Saturday 21 January 2012


John Maidment
John Maidment in his blog of the 19th of January, 2012, asks the question which term to use for the fact that a word may have more than one pronunciation, e.g. byzantine (to use his example) pronounceable in General British English as /bɪˈzæntaɪn, baɪˈzæntaɪn, bəˈzæntaɪn, -i:n/ or /ˈbɪzəntaɪn, ˈbɪzəntiːn/. He suggests the term polymorph. As a first comment to John's blog I suggested polyphonemic. On second thoughts, however, I withdrew my proposal because of the fact that it would deprive one of the possibility to call a word with more than phoneme polyphonemic. In the meantime Jack Windsor Lewis had published a blog entry on the topic with the title polyphons. Jack comes up with the term polyphon to describe the fact that a word has more than one pronunciation. A beautiful example of 'phonetic polyphony' is his analysis of the GB pronunciations of traditionally: According to his calculations (to be admired here) there are 160 allopolyphons.
How does he arrive at this figure? He lists 60 allopolyphons with a word-final /i/. This figure is to be doubled by replacing /i/ by /ɪ/. This makes 120 allopolyphons. Moreover, one can articulate the word with an epenthetic /t/ if the following fricative is a voiceless /s/ or an epenthetic /d/ if followed by a /z/. Within the list there are 20 items with /-dz-/ plus final /i/ and 20 with /-dz-/ and /ɪ/. To this we must add 80 items with /-ts-/ plus /i/ or /ɪ/. 20+20+80=120. This leads to a grand total of 120+120=240 allopolyphons

Jack seems to have difficulties with his blogger software because we see a small pipe symbol ¦ below some of the pronunciations with a /ʃ/ which can be misinterpreted as a syllabicity mark but isn't intended to be one.  This is why I repeat the first sixty items of Jack's list here:

Jack Windsor Lewis
1.    trӕnˈzɪʃənəli
2.    trӕnˈzɪʃn̩əli
3.    trӕnˈzɪʃnəli
4.    trӕnˈzɪʃnli
5.    trӕnˈzɪʃn̩l̩i
6.    trӕnˈsɪʃənəli
7.    trӕnˈsɪʃn̩l̩i
8.    trӕnˈsɪʃn̩əli
9.    trӕnˈsɪʃnəli
10.    trӕnˈsɪʃnli
11.    trӕnˈsɪʒənəli
12.    trӕnˈsɪʒn̩l̩i
13.    trӕnˈsɪʒn̩əli
14.    trӕnˈsɪʒnəli
15.    trӕnˈsɪʒnli
16.    trɑːnˈzɪʃənəli
17.    trɑːnˈzɪʃn̩l̩i
18.    trɑːnˈzɪʃn̩əli
19.    trɑːnˈzɪʃnəli
20.    trɑːnˈzɪʃnli
21.    trɑːnˈsɪʃənəli
22.    trɑːnˈsɪʃn̩əli
23.    trɑːnˈsɪʃnəli
24.    trɑːnˈsɪʃnli
25.    trɑːnˈsɪʃn̩l̩i
26.    trɑːnˈsɪʒənəli
27.    trɑːnˈsɪʒn̩l̩i
28.    trɑːnˈsɪʒn̩əli
29.    trɑːnˈsɪʒnəli
30.    trɑːnˈsɪʒnli
31.    trənˈzɪʃənəli
32.    trənˈzɪʃn̩l̩i
33.    trənˈzɪʃn̩əli
34.    trənˈzɪʃnəli
35.    trənˈzɪʃnli
36.    trənˈsɪʃənəli
37.    trənˈsɪʃn̩əli
38.    trənˈsɪʃnəli 
39.    trənˈsɪʃnli
40.    trənˈsɪʃn̩l̩i
41.    trənˈsɪʒənəli
42.    trənˈsɪʒn̩l̩i
43.    trənˈsɪʒn̩əli
44.    trənˈsɪʒnəli
45.    trənˈsɪʒnli
46.    trnˈzɪʃənəli
47.    trnˈzɪʃn̩l̩i
48.    trnˈzɪʃn̩əli
49.    trnˈzɪʃnəli
50.    trnˈzɪʃnli
51.    trnˈsɪʃənəli
52.    trnˈsɪʃn̩l̩i
53.    trnˈsɪʃn̩əli
54.    trnˈsɪʃnəli
55.    trnˈsɪʃnli
56.    trnˈsɪʒənəli
57.    trnˈsɪʒn̩l̩i
58.    trnˈsɪʒn̩əli
59.    trnˈsɪʒnəli
60.    trnˈsɪʒnli


  1. (This is at least as much a comment to JWL's post as to yours here.)

    May I suggest to double the number by allowing for /tʃ/ as an alternative to /tr/?

    How about /tn/? I'm afraid with all these variants, I'm a bit blind (or rather, my inner ear's a bit deaf) and can't decide if this would be too far for realistic everyday RP.

    1. I dont think either of these wd be accepted as 'normal' lexical forms by the vast majority of GB speakers.

  2. @Lipman: Of course, you may suggest these variants. The reason why I (and I guess JWL would cite this as a reason a well) did not include variants other than the ones listed is that I restricted myself to what LPD3 and EPD18 mention.

    1. Kraut is quite right in opining that I wd rule out of the game any of the additional variants suggested. This is so even of /tʃr-/ tho that is the nearest to what praps a fair number of observers might accept as an unmarked lexical form. It certnly isnt particularly uncommon but probbly most GB users wd feel it to be marked by something such as an element of clumsiness or emotive reaction.

  3. @Lipman

    I presume you mean /tʃr/ in place of /tr/. I don't think I've ever heard /tʃæn/ and the like. But who knows?

  4. I'd say that e.g. tnˈsɪʃn̩l̩i is a likely variant in relaxed GB.

  5. That's one of my favorite Fugues from the Well Tempered Clavier. Excellent choice of music to illustrate polyphony!

    1. I must confess that I have only two CD's in my car - one with the Goldberg variations, the other with the Goldberg variations. Whenever I turn the music on I listen to one of them - nothing else. My wife says I'm crazy. Yes, maybe I am. I've been listening to the versions for months now and I still enjoy them. The music is so relaxing and intellectually so challenging at the same time. Great music!

  6. Also, I didn't consider that tʃr my be regarded a non-phonemic variant of tr.