Thursday 2 October 2014

FLEECE and KIT vowels

Cruttenden writes in his latest edition of GPE on p. 113 that a "short /i/, i.e. a vowel nearer in quality to the long /i:/, rather than /ɪ/ is now the norm in GB finally in words like lady, slopy, happy, donkey, prairie." True as it is, there are always speakers who do not comply with it.
Paul Carley, our phonetic tracker dog, (Paul, no insult intended!) has dug up some interesting examples which are worth being preserved1.
The speaker is the Diocesan Canon Angela Tilby from Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford.

credit: Christ Church, Oxford
In her Thought for the Day she uses "fantasy" once and "fantasies" twice:
1. "Most of us have Walter Mitty moments; flashes of fantasy in which we enjoy unlimited power, riches, success or sex."
2. "If when an invitation comes, you find yourself scheming your way to turning your fantasy into reality you run the risk of implosion."
3. "It's only when the opportunity appears to realise those unlived fantasies that we have to make a choice of whether to pursue them or resist."
4. "Being completely humiliated by the exposure of your own fantasies is a terrible ordeal but it is also a moment of opportunity."

You first hear the whole sentence, next the word in isolation and then the final syllable only.

What you clearly hear - at least this is what MY ears tell me - is that  fantasy1 and fantasies3 and fantasies4 rather display the quality of the KIT vowel in their final syllables, whereas fantasy2 is pronounced with the quality of FLEECE.

Paul has an explanation for the KIT vowel quality in fantasy1: "I think the cut out bit of fantasy 1 includes a bit of the following 'in', and that's why it sounds a bit like KIT."

In the case of fantasy2 the cotext of the word is slightly different. The next word ('into') also begins with a KIT vowel; however, there is a speech pause before it. So it seems more likely that the speaker has a FLEECE quality before and a KIT quality after the pause.

Canon Tilby's speech contains additional words with the happY vowel, e.g. society, desirability, story, Mitty, recently, only, really, opportunity, spirituality, respectability, highly, any, completely, integrity. But I won't examine these.

1 BBC Radio broadcasts are usually available online for seven days only.


  1. Great editing work!
    The question of the happY vowel is often a confusing one for students, but here you can see/hear it's not so tricky after all.
    Cruttenden does have a bit more to say than you mention, though. The first full paragraph on p. 114 summarises this distribution very concisely.

  2. 3. "It's only when the opportunity appears to realise those unlived fantasies that we have to make a choice of whether to pursue them or resist."

    In this snippet we have an excellent example of GB 'only' pronounced as /ˈəʊni/.

    1. I thought about making that the subject for my facebook post, but in the end went with happY instead.
      'Thought for the Day' is a good source because the speakers, I assume, are on their guard and speaking rather carefully, so when you get a nice connected speech feature, you know it's used despite the attention paid to speech here, which is a good way to argue that the feature is common or typical for the speaker.

  3. A sound change isn't suddenly adopted by everyone, it only affects new generations. I used to think that the more open RP HAPPY (citeh, coffeh) was their golden lining and would be their final bastion, but they suddenly gave it up just like that and started doing it like the rest of us. H G Wells thought all you had to do to sound like RP was say bad like bed, so he adopted that that in the 1880s. Then RP shifted its TRAP to something more like HG's original (and ours) after 1900. It's been happening all the time. My own criteria for RP are their GOAT and MOUTH, [əʊ] and [aʊ], which this lady has ( most and power in sentence 1). Born in the 1960s, she has free variation for her HAPPY, [i] and [ɪ], which is as good as it gets.

    Collecting clips of what people really say is a wonderful idea and very useful for teaching. I'm sure a lot of people do it, but organizing a large collection is hard work and often doesn't get done. A website is a good place for making them available. It also requires some skill, as Paul Carney observes. You're fighting coarticulation all the time when snipping words from running speech.