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Subject: Technical Term for a Change of Vowel Sound?
Question: I'm having a hard time identifying the technical term for the change to the sounding of the ''e'' vowel in the English definite article ''the'' when the next word begins with a vowel. When the next word begins with a consonant, people in my area typically sound the definite article as ''thuh.'' When the next word begins with a vowel, they typically sound it as ''thee.'' Thuh book Thee essay Thuh camel Thee aardvark In linguistics, what is the technical term for that change? Thank you, Paul Schlicher Yardley, Pennsylvania, USA
Reply: I am not aware of a name for this rule other than "the-allomorphy". There is a general pattern in English that many vowels become schwa /ə/ or "uh" in unstressed position and this is called vowel reduction. However, I am not sure if "the-allomorphy" is part of that because this is conditioned by whether the following sound if a vowel or consonant. There is also a question of whether "the" is "thee" undergoing vowel reductions before consonants or "thuh" with vowel raising before another vowel or if it's a frozen vowel change. My intuition says that the underlying form of a "the" has a schwa, but the question needs more examination.
Reply From: Elizabeth J Pyatt      click here to access email
Date: 17-Dec-2012
Other Replies:
  1. Re: Technical Term for a Change of Vowel Sound?    Marilyn N Silva     (15-Dec-2012)
  2. Re: Technical Term for a Change of Vowel Sound?    Geoffrey Richard Sampson     (16-Dec-2012)
  3. Re: Technical Term for a Change of Vowel Sound?    John M. Lawler     (15-Dec-2012)

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