According to the Cambridge dictionary,I have three questions about the pronunciation of the word "literally":

  1. according to the voice on the web,as if the first vowel letter i in UK English is pronounced as a long vowel /i/,is it right?
  2. /ˈlɪt̬·ər·ə·li/,the second vowel is weakened.So in US English it is pronounced as a non-retro-flex,and in UK English it will be ignored?
  3. why the second is weakened,not the third one?How is the rule?

1 Answer 1

  1. You're mistaken; the vowel is short, both phonologically and phonetically. It is the /ɪ/ vowel found in words such as lit, sit, kit. I don't know what voice you're referring to; if you mean the recorded pronunciations on the Cambridge dictionary site, you've misheard the vowel. They do both use the /ɪ/ phoneme.

  2. The vowel being weakened does not mean it would not be pronounced with r-coloring/retroflexion in American English. If anything, the reverse is probably true: "weakened" or reduced vowel are more likely to assimilate to adjacent sounds. In fact, some analyses treat a schwa followed by "r" as a syllabic consonant /r̩/ with no vowel at all.

    It's true that the first schwa is likely to be dropped in UK English, resulting in a pronunciation with three syllables, /lɪtrəli/. This seems to be due to the stress pattern of the word, but it's complicated to explain the exact conditions and I'm not sure I can do it. If you're really interested in learning this, there's a post I made on ELU that has some information I found that might be helpful from "Optimality Theory and Prosody", by Michael Hammond. An example word he gives that shows the same pattern of schwa loss is respiratory > resp'ratory.

  3. The third vowel is a schwa, and therefore I would say it is a "weak" or reduced vowel. It just isn't dropped, probably for stress-related reasons as I said above.

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