ENGB3 – Language Change – Lexical Diffusion

Here’s our next little exchange:

Sir, i don’t understand why ‘lexical difusion’ is called what it is. Shouldn’t it be ‘phonological diffusion’ since its a change in the sounding of a word?
That’s one of those questions that shows more understanding than ignorance. In a sense, I’d say you’re right: phonological diffusion would make more sense as a name for the phenomenon. I guess it became labelled lexical diffusion, as it refers to the diffusion of the sound change through the lexicon of a language. The particular sound change doesn’t occur simultaneously, but begins in a particular word (or group of words) then spreads (or diffuses) from word to word, but may end up missing completely some words where the change could apply.
Also, i’ve had a look at some examples such as ‘adultery’ and ‘burglary’ being pronounced with a schwa and i assume thats to make them simpler to say since ‘lry’ is difficult to pronounce. However, i pronounce others, for instance ‘every’ and ‘factory’ without the schwa. Is that the same for most english speakers? and if so, why is that? I’ve considered that perhaps ‘factory’ has been assimilated in English longer than ‘adultery’… but in my notes it states that the ‘schwa’ in words such as adultery, is more recent than those without. I hope this makes sense!
I’m struggling to follow that without IPA to help out. There would be no ‘lry’ in adultery anyway: it would be [ədultrɪ] or [ədultərɪ]. I guess that what we’re looking at  here is an example of lexical diffusion in that in words where you have a sequence of consonant+ə+rɪ, in some of them you don’t pronounce a ‘schwa’, whereas in others you do. I don’t think it’s connected to the assimilation of loan words.
The examples you note mainly involve the elision of a schwa that is part of the morphology of the word (factory = factor+ry; every=ever+y; burglary=burglar+y), rather than the addition of a schwa to a word where it would otherwise be absent. However, sometimes a schwa can be added to make an otherwise difficult sequence of consonants easier to articulate. This is very common in young children still at the acquisition stage, and in foreign learners of English (and football fans: [ɪŋɡɘlɘnd])
By the way, if you want to use IPA symbols, a simple way of doing it is to use something like this: http://people.w3.org/rishida/scripts/pickers/ipa/

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