The goal of this chapter is to lay a linguistic foundation for studies of surface phonology and of the phonetics of speech performance in English dialects.
The chapter applies the theoretical machinery and principles of modern phonology to the analysis of surface phonological structure in English. The analyses of vowel structure of English dialects in this and other chapters develop interesting and surprising insights into the differences and phonological and phonetic changes relating English dialects. I have attempted to bring dialectal variation, surface phonology, and modern phonological theory together in a useful way.
Most recent studies of English vowel phonology are morphophonemic in nature; morphological alternations are the evidence used for underlying forms, and the structures argued for are considered to be part of the lexical phonological structure of the language. This chapter primarily relies on complementary distribution, phonetic similarity, and contrast for evidence about linguistic structure. The level of structure described is the relatively less-studied ``surface'' or post-lexical phonological structure (in the sense of Kiparsky 1982).
In studying the phonetics and phonology of English vowels, the first step is to define the objects of study. First, the term ``English'' itself requires clarification; rather than studying the supposedly real but actually imaginary dialect of ``General American English'', I will describe an unabashedly imaginary dialect, ``Reference American''. They are quite similar, but the assumed, and false, reality of the former is not to be attributed in the same way to the latter. The phonological structure of Reference American, or RA, is summarized in the last section, and used as a basis of comparison with each of the dialects studied in later chapters.
The main question asked in this chapter is, What are the vowels of English? An enumerated list of phonemes or word-classes provides one kind of answer to this question. A more principled answer would describe the temporal and the static structure of English vowels, and locate vocalic classes in this structure. I argue for the specifically temporal character of phonological representations in Appendix 1, ``Time in Linguistic Structure''. First, what is their internal temporal structure? How many phonological segments may each vowel be divided into, and where do those segments fit into the structure of syllables and larger units? Once we have an idea of this temporal structure, we may go on to ask about the static structure: For each position in the syllable, what are the phonological features that distinguish among English vowels?3.1 How do these features combine?
After laying to rest the concept of ``General American'' and justifying Reference American, the chapter has three main parts: an enumeration of English vowels, an argument for a particular view of their temporal structure within a theory of syllable structure, and a discussion of the static features which are available to distinguish the classes at each location in the larger structure.