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From Dafydd Gibbon:

Student at Jinan University, Guangzhou: Professor, what is a spretchy?
Me, puzzled: A spretchy?
Student: Yes, a spretchy.
Me: Sorry, no idea!
Student: But you told us to put the results of the experiment into a spretchy!
Me, trying to hide a smile: Oh … a spreadsheet …

Dafydd describes this as an example of the "peril of a language without contrastive vowel length" — I would have thought that the issue was lack of syllable-final consonants, but as insightful and subtle as Dafydd is, I'm no doubt missing something.



  1. Meichun Liu said,

    November 22, 2017 @ 9:22 pm

    It may also involve sounding out two adjacent consonants: a syllable-final stop and a syllable-initial fricative of similar places of articulation.

  2. Anne Cutler said,

    November 22, 2017 @ 9:36 pm

    I'm more with Dafydd – the best I can do by way of a consonant in that position is a bit of glottalisation. But I might not make much length distinction either…

  3. leoboiko said,

    November 22, 2017 @ 9:37 pm

    Surely this demonstrastes the perils of a language with contrastive vowel length?

  4. JPL said,

    November 23, 2017 @ 3:31 am

    I suspect, and I'm just guessing here (but the phonologists and phoneticians can tell us for sure), that the vowel length in a word such as 'spread' is typically longer than that in a word such as 'pet'. In 'spreadsheet, the voiced dental stop in 'spread' is devoiced in accommodation to the upcoming voiceless fricative in "-sheet", and this devoiced syllable final consonant now allows, since vowel length in English is not contrastive, the presumably usual shortening of the vowel before the voiceless consonant. According to the hypothesis, if the vowel length in 'spread' were -emic rather than responsive to articulatory processes, that might block the devoicing of the syllable- final consonant, thus increasing the chances for correct recognition of the word, in spite of the reduced articulation of the word- final consonant.

  5. AntC said,

    November 24, 2017 @ 12:54 am

    The student was presumably a Mandarin and/or Cantonese speaker. Then no syllable-final consonants, as Mark says.

    So that should be split: spre-tchy. I can't see vowel length would have much to do with it(?)

  6. Jerry Friedman said,

    November 24, 2017 @ 12:59 pm

    In Classic RP, the final vowel of such words as "lucky" is or was [ɪ], and all the vowels of "indivisibility" are supposed to be identical. Oxford dictionaries online transcribe "lucky" as /ˈlʌki/, unlike "latchkey", which is /ˈlatʃkiː/. I wonder whether Dafydd Gibbon wrote "spretchy" to say that the student used [ɪ] or [i] in the second syllable of "spreadsheet" where [iː] would have been correct.

    (As an American, I think of the final vowel in "lucky" as the same as the vowel in "key".)

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