Friday, 4 April 2014

Say, I am happy!

Samuel Beckett
credit: Roger Pic
In the second act of Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot, we are presented with these verbal symmetries:

Say, I am happy.
I am happy.
So am I.
So am I.
We are happy.
We are happy.
What do we do, now that we are happy?
Wait for Godot.

Barry Cusack drew my attention to a BBC Radio 4 broadcast from the 31st of March, which contains a sound snippet from a performance of Waiting for Godot. The interesting thing is that the two actors employ different word-final KIT vowels in the word happy. Listen:


The first actor has a KIT vowel in unstressed word-final position which is rather at the half-close level whereas the second uses an /ɪ/ more at the close level.

I couldn't find out the names of the actors, so I can't tell you anything about their age or professional training.


  1. Interesting! By the way, did you notice the intonation in the first half of the recording:

    FIRST ACTOR – Say, I \AM happy [ˌseɪ aɪ ˈæm ˌhæpɪ].
    SECOND ACTOR (clearly, a Spanish-minded gentleman) – I am \HAPpy [aɪ æm ˈhæpi].

  2. Isn't it just a matter of which linguistic creed you prefer? The RP community had it's own, which allowed /ɪ/ in open syllables, so no rules were broken. On the other hand that creed also claimed that the RP phoneme system was the British English phoneme system, which means almost everyone else was breaking the rules of English some of the time. On the other hand, if your creed insists that /ɪ/ only occurs in closed syllables in English, the final vowel of "happy" would be /i/, with [ɪ] as a possible allophone in weak syllables (with detensing by reduction). For those flavours of RP that have "happeh" you would also have [ɛ] as an allophone of /i/ in weak open syllables, to express that mannerism.