Friday, 12 July 2013

Obama's interest

While listening to a speech given by Barack Obama during the G8 summit meeting in 2012, I stumbled across his weakform pronunciation of the word 'interest' as /ˈɪntrs̩t/1. Intr'stingly, none of the 'Big Three'
lists this as a variant pronunciation.
Listen to two snippets and decide for yourselves if you can spot a schwa:

photo credit: SpreePiX
1Sorry for the misaligned syllabicity diacritic.


  1. Yes, I think that you're right.

    On the online Cambridge Dictionary entry, the IPA says /ˈɪn.trəst/ but the recording says [ˈɪn.trɛst].

  2. Over the years I've heard many examples of syllabic obstruents, so not just sonorants as we all learnt once upon a time.

    A more important issue is whether reductions are always expressions of weak articulation, which is certainly how Jones and Gimson describe it. President Obama was giving a a forceful public speech here, and the accentuation is hardly weak, so many reduced forms seem to be alternative pronunciations rather than accidents of the moment.

    As to dictionaries, some have the expressed goal of recording RP, and would only include condoned reductions. Generally speaking, the RP community is resistant to reductions. Readers of John Wells' blog will recall his recurrent topic "is it time now to include variant X in the dictionary", and sometimes it was, sometimes it wasn't.

    I heard one reduction by a prominent American linguist, that probably hasn't been included in any dictionary yet. Also well accented, well articulated, not weak. It was "mrknz" for "Americans", one syllable elided, no vowels, two syllabic sonorants.

  3. This reminds me of the fixed phrase 'Ladies and Gentlemen' being pronounced [leɪznʤmn]

  4. I like Sidney's comment. /ɪntrs̩tɪd/ readers may like to see this blog

  5. John WL, I just reread your blog [post] - I don't think the reductions as such would be doubted by many. It's about the definition of syllabicity, isn't it, mental concept, acoustic feature etc.?