pre-fortis clipping

Sergio Verdejo writes to ask about the term “pre-fortis clipping”. Do you happen to know who coined the term and when?

I’ve an awful feeling this may be a term that I myself had a hand in inventing, although I can’t remember the details. It is not recorded in the on-line OED, whether under “pre-fortis” or under “clipping”. As far as I remember, it was decided on by a group of phonetics teachers at UCL (probably Michael Ashby, John Maidment, Jill House, and me), sometime in the mid 1980s.

Was the alleged phenomenon known before under a different name?

  • 4
    I agree that it's not very useful for teaching. For a language-learner, mastering the phonemic distinctions is much more important than the non-phonemic ones. But linguistics is about studying all aspects of language, not just the most useful ones.
    – Draconis
    Commented Jul 8 at 16:51
  • 2
    Well, if they've mastered all aspects of native English pronunciation, I'd expect them to unconsciously pick up on it from what they've heard. But if we're assuming they learned from specially-prepared materials that artificially remove all traces of vowel length, I'd guess native speakers would recognize a slight accent but not have any problems understanding.
    – Draconis
    Commented Jul 8 at 18:51
  • 1
    I'm afraid people are allowed to downvote for any reason they like. It's one of the quality control mechanisms of the site.
    – Draconis
    Commented Jul 8 at 23:44
  • 4
    @SK as a downvoter, why do you consider these downvotes not only to be vicious, but only possible to categorise as vicious? I downvoted because this is a question of the history of linguistics rather than linguistics itself and because of the needless editorialising by saying "alleged phenomenon" (when it is easily verifiable by anyone with access to a computer, albeit as with many linguistic phenomena, one that is more evident when words are given in isolation than in rapid speech).
    – Tristan
    Commented Jul 9 at 8:29
  • 4
    Ultimately, in my opinion this forms part of a pattern of bad questions where you are not actually looking for an answer, but for a platform on which you can rail against linguistics as if it was some great conspiracy.
    – Tristan
    Commented Jul 9 at 8:31

1 Answer 1


Regarding the question in the title, it may have been. Wells' blog is a valuable source of information.

Regarding the separate question at the end of the body, here is relevant discussion in "The Undesirability of length marks in EFL phonemic transcription" (Jack Windsor Lewis, 1975):

  1. On the other hand, I find myself constantly asking all nationalities to make the long vowels shorter in syllables closed by one of the sharp ('fortis') consonants /p, t, k, ʧ, f, θ, s, ʃ / or in syllables preceded or followed by others which are unstressed and with which they are rhythmically in close cohesion. In all cases such as these the presence of a colon length mark is not merely gratuitous but potentially misleading. Jones commented quite emphatically in more than one place on how Germans 'almost invariably make the vowels ... far too long in such words as park, use (n), fruit' etc. He also mentioned that it was sometimes a problem for French speakers. I cannot recall a nationality to which it does not apply, especially when the demands of expressive and emotive speech highlight it. Lengthenings of pre-fortis and pre-enclitic syllables constantly create impressions of unintended word-boundaries making gruesome sound disagreeably like grew some, fleecy like fleas see, seeking like sea-king, parking like Pa King, sheets like she eats, we're renewing like weary new wing etc. (Cf Windsor Lewis 1969 pp. 50-51, Gimson 1962 §11.12 and Jones 1956 Chapter XXXII.)

  2. This problem is important enough to be one of the only two ''foreign readers’ '', difficulties (along with the 'qualitative distinction between / iː /- / i / and / uː /-/ u /') mentioned in the Jones-Gimson 1967 Editor's Preface (§7). It was the one point made in Armstrong 1923 about vowel length when she referred to 'foreign students, who do not understand that our so-called long vowels when unstressed or when followed by voiceless sounds may be half-long or quite short'. Abercrombie 1964 remarked ''I have often found it worth while drawing the attention of foreign learners of English to ... the common mispronunciation of eg ceasing ... often due to no more than taking "long" as opposed to "short" vowel too literally (a misunderstanding which may be reinforced by transcription).'' [my italics]. In the first edition of his Outline of English Phonetics in 1918 Jones himself remarked that ''the custom of regarding certain vowels as long and certain others as short is, to say the least of it, unsatisfactory. The length of the long vowels is very variable, and depends on a variety of circumstances; the so-called 'short' vowels on the other hand are sometimes quite long .... It is much to be desired that all writers on English phonetics should come to an agreement to adopt a system of transcription for English independent of length marks''.

(The editorial comment "[my italics]" is by Lewis, not by me.)

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