I'm aware that [ən] can be reduced to [n̩] in some circumstances.
Does this possibility also apply to [ən] that comes from former [ɚn] in non-rhotic English dialects? I have had limited contact with non-rhotic English (mostly television), but I only recall hearing eastern as [ˈiːstən] rather than [ˈiːsʔn̩] 1, while words like prison are commonly heard with either [ən] or [n̩].
The only information I could find was these blog comments:
army198727: Is there anyone who consistently distinguishes /ˈsev.n/ "seven" from /ˈsev.ən/ "Severn"? Or is the transcription of the former as /ˈsevn/ in most dictionaries another example of a distinction without a distinction?
mallamb27: Yes I do, and /ˈbɪtn/ 'bitten' from /ˈbɪtən/ 'bittern', /ˈpætn/ 'patten', 'paten' from /ˈpætən/ 'pattern'. You may find this hard to believe, but I am always banging on about the upper limit of distinctive realization, and this is what makes this distinction justifiable. But only for a probably quite restricted population of consistent speakers. [...]
Do we need to add a new phoneme to the list of English phonemes (as shown by the minimal pairs bitten-bittern, pattern-patten, seven-Severn)? Or is it just an occasional idiosyncratic or artificial distinction?
- Maybe the former is used in non-TV registers? Maybe I haven't paid enough attention?