Vowel reduction in English -man compounds

Marjoleine Sloos, Jeroen van de Weijer (Corresponding author), Weiyun Wei

Research output: Contribution to journal/periodicalArticleScientificpeer-review


We investigate the pronunciation of English compounds ending in -man (e.g. policeman, clergyman, mailman), some of which are usually pronounced with a full vowel in -man (mailman), some usually with a reduced vowel (policeman), while other words vary between the two (businessman, gunman). Is it possible to predict when the vowel is reduced or not? We investigate a number of factors that could play a role in this issue: (i) the age of introduction of the word into the English language, (ii) the frequency of the word in the synchronic language, (iii) the meaning of -man in the specific compound, (iv) number of syllables, (v) stress pattern and (vi) spelling variation. Although some of these points have been discussed in the literature before, we present the first large full-scale quantitative investigation of the question whether any of these factors are reliable predictors of the pronunciation (and if so, which one predicts the pronunciation best), as well as the interaction between these factors.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)675-687
JournalThe Linguistic Review
Issue number4
Early online date28 May 2019
Publication statusPublished - 01 Dec 2019


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