Thursday, 9 July 2015

Compression no. 2 (revised)

Compression as a phonetic term denotes the reduction of articulatory movements leading to
  1. a reduction of diphthongs plus schwa to diphthongs or monophthongs,
  2. a reduction of diphthongs to monophthongs,
  3. a change from a monophthong to an approximant, 
  4. a change from one vowel class to another or 
  5. coalescence. 
Here are some English examples illustrating the various subtypes:

1.1 a diphthong plus schwa becomes a diphthong: /ðə rɔɪəl fæmli/ -> /ðə rɔəl fæmli/ for <the royal family>
1.2 a diphthong plus schwa becomes a monophthong: /ən aʊər əweɪ/ -> /ən ɑːr əweɪ/ for <an hour away>
2. a diphthong becomes a monophthong: /ænjʊəl/ -> /ænjʊl/ for <annual>
3. a monophthong becomes an approximant: /reɪdiəʊ/ -> /reɪdjəʊ/ for <radio>
4. a change from one vowel class to another: /væljuː/ -> /væljʊ/ for <value>
5. coalescence: /wʊd juː/ -> /wʊʤʊ/ for <would you>


  1. Who uses it today Petr, or recently? I took a quick look at Gimson 1962, he seems to have preferred reduction. And that's my own preference too. Wells 1982 has a brief paragraph where compression is phoneme omission generally (another form of reduction, his example lit'ry for literary).

    Your no. 5 is yod coalescence, an RP shibboleth in the past and supposedly an Estuary characteristic, see Coggle (we've certainly no inhibitions about it). An early example I have is teejus for tedious from Sheldwich village (1820), just 5 km from Faversham Creek.

    Could compression originally have been a prescriptive term? i.e. slow down, decompress and improve comprehension?

    1. My no.s 1 and 2 are also called smoothing (see P. Ashby 2011); no. 5 is coalescence indeed. The term compression is used e.g. by Ashby 2011, Jack Windsor Lewis 1969 and in various places of his website.

  2. In John Maidment's Speech Internet Dictionary (= SID) a reduction of the syllable number is called compression. His example is /ʃɔːtənɪŋ/ -> /ʃɔːtnɪŋ/ for shortening. John Wells in his blog describes compression in the same way: In his blog entry of 10 Dec 2010 John writes: "Recall that among the candidates for compression (= loss of a syllable) are those sequences where ə is followed by r or l plus a weak vowel."

  3. AbeBooks has a copy for sale (UK) including reprints of articles from the Phonetic Journal (Pitman 1881, with Max Muller, G Chisholm and J Martin