ferry / fairy omophones?

tonius   Mon Jul 21, 2008 8:48 am GMT
And also:

bearing / burying

Obviously, I mean in an american rhotic accent.
Guest   Mon Jul 21, 2008 9:14 am GMT
AJC   Mon Jul 21, 2008 9:22 am GMT


I can't spot the difference but I don't think rhoticism is anything to do with it. "Bearing" and "burying" would be different in any case, surely?
tonius   Mon Jul 21, 2008 9:23 am GMT
Thanks, although I think that is a bit beside the point, in that I can't see how it may be related to an accent being rhotic / non-rhotic.

If I am getting it right (that is why I am asking), by definition "rhotic" would imply fairy / ferry (as well as Mary / merry) being omophones.
Guest   Mon Jul 21, 2008 9:24 am GMT
fairy / ferry - yes
bearing / burying - no
bosses / buses - no

AJC   Mon Jul 21, 2008 9:39 am GMT
<<If I am getting it right (that is why I am asking), by definition "rhotic" would imply fairy / ferry (as well as Mary / merry) being omophones.>>

I don't think so. Rhotic speakers in Britain at least would distinguish those vowels. Whether there are rhotic accents in the US that do, I can't say but , even if there weren't, it couldn't be so by definition.
Guest   Mon Jul 21, 2008 10:22 am GMT
''bearing / burying''

They are homophones in Ottawa English.
tonius   Mon Jul 21, 2008 10:28 am GMT
Well, in a way, ferry / fairy being homophones has nothing to do with the definition of "rhotic", which only implies pronouncing "r" before consonants.

In the case of these two words, in both rhotic and non-rhotic accents the "r" would be pronounced, because it precedes a vowel.

However, it is just happens too that non-rhotic accents have no centring diphotongs and therefore "fairy" can only be pronounced as "ferry".

At least that's what I read in several books and also at the bottom of the page in the link http://www.ling.mq.edu.au/speech/phonetics/phonetics/vowelgraphs/USE_Monophthongs.html

I would still need to verify the rhotic acccents of Britain, though.
Guest   Mon Jul 21, 2008 10:31 am GMT

Boss has [A] or [Q]
bus has [@] or [V]

they are not homophones.

Australian BUSES may sound to an American ear like his BOSSES tho'
as presented in prof. Labov interview
AJC   Mon Jul 21, 2008 7:26 pm GMT
<<However, it is just happens too that non-rhotic accents have no centring diphotongs and therefore "fairy" can only be pronounced as "ferry". >>

Well, in my non-rhotic speech, there's no diphthong. The main difference between the vowels is in length: /"fEr\i/ and /"fE:r\i/. Actually, "fairy" is slightly raised, so that even when stretching the "ferry" vowel, it's still different. This is obviously not the case with the American pronuncuiation linked to above but I suppose it might be for some. Anybody?
Lazar   Tue Jul 22, 2008 2:42 am GMT
"Fairy" and "ferry" are homophones for speakers who have the Mary-merry (and usually Mary-merry-marry) merger. This merger is predominant among Americans - it developed as a consequence of rhoticism - and the Mary-merry-marry distinction has been retained largely in the areas of North America where non-rhoticism is still common (i.e. the Northeast), because non-rhoticism seems to serve as an impediment to the spread of the merger. (The merger is totally absent from Britain, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand, so even rhotic English and Scottish speakers make the distinction.) As for whether there are rhotic North American speakers who retain the distinction, there are: I'm one of them in fact. I grew up in suburban Massachusetts and I'm totally rhotic, but I also make the Mary-merry-marry distinction. I pronounce them:

fairy - ["fE@`.i]
ferry - ["fE.r\i]

The "fairy" vowel is distinguished by some combination of length, height, and diphthongization which I usually just notate as a rhotic centering diphthong. (I suspect that my pronunciations would sound very similar to AJC's.)

I make similar distinctions with serious-Sirius, hurry-furry and Tory-torrent. But these all mark me as a Northeasterner: if you're aiming for a General American accent, you should merge all these vowels. My way of describing the phonemic situation is that distinguishing dialects allow a sequence of /checked vowel/ + /r/ + /vowel/, whereas merging dialects do not allow this sequence so they merge it into into /rhotic vowel/ + /vowel/.
Travis   Tue Jul 22, 2008 3:46 am GMT
There are also dialects such as my own, which are diachronically Mary-merry-marry merged but which have actually resurrected a distinction between historical /ɛ/ and /eɪ̯/ before /r/. In such dialects, historical , and /eɪ̯/ have been merged, but due to elision there are new cases where historical /ɛ/ and /r/ have become adjacent. A good example of such that shows up in many dialects is "every" being reduced to /ˈɛri(ː)/ (here [ˈɜːʁiː]) and contrasting with "airy" /ˈe(ɪ̯)ri(ː)/ (here [ˈe̞ːʁiː]). However, there are many other examples of such in the dialect here due to intervocalic /t/, /d/, and /n/ elision.

Likewise, I have noticed that at least in higher registers as I speak them myself, I will actually sporadically borrow cases of /ær/ from conservative GA even when the local GA variety lacks such. This is similar to how I will borrow cases of /ʍ/ from conservative GA even though in the local GA variety such has been completely merged with /w/.

Due to such it seems that there is actually no synchronic rule in the dialect here that /ɛ̯æ/ and /ɜ/ (historical /æ/ and /ɛ/) may never show up before /r/ or are neutralized in that position with /e/; rather, it just happens that all cases of historical /æ/ and /ɛ/ have been merged to present /e/ before /r/, leaving holes in the overall vowel distribution.

Note that the very same thing happens here with historical /ɔː/ and /oʊ̯/ before /r/; they both have been merged to present /o/ before /r/ diachronically, but synchronically there is no fundamental restriction upon /ɒ/ (historical /ɔː/) falling immediately before /r/. This actually occurs in a few quite common words here, such as "already" [ɒːˈʁɜːi̯] and "alright" [ɒːˈʁə̆ĕ̯ʔ] thanks to elision.
Travis   Tue Jul 22, 2008 3:56 am GMT
That said, there might be a very good synchronic reason for the above. At least in the case of both the dialect here and the local GA variety, there is really no good reason to treat them as having rhoticized vowels phonetically. Rather, they just have normal vowels followed by /r/ and syllabic /r/, with syllabic /r/ being just realized as a slightly more open [ʁ] than that from normal /r/, and with normal /r/ in codas being identical to /r/ in other positions aside from after coronals. Hence, there is no real underlying phonological reason why certain vowels should not precede /r/ - it is just a matter of historical linguistics that they don't. Hence, vowel distinctions before /r/ are easily resurrected via elision, as there is no reason to re-merge other vowels that happen to be realized before /r/.