Unstressed 'e' in Words like Happy

For many years, cuers were instructed that the spoken English vowel /iēee/ when unstressed changes to /ɪĭi/. According to this reasoning, the final syllable of the word happy was cued at the throat: /hhhæăaˈˈˈpppɪĭi/. Instructors commonly told students that when words ending in unstressed /iēee/ (e.g., candy, cookie, trolley) are spoken naturally in sentences, the final vowel was more likely to resemble pit than Pete. After much debate and some division in the community, the consensus is that this pronunciation does not apply to many American English speakers. The word happy can be cued at the mouth.

History

Unstressed /iēee/: What’s in a Term?

There are many vowels that can be stressed or unstressed while not changing to another vowel. The word logo offers such an example. The vowel in each syllable is essentially the same – /ōoh/. But the stress is different. The first syllable contains a stressed /ōoh/ and the second syllable contained an unstressed /ōoh/. The two are differentiated by head thrust. When discussing a word like sleepy, instructors historically said that “unsressed /iēee/” should be cued as /ɪĭi/. However, the fact the they call it “unstressed /iēee/” instead of /ɪĭi/ is somewhat telling. If the vowel is truly just an unstressed version of /iēee/, it should be cued at the mouth without headthrust.

Does /iēee/ Really Become /ɪĭi/?

Unstressed Prefixes

Unstressed prefixes can change /ɪĭi/ or /əəə/. Consider words like beneath. When the second syllable is stressed, the first syllable is likely to be pronounced as /bbbɪĭi/ or /əəə/. As always, this depends on dialect. However, in many dialects, prefixes like pre-, be-, de-, re- may use /ɪĭi/ or /əəə/ when unstressed. 

be- de- pre- re-

believe

beside

because

deceive

detract

denouce

pretend

precise

premier

receive

reduce

review

 

pit

  • /pɪˈt/
  • /piˈt/
  • /pĭˈt/
  • 1t5s

Pete

  • /piˈt/
  • /peeˈt/
  • /pēˈt/
  • 1m5s

happy

  • /hæˈpi/
  • /haˈpee/
  • /hăˈpē/
  • 3t1m

logo

  • /loʊˈgoʊ/
  • /lohˈgoh/
  • /lōˈgō/
  • 6sf7sf

sleepy

  • /sliˈpi/
  • /sleeˈpee/
  • /slēˈpē/
  • 3s6m1m

beneath

  • /bɪniˈθ/
  • /bineeˈth/
  • /bĭnēˈth/
  • 4t4m7s

believe

  • /bəliˈv/
  • /bəleeˈv/
  • /bəlēˈv/
  • 4sd6m2s

beside

  • /bəsɑɪˈd/
  • /bəsieˈd/
  • /bəsīˈd/
  • 4sd3s5t1s

because

  • /bɪkʌˈz/
  • /bikuhˈz/
  • /bĭkŭˈz/
  • 4t2sd2s

deceive

  • /dɪsiˈv/
  • /diseeˈv/
  • /dĭsēˈv/
  • 1t3m2s

detract

  • /dɪtræˈkt/
  • /ditraˈkt/
  • /dĭtrăˈkt/
  • 1t5s3t2s5s

denounce

  • /dɪnɑʊˈns/
  • /dinowˈns/
  • /dĭnowˈns/
  • 1t4s5t4s3s

pretend

  • /prɪtɛˈnd/
  • /pritehˈnd/
  • /prĭtěˈnd/
  • 1s3t5c4s1s

precise

  • /prɪsɑɪˈs/
  • /prisieˈs/
  • /prĭsīˈs/
  • 1s3t3s5t3s

premier

  • /prɪmɪˈr/
  • /primiˈr/
  • /prĭmĭˈr/
  • 1s3t5t3s

receive

  • /rəsiˈv/
  • /rəseeˈv/
  • /rəsēˈv/
  • 3sd3m2s

reduce

  • /rɪduˈs/
  • /ridueˈs/
  • /rĭdo͞oˈs/
  • 3t1c3s

review

  • /rɪvjuˈ/
  • /rivyueˈ/
  • /rĭvyo͞oˈ/
  • 3t2s8c