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David Peterson wrote:
> Seriously, though, I've noticed something about English schwa.
> Specifically, some-
> times it comes out sounding like a schwa, [@], and sometimes more like
> a [I].  It
> seems like these are close to becoming either lexicalized, or
> allophones in a bizarre
> vowel harmony system.  Anyone who works future English thought about
> this?
> To make it explicit, here are some examples:
>
> (1) Is "explicit" [EksplIsIt] or [EksplIs@t]?
> (2) Is "America" [VmErIk@] or [VmEr@k@]?
> (3) Is "impossible" [ImpAsIbl=] or [ImpAs@bl=]?

I've noticed this too, although for me, they seem to be still lexically
determined, but hard to distinguish.  Also, for me, the unstressed [I]
is more of a centralized [i-] (and hard to distinguish from /@/), while
when stressed it's more front, as [I].  There *are* a few minimal pairs,
tho (standard disclaimer, this is my idiolect, yours may vary, etc.)

Roses    [rozi-z]
Rose's   [roz@z]
Rose is  [rozi-z]
Rose's rose is red [roz@s rozi-z rEd]
woman    [wUm@n]
women    [wImi-n] <-- the variance in the first sylable is far
                     more salient for me than the second
-man     [m@n]
-men     [mi-n]   <-- very hard pair to distinguish

I think there's some that vary freely.  Like, I think (but am not
positive) I use both [@'mIr)i-k@] ([Ir] is a diphthong for me) and
[@'mIr)@k@], in fast speech, probably even [@'mIrk@]  The initial and
final schwas definitely stay, however.  Initial and final schwas seem to
be more resistant, in my speech, to dropping than medial schwas.