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In this question, asking why vowels get changed when prefixes/suffixes get added to a word, Aricauria states (in their very popular answer) that this is a side-effect of the way English organises stressed syllables in connected speech.

Aricauria does a very good job of describing what a stress timed language is. But the phenomenon of vowels changing when word endings change is not limited to stress-timed languages. This can be demonstrated by some simple examples of similar changes occuring in, for example, Spanish (a strongly syllable timed language.) This phenomenon is by no means exclusive to stress timed languages.

That said, everyone is having such a party over there talking about stress timing (Araucaria has over 250 upvotes, and the top comment "I'd never heard of stress timing before" has over 60.)

Under the circumstances, it seemed absurd to leave a comment suggesting that Araucaria edit his/her answer so I wrote a short, polite answer with some examples of similar vowel changes from Spanish (see below) to demonstrate this.

Despite gaining a modest number of upvotes, my answer has been deleted by a moderator. I fail to see how this improves the site. I think pointing out that such vowel changes also exist in non stress-timed languages was a useful addition.


Here is my deleted answer for reference.

Araucaria's answer is almost perfect. I just have one thing to add: this phenomenon is not limited to English, nor to stress-timed languages. In Spanish (a syllable-timed language) we find similar behaviour. Students of Spanish as a foreign language are exposed from a very early stage to "radical changing verbs" where the last vowel sound of the verb stem is stressed strongly in certain persons (and is a dipthong - usually) and weakly in other persons (and is a different, simple vowel sound.) Here are some examples, with the correct stress indicated by capitalization. (English meanings should be obvious.) The full present-tense conjugations are available here and in many other places.

Infinitive (to do)  1st person singular (I do)  1st person plural (we do)

resolvER            resUELvo                    resolvEMos
preferIR            prefIERo                    preferIMos
repetIR             repITo                      repetIMos

This also occurs (more rarely) where adjectives are derived from nouns, e.g. Venezuela -> Venezuelan:

VenezUELa -> venezolANo 

Deletion reason:

While that is interesting it is not an answer to the question, nor related to English

To this I would like to respond: Actually it is about English, because it is pointing out that the observed phenomenon is not necessarily caused by stress-timing. If I had been more blunt, my answer might not have been deleted.

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    I think you did a better job of explaining why you posted that answer now then when you submitted it. Frankly the relevancy of your post went over my head when I first saw it, it didn't seem you were mildly criticising Araucaria's efforts either. Maybe some users had flagged it?? Saying that, it would have been fairer if your critic/s had left a comment, and had given you the opportunity (and time) to elucidate, and defend your answer. – Mari-Lou A Jun 7 '16 at 21:21
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    @Mari-LouA I just edited my answer as follows I just have one correction to make instead of just one thing to add (though it remains deleted so you probably won't be able to see it.) I don't know if that'll be enough to get it undeleted. When I see people enjoying the discovery of stress-timed / syllable-timed for the first time, I don't want to rain on their parade. In his defence, the moderator went in to send the discussion about timing to Chat and clean things up a bit. I think he was wrong to delete my answer but indeed I may not have been clear enough about my reason for posting. – Level River St Jun 7 '16 at 21:29
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    Users with 10K rep can "see" deleted answers, so your edited answer is visible. Unfortunately, only mods can undelete an answer which has been deleted by them. I think your response is very mature and sensible, I don't see any justifiable reason why your answer should remain deleted, it wasn't even downvoted by anyone. It is not a single- line answer to a SWR either. See recent meta post here: meta.english.stackexchange.com/questions/8040/… Anyway, you're handling it very well, I congratulate you, not everyone does... – Mari-Lou A Jun 7 '16 at 21:39
  • @LevelRiverSt I was disapointed that your answer was deleted. However, you need to separate out your idea that you "corrected me" and the fact that you pointed out some data from Spanish. Your data is very interesting, and, imo, throws the English into relief in an interesting way. So I upvoted your answer - long before it was deleted. However, the Spanish vowel changes in the words you mention happen for completely, totally unrelated reasons. Presumably you have some idea of why these happen (the reasons are, I understand, very well known). You could add those to your answer here. – Araucaria - Not here any more. Jun 7 '16 at 23:43
  • @Araucaria You are right, at the time I wrote my answer, I didn't see it as a correction, more a "necessary addition" and re-reading your answer in detail confirms this. I've rolled back the edit I made on my (deleted) answer. I haven't yet figured how to improve the wording/title of this question yet. In a case like Venezuela -> venezolano the fundamental reason (easier pronunciation) is the same, but the rules are different. In Spanish the affected vowel goes from stressed to unstressed, whereas in most of your English examples it remains stressed but gets shorter. – Level River St Jun 7 '16 at 23:58
  • @LevelRiverSt No, in English it has nothing to do with easier pronunciation. And Spanish, it doesn't either. It just conflicts with various rules. My answer doesn't say in any way that it has to do with easier pronunciation. That's completely incorrect and misleading to readers here. – Araucaria - Not here any more. Jun 8 '16 at 0:24
  • @Araucaria Most of these rules have come about over time to make language easier to use. In English, as you rightly say, it has to do with conserving the stress-timed rhythm (which I put under the very broad umbrella of easier pronunciation.) – Level River St Jun 8 '16 at 0:24
  • @Araucaria Ok I am sorry you feel that way, I will see if I can delete it.... – Level River St Jun 8 '16 at 0:28
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    @Araucaria deletion was not possible. I hope the new wording is more acceptable. I wrote the post when I was annoyed, not at you but at the deletion of my answer, and some facts got distorted. I apologise for the misrepresentations. – Level River St Jun 8 '16 at 1:03
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    Your answer may have the intention of being about English, but the words there are entirely about Spanish. If you wanted it to be about or even relevant to English, you should have written something there relating to English. I keep rereading it and I can't find even the smallest connection. – Mitch Jun 8 '16 at 12:43
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This is the first time I've seen the answer, as I didn't see it or the associated flag on it before it was handled.

I concur with the decision to delete it.

That may seem harsh, but the answer really has nothing to do with English. It is really more of a comment, noting a phenomenon that occurs in Spanish.

Answers can be converted to comments, and that is probably how I would have attempted to handle the situation. The answer would still have been deleted because it's strictly irrelevant as an answer to the question as asked, but its content would have been preserved. But there is a limit on the length of comments, and formatting is destroyed on conversion.

I haven't consulted with Matt about the deletion. It's entirely possible that he attempted to convert the answer to a comment, but found the result not useful; I don't know what evidence of that would be preserved.

As the "answer" isn't an answer to the question, but is rather a comment on another answer, it should have been a comment. It may not have fitted very well as a comment, but in that case, I would recommend a course of action which would head off "Not An Answer" flags and counter objections to gaining real rep on what should be a comment: make the answer a Community Wiki, and preface it with a statement that it doesn't fit as a comment on the other answer.

This should not be taken as general advice about commenting on other answers, or presenting information about languages other than English. It's a pragmatic response to a particular instance. It doesn't even guarantee success here, as even CW answers may be deleted if they are not relevant enough to the question as asked.

  • Don't you think though the OP should have been given the opportunity to explain "why" he posted that answer? And would you consider it a low quality answer? I understand the need to delete LQA, but "wrong" answers, and/or unrelated answers should be downvoted, shouldn't they? – Mari-Lou A Jun 8 '16 at 16:52
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    @Mari-LouA Wrong answers should be downvoted but retained (so visitors can see them and know they're wrong / unpopular, and so no one just goes and re-suggests them). Unrelated "answers" or other non-sequiturs which don't actually attempt to answer the question as asked should be converted to comments or deleted outright. The classic example is "thank you" posts and follow-up questions. – Dan Bron Jun 8 '16 at 16:55
  • @DanBron would you consider the answer on the same par as someone who writes "Thanks for the info!" or "How do you pronounce Xmas"? I think tact and diplomacy was lacking here. – Mari-Lou A Jun 8 '16 at 17:00
  • @Mari-LouA No, it was interesting and useful content, simply misplaced. I wasn't there when all this went down, I didn't even see the question or deleted answer until this Meta thread arose, so I can't really comment on tact or conduct. – Dan Bron Jun 8 '16 at 17:01
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    @Mari-LouA I agree with DanBron. How the Spanish verbs conjugate has nothing to do with English. And the question is not about how the English verbs are pronounced when they conjugate. I feel sad when I see this question receive so many upvotes when the answer is that's the way the language chose to evolve. If "English has systematic methods for reducing vowel lengths in order to accommodate unstressed syllables", "obtainable" should be pronounced /əbtænəbl/, not /əbteɪnəbl/. I think Janus Bahs Jacquet's comment is a better answer. – user140086 Jun 8 '16 at 18:00

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