Scottish Vowels and their Length Rule
The English language is widely spread. More than 20 countries all over the world consider English as their main and National language. However, all of these countries have their own accent which is quite interesting from a phonologically view. On the one hand we have the consonantal system which does not seem to change very much within the different accents. On the other hand there is the vowel system which shows the exact opposite. The accent of the Scottish speaking population shall be in the main focus of this paper. In the following Aitken's notion on the Scottish Vowel Length rule will be taken in account first to get an overview on the Scottish Vowel system. Within the progress of explaining and clarifying Aitken's concept of the Scottish Vowel duration System, Heinz J. Giegerich's introduction in English phonology will play an important role. Similar aspects and thoughts of the Scottish Vowel Length rule can be found in the work by Tamara V. Rathcke and Jane H. Stuart-Smith called On the Tail of the Scottish Vowel Length Rule in Glasgow. which will be important when it comes to understanding the SVLR in context to other notions. But after all, the concept of the Scottish Vowel Length Rule raises questions. One of the most asked ones is the issue whether the Scottish Vowel Length rule can rather be seen as a Lengthening or a shortening rule. To analyse this question critical works by Philip Carr and John Anderson will be taken in account. These different approaches and several critical opinions will lead this essay to a conclusion where a possible answer to the question concerning the Scottish Vowel Length Rule shall be given.
First approaches to clarify the behaviour of vowel in the Scottish pronunciation or in other words the Scottish Vowel Length Rule which will be shortened as SVLR in the following were made by a Scottish linguist named A. J. Aitken. Due to the fact that Aitken was the first who stated this phenomenon it is also known as Aitken's Law. He states this phenomenon first in 1962, where he describes how vowels which are produced by a Scottish speaking community vary regarding their duration. It is said that Standard Scottish English (SSE) differs between two distinct acoustic perceptions, long and short.
But after all this system varies between dialects and other varieties of Scottish English. Therefore will the main focus of the following section be concerned with the Standard Scottish English which refers to the Scottish speaking middle class from Central Scotland seemingly communities form areas around Glasgow and Edinburgh. Aitken divides the Scottish vowel System in three major types of Scottish Vowels. First of all the the Early Scot high short vowels (Aitken 1981: 3) which are represented by /ɪ/ and /ʌ/ the SVLR does not affect these due to the fact that they are described to be short in all environments and around all dialect. The second group he describes contains the vowel sounds /ɑ:,ɔ:/ and /e:/ and therefore he calls them Early Scot diphthongs. (Aitken 1981: 3) As well as the first group, they are not affected by the SVLR due to the fact that these vowels are fully long representatives in short and long phonetic environment. The last group of vowels he describes contains all the remaining long monophthongs (/iː/, /e:/,/ɛː / ,/aː/ ,/o:/ ,/u:/ ,/øː/ ) (Aitken 1981: 3)
To conclude the understanding of Aitken's Scottish Vowel Length rule it is important to take Heinz J. Giegerich's introduction in English phonology into account. Besides the fact that Giegerich gives an overview of Present-day English phonology he engages himself in the SVLR and its parallels as well its contrast to other varieties of the English language. In the following especially his detailed description of the SVLR should be considered. The words Giegerich uses to describe requirements of the SVLR are as followed “the distribution of long and short realisations of the tense-vowel phonemes: they are realised as long before voiced fricatives, /r/ and word boundaries; elsewhere - that is, before voiceless fricatives, oral stops, /l/ and nasals - they are short. The lax vowel phonemes are realised as short in all contexts, including those where tense vowels would be long.” (Giegerich 1992: 230) Furthermore, Giegerich argues that the core of the Scottish Vowel Length Rule is narrowed down that “tense vowels are either long or short, depending on their context, while lax vowels are invariably short” (Giegerich 1992: 229) Similar thoughts can be found in the work by Tamara V. Rathcke and Jane H. Stuart-Smith called On the Tail of the Scottish Vowel Length Rule in Glasgow, where they summaries Aitken's law with the words
“The rule describes a feature of syllables bearing the primary lexical stress to have long vowel allophones before voiced fricatives, /r/ and morpheme boundaries. Short allophones occur in all other contexts.” (Rathcke& Stuart-Smith 2016: 405) However, it is argued that the SVLR affects “all underlying tense vowels (/i u e o ɔ a/) and some diphthongs most notably /ai/ and perhaps /ɔi/ but not /au/.” (Rathcke& Stuart-Smith 2016: 405)But after all, Giegerich states in his work that the Scottish Vowel Length Rule “[...] is a rule that is quite different from 'proper' allophonic rules: it is a generalisation of a higher order than allophonic rules are in that it takes morphological structure into account, and is therefore able to treat phenomena as rule-governed that are, in strict phonemicist terms, phonemic.” (Giegerich 1992: 232)
Which leads to the assumption that other approaches view A. J. Aitken's Scottish Vowel length Rule critically. In the following two other convergences by John Anderson and Philip Carr will be taken in account. First of all Philip Carr's work Strict Cyclicity, Structure Preservation and the Scottish Vowel-Length Rule. where he is dealing with the analysis of vowel length in Standard Scottish English. Carr reviews earlier approaches of the Scottish Vowel Length rule critically and lines out problematical facts as well as advantages of these convergences. At first he describes that “the high and high mid vowels /i/ /e/ /u/ /o/ seem to undergo SVLR in many dialects” (Carr 1991: 93) But in the main focus of his work is the question about whether the Scottish Vowel Length Rule can rather be seen as shortening than a lengthening rule. To analyse this question he points out to Anderson's approach where he suggests a distinct system for long and short vowel. Carr points out to one problem of this approach “[t]he problem is that if SVLR operates in a system with all vowels underlyingly short, and introduces a long/short distinction, then it introduces a distinction not present underlyingly, and, inasmuch as it operates at level 1, violates SP” (Carr 1991: 100) However, Carr argues that this approach can be in some way defective due to the fact that several operation and processes may be blocked in certain environments. To describe these restrictions of Anderson's theory Carr uses the following words
“if SVLR-as-shortening applies largely precyclically, then it is not subject to the SCC [Strict Cyclicity Condition] , and may apply in non-derived environments. But if it then fails to apply at level 1 in the ablaut past-tense and NPFV [Noun Plural Fricative voicing] forms, we are faced with the rather anomalous situation in which a rule is blocked in a derived environment.” (Carr 1991: 102) Even though Philip Carr deals with the Question whether the SVLR can be seen rather as a Shortening than a lengthening rule he is lead to the conclusion that phonologically long vowels do exist in SSE and Scots dialects and the SVLR therefore is a lengthening rule but one must pay attention to the SVLR performing on a lexical level.
In contrast it is important to review John Anderson's work Morphology, phonology and the Scottish Vowel-length Rule. Where he responses to the critical work of Philip Carr, consequently he is dealing with the characteristics of the Scottish Vowel Length Rule and whether it can be described as a lengthening or a shortening rule. To analyse this question, Anderson revises Carr's work and draws to the conclusion that the SVLR is neither a lengthening nor a Shortening rule , to support this theses he explains that “SVLR-as-lengthening will apply to […] verbs in the derived environment provided by fricative voicing, while shortening would again have to be blocked”. (Anderson 1993: 422) However, Anderson describes that the “SVLR does not alter the categorial specifications, including crucially that subtending the 'free'/'checked' distinction, but rather regulates the suprasegmental structure that may be built on the basis of them.” (Anderson 1993: 423/424) and furthermore that “We can [...] interpret the 'lengthening' as a reflection of a suspension of SVLR triggered by the presence of both past and 'ablaut'” (Anderson 1993: 425)
To sum up the results of these different approaches to the Scottish Vowel Length rule it is important to keep in mind that they all agree on the fact that the SVLR describes how vowels behave regarding their duration in a spoken Scottish accent. The first approach by A.J. Aitken characterises the Scottish Vowel Length Rule as its name implies as a lengthening of certain vowels in a certain environment. Thought by Heinz J. Giegerich, Tamara V. Rathcke and Jane H. Stuart-Smith accord with this notion of Aitken. However, all of these three approaches agree on the fact that “tense vowels are either long or short, depending on their context, while lax vowels are invariably short” (Giegerich 1992: 229) as stated by Heinz J. Giegerich. Nevertheless, Philip Carr and John Anderson raised the question whether the SVLR can be seen as a shortening rather than a lengthening rule. As discussed in this essay do both linguists deal with the fact that processes within the Scottish Vowel Length Rule can be seen as an act of shortening the vowel duration but as a matter of fact this approach seems to be defective as Philip Carr describes. Even though Carr considers the Scottish Vowel Length Rule hypothetically to be a shortening process of vowel he implies that the Scottish Vowel Length Rule is in fact a lengthening process but he draws attention to the SVLR performing on a lexical level. Which would lead to my own conclusion, that the Scottish Vowel Length Rule can be considers as a lengthening rule rather than a shortening rule even though when performing on a lexical level the Scottish Vowel Length Rule shows characteristics of a shortening rule. Therefore I agree with Philip Carr who's notion shares the main aspects with the first one described by A. J. Aitken and therefore also aspects of the other approaches discussed earlier.
Aitken, A.J.. 1981. The Scottish Vowel-Length Rule. †A. J. Aitken, ed. Caroline Macafee, Collected Writings on the Scots Language. 2015. 131–157.
Anderson, John. 1993. Morphology, phonology and the Scottish Vowel-length Rule. Journals of Linguistics. Vol. 26, 419-430.
Carr, Philip. (1992). Strict cyclicity, structure preservation and the Scottish Vowel-Length Rule. Journal of Linguistics, Vol.28, 91–114.
Giegerich, Heinz J.. 1992. English Phonology – An introduction. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Rathcke, Tamara V. & Stuart-Smith, Jane H. 2016. On the Tail of the Scottish Vowel Length Rule in Glasgow. Language and Speech. 2016, Vol. 59(3) 404 –430.
- Quote paper
- Emilie Platt (Author), 2017, The Scottish Pronunciation. Scottish Vowels and their Length Rule, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/389036