (with /jʊər/) curate (pronounced both /ˈkjʊərət/ ‘junior cleric’ and /kjʊəˈreɪt/ ‘mount an exhibition’), curious, during pronounced /ˈdjʊərɪŋ/, fury, spurious. For longer lists see section 5.6.5
  • One word in which medial /ʊər/ is spelt <our> and the <r> functions as part of that grapheme spelling /ʊə/ and also spells /r/, namely houri. Contrast potpourri, in which, uniquely, /ʊə, r/ can be analysed (admittedly counter-intuitively, but there is no call for a grapheme <ourr>) as spelt separately as <our, r>
  • Words in which initial or medial /ɔːr/ is spelt <or> and the <r> functions as part of <or> spelling /ɔː/ and also spells /r/, e.g. aurora, authorial, borax, chlorine, choral, chorus, corporeal (only the second <or> since the first is followed by a consonant), decorum, dictatorial, editorial, euphoria, flora(l), forum, glory, memorial, oracy, oral, oration, oratorio (only the medial occurrence – in my accent the initial phoneme is /ɒ/, not /ɔː/), orient (noun, pronounced /ˈɔːriːjənt/ - the verb of the same spelling is pronounced /ɒriːˈjent/), quorum, variorum.

    7.1.3 Letter <w>

There are very few instances of dual-functioning <w>, and within stem words they are all medial and followed by a vowel phoneme:

  • In ewer, jewel, newel, skewer, steward, <w> is both a single-letter grapheme spelling /w/ and part of the digraph <ew> spelling /(j)uː/
  • In bowie, rowan (in its English pronunciation /ˈrəʊwən/), <w> is both a single-letter grapheme spelling /w/ and part of the digraph <ow> spelling /əʊ/
  • In bowel, dowel, rowel, towel, trowel, vowel; bower, cower, dower, flower, glower, power, shower, tower; coward, dowager, howitzer, prowess, plus the Scottish pronunciation of rowan /ˈraʊwən/, <w> is both a single-letter grapheme spelling /w/ and part of the digraph <ow> spelling /aʊ/.

Other instances occur when words ending in <w>, which here is always part of a digraph spelling /(j)uː, əʊ, aʊ/, have a suffix beginning with a vowel phoneme added; also in running speech when such words are followed by a word beginning with a vowel phoneme. For examples and discussion of ‘linking /w/’ see Table 3.7 in section 3.8.7 and the paragraphs preceding and following it.

7.1.4 Letter <y>

Like <w>, there are very few instances of dual-functioning <y>, and within stem words they are all medial and followed by a vowel phoneme:

  • In abeyance, /j/ is spelt <y> but the <y> is also part of <ey> spelling /eɪ/
  • In arroyo, doyenne pronounced /dɔɪˈjen/, foyer pronounced /ˈfɔɪjeɪ, ˈfɔɪjə/, loyal /ˈlɔɪjəl/, Oyer (and Terminer), royal /ˈrɔɪjəl/, soya, /j/ is spelt <y> but the <y> is also part of <oy> spelling /ɔɪ/
  • In coyote /kaɪˈjəʊtiː/, doyen and doyenne pronounced /dwaɪˈjen/, foyer pronounced /ˈfwaɪjeɪ/, kayak /ˈkaɪjæk/, papaya, voyeur /vwaɪˈjɜː/, /j/ is spelt <y> but the <y> is also part of <ay, oy> spelling /aɪ/.

Other instances occur when words ending in <y> forming part of a digraph spelling /eɪ, ɔɪ, iː/ have a suffix beginning with a vowel phoneme added; also in running speech when such words are followed by a word beginning with a vowel phoneme. See Table 3.8 in section 3.8.8 for examples and the paragraphs before and after it for discussion of ‘linking /j/’, including why I do not count <y> as a single-letter grapheme as having two functions in these circumstances.

7.2 Surfacing sounds

This is my term for phonemes which are absent in a stem word but present in one or more of its derived or associated forms. I have borrowed the term ‘surfacing’ from transformational-generative grammar of yesteryear (and probably misapplied it). The great majority of the examples involve letters in stem-final position or immediately before that which are ‘silent’ (as conventional terminology has it) in the stem but pronounced when the word is suffixed; but there are also a very few initial examples – there are some amongst related forms of words with elided vowels in section 6.10. Most examples involve consonants, but there are a few involving vowels in final position. Some cases require detailed etymological knowledge. Actually, linking /r, w, j/ could also count here, but I have already dealt with them.

7.2.1 Sounds which surface in stem-initial position

  • In a few words with initial /n/ spelt <gn> the /g/ surfaces when the stem is prefixed: compare Gnostic, gnosis with agnostic, diagnosis, prognosis
  • In a couple of words with initial /n/ spelt <mn> the /m/ surfaces when the stem is prefixed: compare mnemonic, mnemonist with amnesia, amnesty (the etymological connection here is that all these words derive from the Greek word for ‘memory’)
  • In one word with initial /s/ spelt <ps> the /p/ (and an etymologically related /m/) surface when the stem is prefixed: compare psychosis with metempsychosis
  • Two of the few words with initial /t/ spelt <pt> are pterodactyl, pterosaur. The /p/ surfaces in archaeopteryx, helicopter
  • In just one word where intial /n/ is spelt <kn> the <k>, assisted by an inserted <c>, surfaces as /k/: compare knowledge with acknowledge.

    7.2.2 Sounds which surface in medial position

  • Initial /t/ is spelt <tw> only in two and derivatives, e.g. twopence, twopenny, and the /w/ surfaces in between, betwixt, twain, twelfth, twelve, twenty, twice, twilight, twilit, twin. In this case it would probably be more accurate to speak of the /w/ in two being ‘submerged’ since it is present in all those other words and would have been pronounced in (much) older forms of English, as <w> still is pronounced /f/ in the related German words zwei, zwo, zwanzig
  • There are three words in which <t> forms part of <st> spelling medial /s/ in the stem but /t/ surfaces in derivatives: compare apostle, castle, epistle with apostolic, castellan, castellated, epistolary. For the converse of this, i.e. words in which stem-final /st/ spelt <-st> becomes /s/ after suffixation, see /s/, section 3.6.6
  • There are two words in which <c> forms part of <sc> spelling medial /s/ in the stem but /k/ surfaces in derivatives: compare corpuscle, muscle with corpuscular, muscular
  • In a few words with medial or final /t/ spelt <bt> /b/ surfaces in related forms: compare debt, doubt, subtle with debit, indubitable, subtility
  • In one word with medial /k/ spelt <cu> the <u> surfaces as /juː/ in a derived form: compare circuit with circuitous
  • In one word with medial /g/ spelt <gu> the <u> surfaces as /w/ in two related words: compare languor with languid, languish
  • In one word with medial /k/ spelt <qu> the <u> surfaces as /w/ in a derived form: compare conquer with conquest
  • In one word with final /t/ spelt <ct> /k/ surfaces in a derived form: compare indict with indiction (with change of vowel phoneme) – but not before inflectional suffixes in indicts, indicting, indicted
  • In a few words with final /n/ spelt <gn> /g/ surfaces in derived or related forms: compare impugn, malign, sign with pugnacious, repugnant, malignant, assignation, designation, resignation, signal, signature (all with change of vowel phoneme) – but /g/ does not surface before inflectional suffixes, as in impugns, impugning, impugned, maligns, maligning, maligned, signs, signing, signed
  • In three words with final /m/ spelt <gm> /g/ surfaces in derived or related forms: compare paradigm, phlegm, syntagm with paradigmatic (with change of vowel phoneme), phlegmatic, syntagma(tic) – but /g/ does not surface in paradigms, phlegmy
  • There is only one word with final /t/ spelt <pt>, namely receipt, and /p/ surfaces in reception, receptive (with change of vowel phoneme)
  • In adverbs ending <-edly> derived from past participles ending in <-ed> pronounced /d, t/, <ed> is nevertheless pronounced /ɪd/, so the <e> has surfaced as /ɪ/, e.g. determinedly, markedly. This also applies in a few nouns derived from such past participles, e.g. preparedness, and in a number of adjectives which are derived from or resemble past participles but have /ɪd/ rather than the expected /d, t/, but often with a different meaning, e.g. aged (/ˈeɪʤɪd/ ‘elderly’ vs /eɪʤd/ ‘having … years’), dogged (/ˈdɒgɪd/ ‘persistent’ vs /dɒgd/ ‘pursued’). For many more examples see sections 5.4.3 and 10.15
  • In inherit the /h, r/ of heir both surface – or is this taking things too far?

    7.2.3 Sounds which surface in stem-final position

  • In acreage, ochreous, ogreish, relative to the unsuffixed forms /r/ has surfaced in stem-final position, but /r/ and the preceding schwa seem to be represented by <r, e> in reverse order
  • In actress, ambassadress, ancestress, conductress, dominatrix, executrix, foundress, laundress, ogress, protrectress, temptress, tigress, wardress (supposing any of these forms except tigress are still PC; if you want to see how many other ‘feminine’ forms in <-ess, -ix> are now disused and deservedly forgotten, take a look in Walker’s Rhyming Dictionary), relative to actor,, warder, the schwas (and <e, o> which helped to spell them) have disappeared and /r/ has surfaced before the suffix
  • In the one word falsetto, supposing the connection with false is clear, it could be considered that the <e> surfaces as /e/
  • In accoutrement the final schwa of accoutre disappears and two phonemes surface: /r/ spelt <r> and /ɪ/ represented by the first <e>.
  • In several words with final /m/ spelt <mn> /n/ surfaces before derivational suffixes: compare autumn, column, condemn, damn, hymn, solemn with autumnal, columnar, columnist, condemnation, damnable, damnation, hymnal, solemnity – but not before inflectional suffixes or adverbial <-ly>, e.g. columns, condemned, damning, solemnly
  • In a few words with final /m/ spelt <mb> /b/ surfaces in derived or related forms: compare dithyramb, bomb, rhomb, crumb with dithyrambic, bombard(ier), bombastic, rhomb-ic/us, crumble and supposedly, according to some authorities, thumb with thimble – but not before inflectional suffixes, e.g. bombs, bombing, crumbs
  • Although long, strong, young end in /ŋ/ (in RP) and are therefore to be analysed as containing /ŋ/ spelt <ng>, the comparative and superlative forms longer, longest, stronger, strongest, younger, youngest and the verb elongate all have medial /ŋg/, so here /g/ has surfaced and is represented by the <g>, and /ŋ/ is spelt <n>; similarly with diphthong, prolong when suffixed to diphthongise, prolongation­ – but /g/ does not surface before inflectional suffixes or adverbial <-ly>, e.g. longing, strongly
  • But in longevity the surfacing phoneme is /ʤ/
  • There are several French loanwords in which final vowel phonemes are spelt with graphemes containing final <t> and /t/ surfaces when the stem is suffixed: compare ballet, debut, parquet, rapport, sabot, valet (also pronounced with /ɪt/) with balletic, debutante, parquetry, rapporteur, sabotage, saboteur, valeting. In balletic, parquetry, sabotage, saboteur and (if the pre-suffixation ending is /eɪ/) valeting, the vowel phoneme also changes
  • There is one French loanword in which final /wɑː/ is spelt <-ois> and the <s> surfaces as /z/ when the stem is suffixed: compare bourgeois with bourgeoisie.