Observed in fluent speech:

a unrounded vowel

To a native English speaker, the following would be expected instead:

an unrounded vowel

What's happening here? It looks like the speaker is inserting the adjective inside a vowel, and then not transforming a into an. It looks like a rule-ordering bug to me. Is there a name for this particular glitch?

  • 1
    This might occur naturally in a pragmatic context where unrounded is 'detached' from the preceding determiner. For instance, the speaker may have paused to grope for the word (Here we have a a a ... unrounded vowel) or the speaker may have wished to give unusual emphasis to the negative (but over here we have a UNrounded vowel), in which case a glottal stop would probably intrude, to avoid the awkward boundary a NUNrounded vowel. Oct 13 '14 at 17:07
  • Actually this is a known phenomenon in American English. I believe it has been common in Black American English for some time and is currently spreading through White American English. I have not noticed it in British or Australian English yet but I will keep my ears open. Oct 14 '14 at 1:32
  • Or possibly, the sentence was simply uttered by a non-native speaker whose command of the English language is not such that (s)he automatically applies the allomorphic rule to an in unprepared speech. Oct 15 '14 at 7:46
  • @JanusBahsJacquet: The sentence was actually uttered, and then immediately corrected by, me--and I happen to be a native speaker.
    – imallett
    Oct 15 '14 at 7:59

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