Friday, November 29, 2013

Is the Pronunciation Half Full or Half Empty?

The Wikipedia article on the Deseret Alphabet—in its current incarnation—says the following:
The Deseret alphabet does not have a distinct symbol for the mid-central vowel. This sound is written as what it would be if the syllable that contains it were stressed. For example, the word enough is commonly pronounced [əˈnɐf], but when it is stressed (as in a declaration of irritation) it is pronounced [iˈnɐf]. The Deseret spelling of the word, 𐐨𐑌𐐲𐑁, reflects that stressed pronunciation. 
If /ə/ does not have an inherent stressed value in a word, as is often the case before /r/, then it is written as 𐐲.
(This stressed pronunciation is sometimes referred to as “full”—and indeed was in an earlier manifestation of this article.)

I really need to correct this statement at some point, because I disagree with it. First, however, I need to confirm my hypothesis, which is that the “official” spellings used are derived from Webster’s Dictionary, and that the “full” nature of these vowels is because of that—and because Webster’s was a proscriptive dictionary. That is, it told you how words should be pronounced. 

Modern dictionaries, on the other hand, tend to be descriptive, which means that they tend not to give the full pronunciations. Thus, the New Oxford American Dictionary says that “enough” is pronounced |ɪˈnəf|; |iˈnəf| isn’t even mentioned as a possibility. /ɪˈnʌf/ is given on gives three possibilities: \i-ˈnəf, ē-, ə-\. 

Now, one thing I found out while working on the Unihan database is that I’m not a lexicographer and I don’t want to be. Doing the job even vaguely well is a lot of work. And, frankly, I’d rather not set myself up as an authority on how words are pronounced. When working on the Deseret Classics Library, therefore, I use other people’s judgment whenever possible. I start with a combination of the Carnegie Mellon University phonetic data and the Mac’s text-to-speech engine, but when I run into a case which I’m not completely certain about, I check the three sources mentioned above—which are all conveniently available on my iPad Mini—and Kenyon and Knott’s A Pronouncing Dictionary of American English (1953) as a supplemental printed source. All of these are sufficiently modern that they’re not interested in “full” pronunciations. They’re descriptive, not proscriptive, and since people very rarely actually say |iˈnəf|, it’s not their preferred pronunciation. 

And therefore when I run into the word “enough” in a text, I go with “𐐮𐑌𐐲𐑁” instead of “𐐨𐑌𐐲𐑁.”

Which is certainly enough for now.