Ambisyllabicity?

I've been doing some reading recently (really recently) about ambisyllabicity. If you're not into phonology, don't let the big word scare you! It just means that some consonant sounds between syllables seem to be part of both the syllables at once. So in a word like "marry", that single /r/ sound seems end the first syllable and begin the next. That presents a problem for phonologists because they like to split everything into discrete units. (It makes them feel good.) So some people would say that there are actually two /r/s deep down and these just come out as a single sound. That's actually how it looks in the spelling, but who knows what that means.

Read this engaging little article on the topic and then come back here to finish mine.

Over the past few weeks, I've been gradually coming to the conclusion that for stress-timed languages like English (those that only pay attention to stressed syllables when it comes to counting beats), syllables aren't the most important phonological unit above the phoneme. The speech sounds actually seem to be phonologically grouped into feet. In this sense, a foot starts at the beginning of a word, and a new foot starts every time a stressed syllable is encountered. This explains things a little more cleanly than saying they're grouped into syllables or just not grouped at all. The important distinction between a metrical (or phonetic) foot and a phonological foot is that a single phonological foot can't span two words.

Of course, this hinges on a very specific definition of the word "word". For now, I'll just say that "singer" is two words because "er" is a productive affix that can apply to any verb (sometimes using a hypen when it doesn't look/sound right otherwise), and "stronger" is one word because this "er" can't apply to all adjectives. "More" would be the productive affix (or modifier, you might say). I'm not just basing this distinction on morphology/syntax but also on phonology. The /g/ in "singer" clings to the preceding /n/, but it actually gets released with full force in "stronger".

At the start of a phonological foot, aspiration can occur. Flapping occurs intervocalically when not at the start of a foot. (Assuming you're an American, that is.) Comparing "It's at a maitre d's house," with "It's a tomato-cheese house," shows the differing behavior of /t/: flapping vs. aspiration (albeit weaker than it would be at the start of a stressed syllable). If you say the word "tomato" in isolation, it should sound about the same as in the above sentence.

If you compare "tinted A" with "tin today", you can see that this flapping can also occur with /d/. Oddly enough, /d/ is only reduced between vowels, but /t/ can also be reduced (to nothing) after /n/. I'd say that English wants to flap the second "t" in "tinted", but it's just not phonetically perceptible.

As a little side note on this topic, does anyone besides me pronounce the "ty" in "twenty" different from the "ty" in "ninety"? How about "seventy"? I've adjusted it a little now to sound more standard, but I grew up with that "t" being a true (silent) /t/ in "twenty" but a /d/ in the other two. Saying "niney" and "sevenny" still doesn't feel quite right. (But of course "twenny" is perfectly fine.)

Anyway, it looks like I need to adjust my post on English Phonology. I'd like to get everything as accurate as possible with standard segmental phonology before I try to translate it all to my new system. It's not fair to say the new system's better if I did sloppy a analysis with the old system, right? (But really, the new system is much better.)

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