Realisation of British English /æ/ and relation to German /a/ and /a:/

Discussion in 'Etymology, History of languages and Linguistics (EHL)' started by timpeac, May 8, 2013.

  1. timpeac

    timpeac Senior Member

    England
    English (England)
    Moderator note: Up to and including post #21 this thread has been compiled from other sources.

    Well, yes - there are some British speakers who never use /ɑ/. They only have the phoneme /æ/, and the way that they actually pronounce that phoneme is just a matter of accent. As discussed above, pronouncing the phoneme /æ/ as the phonetic sound [æ] is old-fashioned in British English.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: May 13, 2013
  2. Wordsmyth

    Wordsmyth Senior Member

    Location: Mostly SW France
    Native language: English (BrE)
    Good point, Tim. I suppose I should have written [a], [] and [ːː].

    It's just that at a gut-feel level I'm always a little disturbed by /æ/ representing the phoneme, and [a] being one of its allophones. I suppose that's because [æ] doesn't figure in my speech, nor in that of most people I know: the basic 'short a' is [a], with phonetic variants that could be considered as allophones of /a/. For me, at least in the context of BrE, using /æ/ as the representation of the phoneme is a bit like calling a taxi a hackney carriage.:D But then I'm not setting out to change the world, so I'll conform with the status quo.

    Ws:)
     
  3. timpeac

    timpeac Senior Member

    England
    English (England)
    I couldn't agree more:) You'll see me defending this against Bernd's opinion that it helps differentiate against the "a" of many other languages which have already staked the claim to the standard phonemic symbol /a/ but where the realisation is in fact a central vowel [ä] in this thread from post 61 onwards <...>.

    But we are where we are with the the standard phonemic symbols. I certainly agree that the phonetic difference is large enough to use [a] for the realisation (even if the precise realisation is more nuanced than that - after all for every sound we make the simple phonetic symbol isn't good enough without some diacritics). When I said "as discussed above" in my last post, I might have been alluding to that thread I've linked to. Apologies if so - there are at least three threads in the culture forum going on at the moment which are greatly overlapping.

    :tick::D
     
    Last edited by a moderator: May 13, 2013
  4. Wordsmyth

    Wordsmyth Senior Member

    Location: Mostly SW France
    Native language: English (BrE)
    <...>

    However I'll permit myself a comment on one suggestion made in that thread that concerned American pronunciation (so it may have a smidgen of relevance here): it was proposed that the oft-encountered German pronunciation of the phoneme /æ/ as [ɛ] might be due to AmE influence. However I find a very significant difference between the realisation of /æ/ in most AmE accents and that in 'old RP' — and to my ear the German pronunciation is very like the latter. I once asked a German schoolteacher why he pronounced (and taught) the English word "bad" like "bed", when the [a] as in Stadt would be much closer. He said, with a serious tone, "We pronounce it as your Queen does. Surely that must be right!" — which is pretty much in line with your assumption in post #61 of the other thread.

    Ws:)
     
    Last edited by a moderator: May 13, 2013
  5. berndf Moderator

    Geneva
    German (Germany)
    The simple answer is that Germans simply don't hear a difference between [æ] and [ɛ] and also the lowering in modern southern English doesn't change this; only the northern /æ/ sounds different for a German ear. That's really all it is. That vowel in German Stadt already overlays with the English vowel in but (Germans usually don't realize they pronounce the short /a/ differently, viz. [ɐ], and therefore associate the English /ʌ/, for which [ɐ] is one of the possible realizations, with [a]) and is therefore not a candidate for association with /æ/.

    And as you were taking about feelings, let me also be make a completely non-objective remark and then I'll return to a scientific tone:
    <subjective>If you need to distinguish the modern southern /æ/ from the older one than please find another letter. It is simply so wrong to call it "a". There is nothing a-ish about that sound. An "a" is a very special vowel. It is the vowel that is produced when you have your mouth open and your tongue and lips fully relaxed. Grimm once called it "the noblest of all sounds". Calling anything but a central vowel "a" is ridiculous. For the back-a we have a special symbol, viz. [ɑ]. The fronted [a] should be given a special symbol too but the symbol "a" should stay where it rightfully belongs.</subjective>
     
  6. Youngfun

    Youngfun Senior Member

    Pekino, Ĉinujo
    Chinese/Italian - bilingual
    To my ears, many Americans pronounce /æ/ like [ɛ], and this is also the Italian accent. While in British English, the /æ/ shifted to [a]. And for me it's hard to distinguish [a] from [ɑ].
    And so I can't distinguish [fɹɑns] and [fɹans].
     
  7. berndf Moderator

    Geneva
    German (Germany)
    Just to make sure we're talking about the same thing: You realize that the realization of /æ/ differs regionally in Britain? In general: the more northern the more central the pronunciation.
     
  8. merquiades

    merquiades Senior Member

    France
    USA Northeast
    Maybe I'm missing something, and granted I have not heard every possible accent, but the only time I've heard native-English speakers pronounce /a/ for /ae/ they are usually from Jamaica or the Caribbean: Give 'im a big pat on the back, man! As I said in another thread, I do hear /ʌ/ moving towards /a/ in many speakers though, especially in the case of Estuary dialect speakers.
    Not to veer off-topic: /a/ is the sound in French "la dame Morgane". Americans often lengthen these to /a:/ in French.
     
    Last edited: May 10, 2013
  9. berndf Moderator

    Geneva
    German (Germany)
    It matches the short German /a/ perfectly in London accent. Listen for the word "governor" here (he says it several times).
     
  10. merquiades

    merquiades Senior Member

    France
    USA Northeast
    Yes, "governor" is the perfect word to hear it. Also the preposition "up" pronounced /ap/. This vowel change is highly contagious too. I could see it spreading. When I talk with people who do it, I start picking it up, and say "Get on the /bas/".
     
  11. timpeac

    timpeac Senior Member

    England
    English (England)
    How could I possibly criticise such an empassioned cri de coeur (see how I've seamlessly linked this back in to use of French in English :D). I've already made my points why I disagree with this in the other thread anyway.

    I wonder, though, in relation to your first paragraph why other languages such as French which use a mid-vowel for "a" are happy to associate the British realisation of /æ/ with [a], and copy it themselves for that phoneme, and not with /ʌ/. The other question that really springs to mind is that although you make quite sweeping statements such as "Germans simply don't hear a difference" this simply can't be true for those who speak really good English (and I say that knowing full well that many Germans speak very good English - I'm talking about those who speak it really well by the already good German average standard) - yet I know many Germans who speak English to this excellent level who, when aiming to speak British English, still don't get the pronunciation of this vowel right. I remember a French person once saying (somewhere on these forums, I think) that the English could never hope to differentiate "tu" and "tout" so there was no point in trying. I thought at the time, what nonsense. It takes learning and practice but certainly far from impossible.

    <...>
     
    Last edited by a moderator: May 13, 2013
  12. berndf Moderator

    Geneva
    German (Germany)
    You realize of, course that this was only half-serious. Being trained in scientific methodology, I know of course that definitions (and those are IPA symbols) cannot be right or wrong, only more of less useful.
    I am not quite sure this is the case for French. It certainly applies for Italian. Phoneme boundaries run differently in different language, i.e. the point where a sound "flips" from one perception to another.
    No reason to. It is the German short /a/ that overlaps with /ʌ/. The French /a/ overlaps in quality with the German long /a:/. I mentioned this in response to WS's question why the Germans don't associate the vowel of German Stadt with the British /æ/. Remember, German is a language with full length phonemicity and has distinct vowel systems for long and short vowel (here is diagram I produced a while ago to show the relative positions of German a-sound (green) in relation to some English phonemes in the neighbourhood (blue). The blue line separates /ʌ/- from "a"-territory. The blue "a" represents the sound in the diphthong /aɪ/, not the modern RP /æ/). French has only a fully open /a/; they associate [ɐ] with a different phoneme. Most French pronounce English /ʌ/ as [ə], i.e. like the French unaccented <e>.
    I can differentiate [ɛ] and [æ], both in recognition and production. By now, it hurts my ears when I hear them announce on German TV a new episode of the detective series Kessel rather than Castle. But it was very, very hard labour. But I still consider the difference between the American and modern southern British English absolutely minor compared the the difference between southern and northern British /æ/. For me as a German those are completely different. If I wanted to differentiate between different realizations of /æ/ by using different symbols then I would want to differentiate between those two rather than between the American and the southern British one. I am curious how you as a BE speaker perceive this.

    <...>
     
    Last edited: May 13, 2013
  13. timpeac

    timpeac Senior Member

    England
    English (England)
    Yes, of course:).
    I don't think I know enough about the AE realisation to compare. Since this thread started I have been listening out for /æ/ realisations in AE and it seems to be fairly complicated. The range of possible realisations across speakers seems to be large but there are other complicating factors too. The amount of diphthongisation that occurs seems to vary greatly also - both for individual speakers and across accents. The value that speakers give /æ/ can very for individual speakers also for different words. In other words I haven't worked out the "rules" of /æ/ realisation in AE. On the BE side, I'm not aware of a huge difference - could you link to a couple of sound files to explain the difference you hear?

    <...>
     
    Last edited by a moderator: May 13, 2013
  14. timpeac

    timpeac Senior Member

    England
    English (England)
    <...>

    Why can't Germans do the same with [a] even if it's not what they phonemically expect from /æ/?
     
    Last edited by a moderator: May 13, 2013
  15. berndf Moderator

    Geneva
    German (Germany)
    <...>

    1) Germans expect nothing from /æ/. They don't expect a phonemic in between /ɛ/ and /a/. The problem is that bet, bat and I [aɪ] contain there different vowels. German expects only two vowels in this range.

    2) You should really let go of the idea that "Stadt" contains an [a] (central or frontal). The short "a" is not an open vowel. Please re-read my earlier posts on this topic.
     
    Last edited: May 13, 2013
  16. timpeac

    timpeac Senior Member

    England
    English (England)
    <...>

    In relation to 1) Well they should! They have access to the pronunciation of both in their language. "I" can be easily differentiated from the other two by being a diphthong so that can be discounted, leaving two. In any case, and I'll stress again what I've said dozens of times in this conversation, I'm only talking about linguists who really care about what they are saying. When you learn that a foreign language analyses and realises sounds differently you do the same if you want people to think you speak that language well and if you want to be understood well. 2) "Stadt" wasn't my choice. Someone picked that earlier and you didn't criticise it so I stayed with that. I will simply say that if a German uses the vowel they use in "Mann" to realise /æ/ when speaking English then they will have a better English accent, and be more readily understood than their classmate who uses the usual German interpretation of /æ/.

    You don't seem to answer certain parts of my posts that I think are key, so I'll repeat from earlier

    I think your point that, whether /ɛ/ becomes /e/ or /e/ becomes /ɛ/ in some restricted cases, ultimately they will settle down to one, namely /e/, in all contexts is interesting. I suspect you're right. To get back to my original point, it was of an example of a phonemic difference in a language foreign to me which is unexpected but, having learnt it, I would be keen to follow if that is what natives are doing. Why can't Germans do the same with [a] even if it's not what they phonemically expect (strike expect add interpret) from /æ/?
     
    Last edited by a moderator: May 13, 2013
  17. berndf Moderator

    Geneva
    German (Germany)
    It makes no sense philosophizing how the phonology of a language should be. It is the way it is. You asked by it is so difficult for Germans to distinguish /ɛ/ and /æ/. Well that is the answer. Germans do not head vowel in between /ɛ/ ans the central /a/. There is one point where the perception flips from a short "e" to a long "a". There is nothing in between and the southern English /æ/ is on the "e"-side of this divide while the northern English /æ/ is on the "a"-side.

    I did. See #170, #173, #174, #176, and #184.
    The vowel of Mann is also short.
     
  18. timpeac

    timpeac Senior Member

    England
    English (England)
    Bernd, I've thought about answering your other points here but I think it's just getting away from the main issue. Germans are physically and phonologically capable of pronouncing [a]. Therefore they should if they want to speak English well.

    It is not beyond the wit of man to say [a] and it is not beyond the wit of man to do so even if it doesn't fit in with the phonology of your native language.
     
    Last edited: May 12, 2013
  19. berndf Moderator

    Geneva
    German (Germany)
    I can only repeat myself. You asked why it is so difficult for Germans to separate /ɛ/ and /æ/ and what I told you is the answer. It is that simple. Germans can't hear the difference without an astronomic about of training and when you can't even perceive the difference it is very difficult to reproduce it. And if you told a German to pronounce hat like the German word hat, he would say hut.
     
    Last edited: May 13, 2013
  20. berndf Moderator

    Geneva
    German (Germany)
    With most speakers, diphthongization occurs only in front of nasals (/n/ & /m/). Ignore words like man, land, band, ham, ...

    I'll give you two examples from dialectal speech. That makes the difference clearer. But many northern speakers who otherwise speak fairly standard use that /æ/ which I would describe as "slightly behind central" (i.e. [ä] slightly leaning towards [ɑ]): http://www.bl.uk/learning/langlit/sounds/text-only/england/byker/ (listen for marry and happy).

    As a reference for the southern /æ/, I think the gentleman from Hackney I referred to earlier should be sufficient: http://www.bl.uk/learning/langlit/sounds/text-only/england/hackney-contemporary/ (listen for value).
     
  21. Wordsmyth

    Wordsmyth Senior Member

    Location: Mostly SW France
    Native language: English (BrE)
    <...>

    I'll respond to some of the recent points.
    Sorry, Bernd, but that's a gross over-simplification. In that and other posts you refer to "northern" and "southern" English, but the variation in vowel sounds between north-east, north-west, south-east, south-west, east, Midlands, etc is enormous.
    As a reference for the Hackney /æ/, it's sufficient. As a reference for many other southern realisations of /æ/ it's not at all sufficient. Just to take one example, the realisation of the /æ/ in Somerset is is vastly differently from that in Hackney. Similarly ...
    The Geordie accent is a curious choice to represent "northern speakers", as it's probably the most "different" of all the northern accents. The /æ/ and other vowel sounds are very different from the accents of, say, Yorkshire and Lancashire (and even within Lancashire, Liverpool and Manchester accents are poles apart).
    :confused: My understanding of IPA symbols has always been that [a] is fronted, and that [ä] is central. But if you really see a need for another letter, please feel free to suggest one.
    I plead guilty, m'lud. 'Twas I who chose Stadt. Had I thought about it, I would've gone for Mann as more obvious, as it can be compared with English man.
    But can't the vowel of man also be short?
    ... "a German"? I work, daily, with many Germans. Those recently arrived from Germany, with a good level of academic English, usually pronounce words like hat as [hɛt] (or something close); whereas those who have been here a while, in frequent contact with native English speakers (predominantly BrE), or who have had such prolonged contact previously, come pretty close to [hat] (short, fronted), which to my ear is not so very different from Mann. That tends to support timpeac's suggestion that Germans are quite capable of making that sound.

    <...>

    Ws:)


    Moderator Note: Compilation of discussion from a different source ends here. Subsequent posts will have originated in this thread.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: May 13, 2013
  22. berndf Moderator

    Geneva
    German (Germany)
    I never said anything about "southern English" or "northern English". I said "southern /æ/" and "northern /æ/". Different phoneme variants have different geographical distribution patterns. With regards to which dialects were affected by the Early Modern English a-fronting (not to be confused with Old English brightening), there is indeed a clear north-south divide and the provided samples are sufficiently representative for lack or presence of a-fronting in the respective broader regions.
    That is a wee bit of a misconception. Only few languages are analysed in terms or a vowel trapezoid. For the analysis of the vast majority of languages, scholars think in terms of a vowel triangle, about like this. That's why you see so many vowel charts with a central "a" and people quite happily call it [a] and not [ä].
    You take the sentence fragment out of context: Mann has a short vowel, like Stadt, i.e. its realization is near open and not fully open and therefore overlays more with English /ʌ/ than with /æ/. I didn't compare it to English man.
    The context of my comment was Tim's suggestion Germans should be told to pronounce /æ/ like in German Stadt. I told him that this wouldn't work because the vowel of Stadt overlays with English /ʌ/. The question and the answer were both purely hypothetical. Nobody learns to pronounce /æ/ this way in Germany.
    The phenomenon that certain differences between sounds that stick out like a sore thumb to native speakers of of one language and are completely ignored by native speakers of another language, if the difference does not carry information in that language is not limited to Germans. The phenomenon can be observed in all languages, including English. And that is perfectly healthy. Why should the brain waist capacity on processing irrelevant information?
    Nobody said it would be impossible. It just needs a lot of practice (hearing and speaking) for a German to get this right. People who live and/or work in an English speaking environment will normal invest the effort, people in Germany who just occasionally use their school English to talk to foreigners normally won't.
     
    Last edited: May 14, 2013
  23. wildan1

    wildan1 Moderando ma non troppo

    I'll second that--since my last name is a one-syllable word containing /æ/ as its only vowel, I have yet to meet a native German-speaker, even those many I've known who speak nearly perfect English, to pronounce my name correctly. It always comes out sounding like /ɛ/ to all native English-speakers who hear it.
     
  24. Wordsmyth

    Wordsmyth Senior Member

    Location: Mostly SW France
    Native language: English (BrE)
    Ummm ...
    OK, I know you were talking about the /æ/, but so was I. I quite agree with your "In general: the more northern the more central the pronunciation" as a broad trend (especially if you start in London and go in a straight line to Carlisle, ignoring everything to the left and right) — but I can't agree with your referring to "the southern English /æ/" and "the northern English /æ/": there are many and various southern and northern realisations of /æ/.

    If your description " "slightly behind central" (i.e. [ä] slightly leaning towards [ɑ])" applies to the Geordie vowel in happy and marry, then I don't see how it can adequately describe the various pronunciations of happy and marry in, say, Yorkshire or Lancashire, because they really are different. I can't think of a northern accent outside of Northumberland and parts of Durham that has the sound that I think you mean by "leaning towards [ɑ]". I seriously recommend that you compare your Geordie example with some audios of people from Bradford and Manchester and Liverpool.

    Similarly, the Hackney
    /æ/ is nothing like the /æ/ of many other parts of the south. You said "the southern English /æ/ is on the "e"-side of this divide while the northern English /æ/ is on the "a"-side", but in fact the /æ/ of the south-west has absolutely nothing of the "e"-side about it: I'd describe it as all on the "a"-side, very long, and in some cases even having a touch of [ɑ] (sound familiar?). Try listening to some people from Somerset, Devon, West Dorset, Cornwall.

    I'm not denying that the distinctions you describe exist. I'm just saying that "northern
    /æ/" and "southern /æ/" are grossly over-simplified tags for those distinctions, and that Geordie and Hackney are both minority pronunciations within the respective broader regions of 'north' and 'south', so they're perhaps not the best examples.
    What are "view languages"?

    Whatever they are, I'm sorely tempted to give up using IPA symbols if they mean different things to different people. I thought the whole idea was to have a common standard that could be understood in the same way by everyone. But now I discover that [a] can mean one thing to trapezoidal people and another to triangular people! I really don't see how that vowel triangle can serve to differentiate between the nuances we're talking about in this discussion. I also understand now why you said "Calling anything but a central vowel "a" is ridiculous". I suppose you were talking about a triangular "a", whereas I assumed it to be a trapezoidal "a". And forgive me if I'm wrong, Bernd, but haven't I seen you using symbols from the trapezoid before, when discussing the English language?

    Ws:)
     
  25. berndf Moderator

    Geneva
    German (Germany)
    Agree. This is typical for for Northumbrian/Scots. Other northern /æ/ are fairly central.
    In the German vowel system, yes. The one belongs to the area of the German /ɛ/ and the other in the area of the German /a:/. Here is another less drastic pair: A fronted "a" (the lady from Watford) of about F2-F1=850 and on non-fronted (the lady from Notingham) with about F2-F1=550. The former is on the /ɛ/ side of the German phoneme boundary and the other on the /a:/ side. I am not quite sure about the exact location of the phoneme border but I'd think somewhere around F2-F1=750...800.

    Sorry, typo. The word is "few".

    Yes, English is one of the languages where the trapezoid form is more adequate. This comparison of vowel charts is quite interesting. The shows that the arrangement of phonemes follow different pattern. In Italian you see a typical single triangle system which is typical for a Romance language having lost phonemic length. The German system, a language with full length phonemicity, you see a typical two triangle system, a small one for short vowels and a large one for long vowel, as it also existed in Latin.

    The English, system has a completely different shape where the triangle view doesn't fit.
     
  26. Wordsmyth

    Wordsmyth Senior Member

    Location: Mostly SW France
    Native language: English (BrE)
    OK. Alles klar.

    Ws:)
     
  27. berndf Moderator

    Geneva
    German (Germany)
    I think in my answer to this I should have been more explicit: I was talking here of the quality and not of the quantity of /a/. I took something for granted I should have explained: Languages with fully phonemic vowel length like German (for stressed syllables), have separate vowel systems with separate phoneme boundaries for short and long vowels. This can lead to complex interaction between quantity, quality and stress in phoneme recognition. E.g. a shortened long "e" ([e:]>[e]) in a stressed syllable will flip perception from /e:/ to /ɪ/ but not in an unstressed syllable. And a fully open [ä] will always be perceived as long independent of actual quantity because there is no corresponding short vowel at this point in the vowel chart. This excludes realization of the vowel of Mann as [ä] or [a] as this would change the phoneme recognition from /man/ to /ma:n/ and that is a different word (spelled Mahn).
     
  28. timpeac

    timpeac Senior Member

    England
    English (England)
    Yes, I see your point much clearer now. I think I'm still surprised, despite the difficulties, that the correct pronunciation isn't more widespread - and at least mentioned in school, even if it is permissible for students to approximate it. I remember in an early lesson of French being introduced to the word "fauteuil" and the teacher explaining the correct pronunciation, trying to get the class to say it (at which we failed miserably) and saying not to worry as it would not affect the exam result. To differentiate "man" from "men" (and all the other pairs, of course) seems so important that I'm surprised it's not flagged more as at least being an issue.

    I was thinking about your comment about /æ/ only being diphthongised before a nasal. This might be true - but what I think I notice is that the American /æ/ is lengthened, at least in comparison to /ɛ/. I wonder if this is not a small factor in the issue. If a foreign speaker approximates /æ/ with a short vowel I think it will be heard as /ɛ/. However, if it were lengthened then I think it would have a greater chance of being interpreted as /æ/.
     
    Last edited: May 15, 2013
  29. berndf Moderator

    Geneva
    German (Germany)
    Yes, length plays a significant role in AE /ɛ/ and /æ/ separation. Your perception is absolutely correct.
     
  30. Ben Jamin Senior Member

    Norway
    Polish
    I’d like to understand this discussion better, so I’d like to ask:
    Do the symbols used here mean:
    [ɑ] - back
    [a] - middle
    [æ] – frontal
    vowel placed at the bottom of the Vowel Quadrangle?
     
  31. Dan2

    Dan2 Senior Member

    US
    US English
    I think the most common way the low (open) vowels are envisioned is as shown here:
    http://dialectblog.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/01/Ipa-chart-vowels.png

    For a vowel that is central and maximally low (for which no symbol is shown on the chart), "ä" is sometimes used (not to be confused with the sound represented by the German letter ä). This is the vowel of the most common American pronunciation of words like "hot".

    -----
    I fully agree with timpeac and berndf that /æ/ tends to be significantly longer than /ɛ/, and that this length difference probably plays a role in the perception of one vowel vs the other. (And that the length difference should be taught to learners of English!) However it's important not to lose sight of the fact that the vowel qualities of /æ/ and /ɛ/ are different from each other in any given American dialect, and the quality difference is probably primary. For ex., if I say "bet" and "bat" with a vowel length in "bet" (unnaturally) two or three times longer than that of "bat", another American will still understand the words correctly.

    -----
    Regarding the suggestion that Germans be taught to use the vowel of German "Mann" for English /æ/, here's a perspective from this side of the Atlantic: Both the "Mann" vowel, and the vowel that most Germans seem to use, their "Bett" vowel, sound quite wrong to me. But purely phonetically, the "Bett" vowel seems closer. So I don't share the sense seen above that it is inexplicable why "Mann" isn't suggested to Germans. But this difference in perception is surely due to the fact that Americans have an "/æ/" that is different from that of those who would suggest "Mann" as a model. (I actually believe that "standard British English" /æ/ is closer to the American /æ/ of "hat" than it is to the vowel of German "Mann", but that's an argument I don't wish to get into. :))
     
    Last edited: May 15, 2013
  32. berndf Moderator

    Geneva
    German (Germany)
    I see no evidence of this happening. In languages where "a" is central people happily use [a] for this. Nobody uses [ä]; not even in English where the sound occurs in the diphthong [aI]. In languages where the "normal a" is central (probably the vast majority, at least of IE languages) people happily call it [a].
    I hear this only in Northern Midwestern accents. The standard American "short o" is still rather [ɑ].

    I think there was a bit of a misconception what really defined the German vowel in Mann, namely that not being fully open is part of this definition. I think, we have clarified this now.
     
  33. Dan2

    Dan2 Senior Member

    US
    US English
    By "this happening" I think you mean "this use of "ä" becoming widespread". I wasn't claiming that it is, or will become, widespread. I simply said that the symbol is sometimes used, which is certainly true. And the main reason I mentioned it was that I was responding to Ben Jamin's post, where he specifically asked about the symbols for low vowels from back to central to front.

    (berndf's "this" = [ä] in "hot", with [ä] as defined above.)
    I disagree. The famous Northern Midwestern "hot" vowel is so far fronted that it is at least an [a], and many Americans from other regions even perceive it as /æ/. There's an often quoted experiment where words like "block" from phrases like "the block I live on" spoken by residents of Chicago were edited out and presented to Americans from other regions, who identified it as "black".

    As for where the American "center of gravity" is for the "hot" vowel, I think [ɑ] is too back.
     
  34. berndf Moderator

    Geneva
    German (Germany)
    Here, I hear the 1st and 3rd closer to [ɑ] and the 2nd closer to [a] (for the 2nd and 3rd I could verify this by formant analysis; the 1st is too loud and suffers from too much clipping for the piece of software I use). Do you agree?

    Here is German Naht /na:t/. Would you except this as a "center of gravity" pronunciation of not?
     
  35. Sepia Senior Member

    High German/Danish
    But it is not true that "Germans" do not recognize the difference between the "a"s. I have often heard people pronouncing one word with a totally BE "a" and in the next phrase an English name or a word with "ä". I keep asking them why they do that and get no really fulfilling answers other than this is the way English is taught. Why they teach wrong pronounciations, they cannot tell. It is absolutely sick. I also tell them (like somebody already mentioned) that a normal "a" like in "Stadt" would be closer to some variation of BE.
     
  36. Dan2

    Dan2 Senior Member

    US
    US English
    I don't agree about #1 being closer to [ɑ]; do you really think it's that far back? But even if we accept your judgments, and assign a backness value of 0 to [a], 1 to [ä], 2 to [ɑ], then the average of your three judgments is 1.3, to which the closest vowel is [ä]. I rest my case. :)

    But more to the point, I found two websites that offer pronunciations corresponding to each IPA vowel symbol:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/IPA_vowel_chart_with_audio
    http://wso.williams.edu/~jdowse/ipa.html
    I hear some differences between the two in the case of some vowels, but I would stand by the following claims:
    1. The pronunciation of [ä] in the first is an excellent representation of the typical (or averaged) American pronunciation of the "hot" vowel.
    2. In the case of the second website, which doesn't offer a pronunciation for [ä], [a] is too far front, and [ɑ] clearly too far back, to be typical of Amer "hot". The vowel is between the two; again, [ä] would seem to be the optimal choice for a detailed representation. (I don't care for [ä] as the symbol for this vowel, but that's not relelvant to the discussion.)
    The excessive (for English) vowel length makes it hard to judge this sample as an English word. In any case, I don't hear the vowel as [ä].

    berndf> the 1st is too loud and suffers from too much clipping for the piece of software I use
    If you download and look at the actual file, clipping is minimal. The sample should be analyzable.

    In reporting Chicago "block" being heard as "black" by residents of other regions (work of Prof. Bill Labov) in my previous post, I didn't mean to leave the impression that this pronunciation is universal in Chicago (and other "northern cities"). Rather, the extreme fronting of "short o" (and associated changes) is typical of more "advanced" speakers of the "Northern Cities dialect". Many (and in particular, it seems to me, the better educated) speakers in this region use more typical American vowels.
     
  37. berndf Moderator

    Geneva
    German (Germany)
    I arrive at 1.67. I still don't put dots on a central [a], unless I have to compare it to a fronted [a].:p
    But as what? (In your metric, my ear would give it about 1.2)
     
    Last edited: May 16, 2013
  38. Wordsmyth

    Wordsmyth Senior Member

    Location: Mostly SW France
    Native language: English (BrE)
    I've just found time to look over that comparison of different vowel charts, for which I thank you, Bernd. It's fascinating, and will be useful in understanding comments from people with different native languages.

    Interestingly, it seems to show why several of us think that most present-day BrE realisations of /æ/ (even southern) are closer to the German /a/ than to the German /ɛ/ — and that they're closer to the German /a/ than they are to the /æ/ of other languages.

    In the other languages that are considered to have an /æ/ in those charts, the /æ/ is centred on F2-F1 values in the range of 950 to 1100 (Finland Swedish 950, Swedish 1090, AmE 1100). In the languages that are shown as having an /a/, the /a/ is centred in an F2-F1 range of 480 to 725 (the highest being German at 725).

    The "standard southern BrE" vowel called "
    /æ/" is centred around F2-F1=800, which is closer to the /a/ group than to the /æ/ group.
    In fact, within an overall range of 480 to 1100 (/a/ +
    /æ/), the German /a/ at 725 and BrE "/æ/" at 800 are cosy neighbours.

    Also, with the German /a/ around 725 and the German
    /ɛ/ around 1300, that puts the BrE "/æ/" at 800 very much closer to to the German /a/ than to the German /ɛ/.

    I'm not talking about what some Germans' brains may "hear" through relating sounds to what they're familiar with. I'm just talking about what the sounds are.

    I don't know what determines a phoneme border, but I guess it's pretty arbitrary: if you need an absolute value, you have to draw a line somewhere. But for comparative purposes I'm not sure it's of great importance. (It's like two people living just on either side of the border between, say, Belgium and France: they're likely to have more in common (socially, culturally and linguistically) than either of them does with someone at the other end of France).

    To my ear, the Nottingham lady's "man" is much closer to 'mainstream RP' (see below) than to a northern accent. If other natives hear it the same way as I do, that seems to point to the 'standard' BrE /æ/ being, as some of us were saying earlier, more of an [a] than an [ɛ]-influenced [æ]. Oh, and the Watford lady is a very particular case: her accent sounds like that of a particular ethnic group, not uncommon in Watford but not typical of 'standard' southern English pronunciation.

    Other examples of English [æ]/[a] distinction can be found on the British Library website (which you know, Bernd, as you sometimes link to it). In the section on RP vowel sounds, two examples are given of the pronunciation of the 'TRAP' lexical set: conservative RP is shown as /æ/; mainstream RP (the default in this list) is shown as /a/. Conservative RP is described as "a very traditional variety particularly associated with older speakers and the aristocracy", and is pretty rarely heard these days.

    All of which makes me wonder why those charts on the University of Helsinki site (and others I've seen) credit "standard southern English" with having an
    /æ/ but no /a/. The answer may lie in the British Library description of Received Pronunciation: "RP is probably the most widely studied and most frequently described variety of spoken English in the world, yet recent estimates suggest only 2% of the UK population speak it. [...] RP is also a theoretical linguistic concept." (I guess "spoken English" should be taken as "spoken British English").

    Could it be, then, that many discussions about "standard southern British English" aren't addressing the language actually spoken by the large majority of 'standard BE' speakers?

    It's true that some discussions are built around audio recordings of actual speakers, which should be more representative. That's reasonably true of targeted surveys (BL, BBC, ...) that identify authentic speakers, as long as it's recognised that samples often represent very localised speech, not the speech of a whole region. However, samples in sources such as Forvo can be misleading, because locations are provided for contributors, but that's no guarantee of their linguistic origins (like the Watford lady).

    I'm sure, Bernd, that you'll come up with some flaws in my logic ...;)

    Ws:)
     
  39. berndf Moderator

    Geneva
    German (Germany)
    I would like to draw your attention to the fact that the phonemes occupy areas in formant space and are't simply dots. Like Luxembourg is smaller than Russia, some phonemes occupy a smaller area and others a larger one. The diagrams you find in text books and that show vowels as dots are oversimplifications. Strictness and fuzziness of the borders depend on the language and cannot be measured in absolute terms. It basically depends on the proximity of other phonemes and the number of word confusions off-centre pronunciation can produce. If you look at the centre of gravity of the German /a/ (680/1400) you will notice that it is in the range of the BE /ʌ/. The issue is not whether German /a/ and BE /æ/ have a small or a big distance in parameter space but what word confusions the exchange of of the the two sounds may produce. The English word hat would simply become to close to hut and bat to close to but to ensure reliably resolution of minimal pairs -- in English not in German. I don't deny that only a small shift would suffice to "push the German /a/ across the border". Some Northern German accents (notably in Schleswig-Holstein and Hamburg) front the short /a/ a little bit and that completely reshuffles the cards.

    Back to the non-discrimination of /æ/ and /ɛ/; this then is not a kind of a "perceptual defect" of the German ear but it is simply that the low-front area of vowel space is not allocated in German and therefore free for variation and people do indeed vary. This also explains the observation many English speakers make that German do not consistently pronounce /æ/ like /ɛ/ but erratically switch between the two. There is and inverse phenomenon: The space occupied by the English Schwa /ə/ is divided into two different Schwas in German, a more e-sounding one /ə/ and a more a-sounding one /ɐ/. The distinction is highly relevant in German because important minimal pairs, notable the separation of the suffixes -e and -er (eine vs. einer) relies on the separation of these two phonemes. When the same English speaker pronounces the same word several times he/she seldom stays on only one side of the divide in German; words like Edinburgh may sound [ɛdɪnbəɹə], [ɛdɪnbəɹɐ], [ɛdɪnbɐɹɐ] or [ɛdɪnbɐɹə] to a German without any apparent logic.
     
  40. berndf Moderator

    Geneva
    German (Germany)
    @Dan: I spend much of last night listening to radio/tv announcers mainly from LA. I know they are often trained very thoroughly to speak with an as neutral as possible accent so people from all parts of the country can relate to it. And I agree with you now: This group of speakers do indeed predominantly use fairly central realizations of the "short o" /ɑ/ which then means it should indeed be considered "neutral".
     
  41. Wordsmyth

    Wordsmyth Senior Member

    Location: Mostly SW France
    Native language: English (BrE)
    Of course, which is why I said "centred on/around". I was going to talk about overlap of the circular areas, but decided it was easier to compare the centres of those areas.
    Does that mean the use of circles on those charts is pointless (even misleading)? If the areas are meaningless, why didn't the author just show points? Where he shows two circles overlapping, does that mean that in reality they may not overlap, if one is really much smaller?

    We know where Luxembourg's and Russia's borders are: each point is a known distance from a reference point within the country. We know which of the two countries we're in from other indicators: road signs, policemen's uniforms, etc, etc. Let's see if the analogy stands up for phonemes ....
    OK, so the borders depend on the language, the proximity of other phonemes and the number of potential word confusions. For a given language (as those charts were), surely the proximity and the potential word confusions are well known to linguists. So why can't phoneme borders (for a given language) be measured in absolute terms?

    ... And if they can't, then in any discussion about whether a given sound belongs to the German /
    ɛ/ phoneme or /a/ phoneme (or the BrE /æ/ or /a/), we must all be right, because there's no definition of what a given phoneme is!

    I'm not denying that there are fine distinctions between sounds that are evident to speakers of one language, but not picked up by speakers of another language. What I do find odd is the presumption
    in certain sources that southern English has no /a/. I've always thought that the definition of phonemes in terms of potential word confusion is very logical, but the transcription used by many sources doesn't seem to follow that principle. For the English word bat, an extreme 'Conservative RP' pronunciation is virtually [bɛt]; a slightly less extreme case (a bit more open) would be [bæt]; and mainstream RP (plus a lot of non-RP) is in the region of [bat] (not the German [a], but a long way from [æ]).

    Now you might argue that /
    æ/ is a Russia-sized phoneme, but look at word confusion. The first two pronunciations can be confused with the word bet. The third one can't be confused with anything (at least to an English ear) — And yet the phoneme used to represent the vowel in bat is traditionally /æ/. So on a word-confusion basis, there seems to be an argument in favour of using the phoneme /a/ for bat, unless the International Phonetic Association wants to recognise that hardly any BrE speakers say "Do hev some jem", and thus follow your suggestion of inventing a new symbol for the English fronted "a".

    I'm not trying to be at all dogmatic in any of the above. It's just that in many discussions I've witnessed and articles I've read where there's reference to phonemes, I've seen widely disparate views, often underlining a difference between theory and practice — so I'm fielding some thoughts in the hope of getting a better understanding of their use.

    Ws:)

     
  42. berndf Moderator

    Geneva
    German (Germany)
    I've been trying to understand what you are trying to say here. Do you mean have and jam with an only near open rather than full open vowel couldn't be distinguished from [ɛ]? Germans have difficulties to do that but in other languages, including many variants of English, this is not a problem. In other words, I contest that Do have some jam sounds like Do hev some jem, if you don't lower /æ/ as much as modern Southern speakers do.
     
  43. Wordsmyth

    Wordsmyth Senior Member

    Location: Mostly SW France
    Native language: English (BrE)
    I'll admit that there was a degree of approximation in my "hev some jem", and I suspect that we may be into the realm of subjective perception here. I wonder if I, with my native English ear, hear the difference between [æ] and [a] as being greater than you do (and perhaps greater than formant measurement might suggest?).

    Let's take the range of sounds from [a] through [æ] to [ɛ] — where [a] is the open fronted vowel (not the central one), and is pronounced as here, which is the way I pronounce hat.

    Now let's compare [a], [æ] and [ɛ] here. (The [a] is somewhat distorted in this sample by being pronounced very long, so it gives the impression of being less fronted than in the hat sample above, but it'll serve for this comparison). To my ear, that [æ] is much closer to the [ɛ] than it is to the [a].

    Now I'll apply that to the jam example: Starting from my own reference point of [hav
    ʤam], the pronunciation [hæv ʤæm] has a strong [ɛ]-influence and is that of the rapidly disappearing 'conservative RP' speech; and then there's [hɛv ʤɛm], as heard from older members of the royal family and a very few others of that ilk (plus a good number of Germans ;)). So no, I'm not saying that near open [æ] can't be distinguished from open-mid [ɛ]. My somewhat jocular reference to "hev some jem" would broadly cover both the [æ] and [ɛ] versions: to people whose jam has an [a], both of those other versions tend to sound like vowels with different degrees of "e"-ness (a term used by a fellow Brit with whom I was discussing this today).

    Note that my comparison didn't refer to the
    [æ]-to-[ɛ] vowel sounds of certain south-eastern regional accents in words like have and jam: somehow those have a very different quality from the 'conservative/royal' versions. Nonetheless, the perception by the [a]-crowd of differing degrees of "e"-ness would still apply.

    Ws
    :)

     
  44. timpeac

    timpeac Senior Member

    England
    English (England)
    I've been mulling over the past few posts on the audibility of [ɛ] versus [æ]. My initial reaction is that I would hear a [æ] as /ɛ/ - particularly if all other indications in the accent (and I suppose visuals) do not suggest an older RP speaker. However, I also have to admit that I haven't often, if ever, been confused by the speech of an older RP speaker when I hear it in films etc (and admittedly then I am prepped to hear an older speech variety). I have been - even if briefly - confused on this point by the speech of some otherwise extremely talented German linguists speaking English.

    I suspect this might go back to something that I mentioned briefly earlier. /æ/ is realised longer than /ɛ/ (whether it's pronounced as [æ] or higher). I think that might be where foreign speakers who do not use [a] are going wrong. Whether they get [æ] perfectly correct or whether they edge towards [ɛ] I think you need to lengthen it. Conversely I suspect that [ɛ:] might be heard as a realisation of /æ/ - i.e. intelligible, albeit old-fashioned and noticeably "not how I would say it".

    As a secondary thought that occurs to me only now - the length issue I mention there might also be why modern BE speakers feel so strongly about this issue. The realisation of /
    æ/ as [a] is not lengthened (in new contrast to the usual long realisation of /ɑ/?), so we have not only changed height but also length of this phoneme and it really changes our interpretation of this phoneme's boundaries.
     
    Last edited: May 21, 2013
  45. Nucleos Junior Member

    French - france
  46. berndf Moderator

    Geneva
    German (Germany)
    To my ear it is a nice specimen of a (Southern) British [æ]. To describe my perception, it is close to my idea what an "a" should sound like but does not yet have the "round, balanced" sound of an "a" but the "quacking" touch of [æ] and [ɛ]. I listened to many sounds in the vicinity of "a" comparing there formants to my perception. I think, I perceive a balanced, clean and pleasant "a" when the F1-F2 distance is exactly one octave. If it is less I perceive the sound as "dark" ([ɑ]-like) and if it is greater as "quacking" ([æ]-like).

    The sound in the recoding has an F1-F2 distance of more than one octave. Interestingly, it is neither fully fronted nor fully open. Its average formats are 700/1500: that is a sound somewhere in the middle between [æ] and [ɐ]. If you compare that with an AE [æ], the BE sound is only marginally more open while the main difference is that it is not fully fronted (F2 is about 250Hz less) in BE. This also lowers the F2/F1 ratio. It seems that the British and the German ears don't work that differently after all: The curial parameter for the perception of [æ]-ishness vs. [a]-ishness seems to be the F2/F1 ratio and not openness.
     
  47. Ben Jamin Senior Member

    Norway
    Polish
    I think that all "not professional phoneticians" have dropped off this thread.
     
  48. Wordsmyth

    Wordsmyth Senior Member

    Location: Mostly SW France
    Native language: English (BrE)
    .
    No, there's one definitely "not professional phonetician" still here.:cool:
    I've just said "The cat sat on the mat" to a German colleague. I asked him if he found anything unbalanced, unclean or unpleasant about my vowels. He made me repeat it, gave it deep thought, then said "Not at all" — but then he isn't a phonetician.

    So I won't be wearing sackcloth and ashes — but perhaps I should contact all my Southern Brit friends and get them to change their names to Donald or Daffy, so we can keep on quacking! (But of course that'll be [kwakɪŋ], not [kwækɪŋ] or [kwɛkɪŋ] ;)).

    Ws:)
     
    Last edited: May 23, 2013
  49. Dan2

    Dan2 Senior Member

    US
    US English
    Some comments from another not-professional-phonetician:

    Thanks for posting this - it helps anchor the discussion. I don't claim to be an expert on IPA vowel representation, but I too hear the above vowel as IPA [a]. What I can say with certainty is that it is NOT the typical American "hat" vowel (which I hear as IPA [æ]).

    You mean Southern British /æ/, right? That is, a vowel associated with the traditional British-English phoneme /æ/. (By writing [æ], you seem to be suggesting that it is an "æ" in absolute IPA terms, which is not how Wordsmyth and I hear it.)
    To me, it has NO touch of [æ] or [ɛ]. I say this not to suggest you are wrong but just to illustrate how people with different backgrounds hear things differently.
     
    Last edited: May 23, 2013
  50. Wordsmyth

    Wordsmyth Senior Member

    Location: Mostly SW France
    Native language: English (BrE)
    Thanks Dan. I was starting to feel a little lonely out there.

    This question of perception is all-important. It makes me think of noise measurement in decibels. The human ear/brain combination doesn't hear the same as what measuring instruments record, so it was necessary to invent PNdB (perceived noise decibels); even that wasn't enough, so now we have EPNdB (effective perceived noise decibels). I await with impatience the arrival of some sort of 'EPFA' (effective perceived formant analysis);).

    And then there's your very good point about people's perception being affected by different backgrounds. Maybe we need an 'EPBCFA' (that's BC for background-conditioned) — and maybe we could then have symbols like [a]b and [a]dwt (that's b for Bernd, etc). OK, that would get me thrown out of a phoneticians' conference, but behind my flippancy is the serious thought that maybe conventional analysis doesn't have all the answers.

    Ws:)
     

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