Betsy Lowe emailed me an interesting observation last week, noting that in the song "The Devil Went Down to Georgia", the lyrics go "He drew his bow across the strings and it made a evil hiss" (not an evil hiss). She commented that she commonly hears this a-before-a-vowel pattern in native Southerners, and thought "that was incredibly unusual because Italian and the other Romance languages I've dabbled in, and now Hungarian, go to great lengths to PREVENT two vowel sounds from running into each other. E.g.: not 'e una altra cosa,' but 'ed un'altra cosa,' in Italian. In Hungarian, 'a' is 'the' or 'that', and if the following word begins with a vowel, then it becomes 'adz.'" This brings up an interesting point about syllable markedness, which is that syllables without onsets are marked, and thus many languages have epenthetic consonants or allomorphs to avoid a sequence of two vowels across a morpheme or word boundary. Besides English, Italian, and Hungarian, there are the Algic languages, which all have personal prefix allomorphs that are CV or CVC, depending on whether the stem begins with a consonant or a vowel. For instance, in Blackfoot the stem for 'dream' is paapáó'kaan, while 'my dream' is nipápao'kaani. The stem for 'boat' is aahkioohsa'tsis, but 'my boat' is nitááhkioohsa'tsisi. The 1st person prefix has allomorphs ni- and nit- to avoid onsetless syllables. Feel free to post examples from languages you're familiar with in the comments.
As a native of Atlanta, GA, I can't say I've noticed the prevalence of "a V-" pronunciations in Southern English, but as a native of Atlanta, GA, I didn't have much contact with natives of the deep South. Please comment if you have supporting or complicating evidence for Betsy's intuition. I'll close with a link to the song on YouTube, where you can hear that it really is əivl̩hɪs, rather than ejivl̩hɪs or əʔivl̩hɪs. The part in question is around 1:20.
Jerome Stueart interview (pt. 3)
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