General pronunciation: differences in AE/BE vowels

Status
Not open for further replies.

timpeac

Senior Member
English (England)
Have any of you been confused by the different pronunciations of our shared language?

One I can think of is the character "Tara" in Buffy. I used to wonder why she was called "terror", and it was literally only when I happened to see the name in the credits that I realised it was Tara.

Because we don't pronounce the -r at the end of a word "-a" and "-or" sound the same. It seems in this word Americans pronounce the first a the way we would pronounce the letter e, and the confusion is complete.

We would pronounce Tara as Taaahra, or at least we do in the south of England. My friend Sara tells me Americans are incapable of pronouncing her name (Saahra) unless she tells them to pronounce it "saw -ra" in which case they get a little closer, but still not quite.

Does anyone know why Americans pronounce this first a in this way? They don't pronounce say the a of fast like an e.

Anyone else been confused by pronounciation differences (as opposed to grammar of usage differences) or is it just me?
 
  • VenusEnvy

    Senior Member
    English, United States
    Interesting question, Tim . . . :thumbsup:

    timpeac said:
    Does anyone know why Americans pronounce this first a in this way? They don't pronounce say the a of fast like an e.

    Does anyone know why Brits pronuonce the "a" the other way? I don't mean to be argumentative, or give you circular reasoning, but the same question can be asked of every single type of accent and dialect. That would be a long discussion! :p


    timpeac said:
    We would pronounce Tara as Taaahra, or at least we do in the south of England. My friend Sara tells me Americans are incapable of pronouncing her name (Saahra) unless she tells them to pronounce it "saw -ra" in which case they get a little closer, but still not quite.
    Again, Tim, sorry but I have to say it. An American girl named "Sarah" can say (in the same regard) that Brits pronounce her name wrong, too. It's not that Americans are incapable of making these sounds, but they are different.

    A previous Spanish teacher said the same about us saying her name, as well (that is, with out accent). Her name was "Laura". Americans pronounce it as "lora", which is a female parrot in Spanish! She would always get jokingly offended when we didn't pronounce her name as one would in Spain (la-u-ra).


    The accents don't confuse me terribly, but then again, I am not exposed to the British language very often. However, when some Brits who have strong accents speak, I find that I cannot understand a word they say! C'est la vie . . . :rolleyes: :D

    What do others think?
     

    ceirun

    Senior Member
    UK / English
    Hi timpeac,

    I'm from the North (of England) and something that always gets me is the way you (soft :) ) southerners pronounce the long "a" vowel sound in words like "dance", "chance", "bath", etc.

    I remember reading somewhere that this is actually an influence on the language that can be traced back to the Norman invasion of southern England.
    Apparently, the way they speak in Northumberland is much closer to the authentic Anglo-Saxon tongue.

    This could be just something I read on the back of a matchbox one drunk night, though. :eek:
     

    timpeac

    Senior Member
    English (England)
    VenusEnvy said:
    Interesting question, Tim . . . :thumbsup:



    Does anyone know why Brits pronuonce the "a" the other way? I don't mean to be argumentative, or give you circular reasoning, but the same question can be asked of every single type of accent and dialect. That would be a long discussion! :p

    Ah, absolutely true VenusEnvy, but I think you are misunderstanding what I meant (probably my fault, it's difficult to be clear in writing about the way things are said!!). What I meant was we pronounce the "a" of "fast" and "tara" in the same way. Americans pronounce the "a" of "fast" in a different way to the way they pronounce the "a" of "tara" (right?). So what I meant was why do the Americans pronounce these to "a"'s different to each other not why do they pronounce them differently to the British pronunciation. What is it about the "a" of "tara" that triggers this pronunciation that the "a" of "fast" doesn't?

    VenusEnvy said:
    Again, Tim, sorry but I have to say it. An American girl named "Sarah" can say (in the same regard) that Brits pronounce her name wrong, too. It's not that Americans are incapable of making these sounds, but they are different.

    And again, I think you've slightly misunderstood what I meant. I am in no way saying that the way the British pronounce Sara is correct and the Americans are walking round failing to pronounce it when talking about people called Sara or Sarah. They pronounce it absolutely fine, but in a different way of course. No, what I meant here was that in this instance Sara has found that she is incapable of explaining to Americans how she herself pronounces her own name - which makes me wonder why, maybe this sound just doesn't exist in American English. I'm not saying that the Americans themselves should adopt this pronunciation - I'm just saying it's interesting that they have difficulty even imitating it.
    VenusEnvy said:
    A previous Spanish teacher said the same about us saying her name, as well (that is, with out accent). Her name was "Laura". Americans pronounce it as "lora", which is a female parrot in Spanish! She would always get jokingly offended when we didn't pronounce her name as one would in Spain (la-u-ra).


    The accents don't confuse me terribly, but then again, I am not exposed to the British language very often. However, when some Brits who have strong accents speak, I find that I cannot understand a word they say! C'est la vie . . . :rolleyes: :D

    What do others think?

    I was trying to get at the reasons why we pronounce things differently - I would never presume to suggest one way was right and another wrong!!:eek:
     

    timpeac

    Senior Member
    English (England)
    ceirun said:
    Hi timpeac,

    I'm from the North (of England) and something that always gets me is the way you (soft :) ) southerners pronounce the long "a" vowel sound in words like "dance", "chance", "bath", etc.

    I remember reading somewhere that this is actually an influence on the language that can be traced back to the Norman invasion of southern England.
    Apparently, the way they speak in Northumberland is much closer to the authentic Anglo-Saxon tongue.

    This could be just something I read on the back of a matchbox one drunk night, though. :eek:

    Yes I heard something similar - I think I heard that the linguistic line between the north and the south represents how far the Vikings invaded down bringing their speech habits, and some vocab, to the north.

    In everything that I've said above, I'm not presuming to speak for the whole of the UK, just myself. I know that there are alot of English people who wouldn't pronounce Tara as Taaahra but as Taara (but different again from the terra of the US). I think the discussion would get too complicated if I tried to mention it all...:)
     

    ceirun

    Senior Member
    UK / English
    You're right, the topic of accents in the UK is a whole bookshelf in itself. :)
    It's funny you should mention about "tara" though, as I've just replied to a post about this same word in the Spanish forum.
     

    timpeac

    Senior Member
    English (England)
    ceirun said:
    You're right, the topic of accents in the UK is a whole bookshelf in itself. :)
    It's funny you should mention about "tara" though, as I've just replied to a post about this same word in the Spanish forum.

    Hahaha, so have I!
     

    VenusEnvy

    Senior Member
    English, United States
    timpeac said:
    it's difficult to be clear in writing about the way things are said!!).
    Yes, you are right about this one!


    timpeac said:
    Americans pronounce the "a" of "fast" in a different way to the way they pronounce the "a" of "tara" (right?).
    I guess this is where my confusion begins. Because I pronounce them the same way! :eek: :rolleyes:

    timpeac said:
    Sarah has found that she is incapable of explaining to Americans how she herself pronounces her own name - which makes me wonder why, maybe this sound just doesn't exist in American English.
    It exists. We pronounce the a in "far" this way. (Right?)

    timpeac said:
    I was trying to get at the reasons why we pronounce things differently - I would never presume to suggest one way was right and another wrong!!:eek:
    Oh, no of course not! I'd be curious to know why as well. I believe that Ceirun may have shed have light in referring to origin. :confused:
     

    JLanguage

    Senior Member
    USA: American English, Learning Hebrew and Spanish
    Yes, in science we were watching a video on explosions and I had trouble understanding the different British accents. My British friend, naturally didn't have any trouble. Also, when I watched Snatch, I had trouble understanding a lot of what was said. I couldn't understand the pikeys at all.

    Check out this great Wikipedia article:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Regional_accents_of_English_speakers
     

    timpeac

    Senior Member
    English (England)
    JLanguage said:
    Yes, in science we were watching a video on explosions and I had trouble understanding the different British accents. My British friend, naturally didn't have any trouble. Also, when I watched Snatch, I had trouble understanding a lot of what was said. I couldn't understand the pikeys at all.

    Check out this great Wikipedia article:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Regional_accents_of_English_speakers

    Thanks, that's interesting. I suppose though, for all our moaning and slight misunderstandings, it's quite surprising how similar English has remained, at least in the standard pronunciations, around the world. I believe, from what I have seen, that the varieties of Spanish around the world for example vary more from each other than the English varieties do. Would people support that comment?
     

    gaer

    Senior Member
    US-English
    timpeac said:
    Thanks, that's interesting. I suppose though, for all our moaning and slight misunderstandings, it's quite surprising how similar English has remained, at least in the standard pronunciations, around the world. I believe, from what I have seen, that the varieties of Spanish around the world for example vary more from each other than the English varieties do. Would people support that comment?
    I think the answers to your original question are incomplete. Let me give you an example:

    My name (Gary), rhymes, in this country, with:

    berry and carry. It's regional. I've heard Americans from New England pronounce the "a" in several words you mentioned almost exactly as I hear these words spoken in the UK (which in itself is a ridiculous oversiplification!)

    You will also here the final "r" dropped for words in parts of New England—and in the South.

    Because of TV and radio, you get the idea that pronunciation in the US is much more standardized than it is. :)

    Gaer
     

    timpeac

    Senior Member
    English (England)
    gaer said:
    I think the answers to your original question are incomplete. Let me give you an example:

    My name (Gary), rhymes, in this country, with:

    berry and carry. It's regional. I've heard Americans from New England pronounce the "a" in several words you mentioned almost exactly as I hear these words spoken in the UK (which in itself is a ridiculous oversiplification!)

    You will also here the final "r" dropped for words in parts of New England—and in the South.

    Because of TV and radio, you get the idea that pronunciation in the US is much more standardized than it is. :)

    Gaer

    Ah, ok Gary thanks for that. It sounds like the two language sets are consistent then. Maybe I have been comparing apples with pears by comparing one American speech habit with another American's speech habit but the two had a different regional accent and I didn't realise it!
     

    gaer

    Senior Member
    US-English
    timpeac said:
    Ah, ok Gary thanks for that. It sounds like the two language sets are consistent then. Maybe I have been comparing apples with pears by comparing one American speech habit with another American's speech habit but the two had a different regional accent and I didn't realise it!
    I think it's reasonable to assume a fairly standard American accent and a fairly standard one in the UK. This breaks down, however, when you listen to excellent readers of books (book-recordings) who are picked because the book is set in a particular region.

    I noticed this recently listening to a Scottish reader. I wish I could remember the name of the book (set in Scotland, all Scottish characters). The difference in pronunciation was quite remarkable. I had no trouble understanding anything, but even a simple word like "okay" was pronounced "okee". Or closer to that. There were hundreds of things I noticed like that. The vowels were so very different.

    I would not say that the two language sets are consistent, but rather that they overlap. Does that make any sense? I'm too tired, and it's too late for me to say what I wish to say here. :(

    Gaer
     

    lainyn

    Senior Member
    Canadian English
    I'm too tired to write out a really long response to all of this, although it is extremely interesting. However, I would like to add that in Canada there are two ways of pronouncing the name Tara: Tare-ah (as in the vegetable) and Tar-ah (as in the goopy black stuff). Which one were you refering to in the original post?
     

    timpeac

    Senior Member
    English (England)
    lainyn said:
    I'm too tired to write out a really long response to all of this, although it is extremely interesting. However, I would like to add that in Canada there are two ways of pronouncing the name Tara: Tare-ah (as in the vegetable) and Tar-ah (as in the goopy black stuff). Which one were you refering to in the original post?

    I don't know the vegetable "tare":confused:

    But I was hearing it with an "e" as in "berry" so I think it must be the first one. In the UK we only have "tar - ah" as in the goopy black stuff.
     

    timpeac

    Senior Member
    English (England)
    gaer said:
    I think it's reasonable to assume a fairly standard American accent and a fairly standard one in the UK. This breaks down, however, when you listen to excellent readers of books (book-recordings) who are picked because the book is set in a particular region.

    I noticed this recently listening to a Scottish reader. I wish I could remember the name of the book (set in Scotland, all Scottish characters). The difference in pronunciation was quite remarkable. I had no trouble understanding anything, but even a simple word like "okay" was pronounced "okee". Or closer to that. There were hundreds of things I noticed like that. The vowels were so very different.

    I would not say that the two language sets are consistent, but rather that they overlap. Does that make any sense? I'm too tired, and it's too late for me to say what I wish to say here. :(

    Gaer

    I think that they are consistent here and that they overlap!!

    What I mean by that is that when a different vowel is used in British speech between two words a different vowel is used in US speech between the two words. This is consistent.

    However, because the vowel can be different comparing the US speech to the UK there can be overlap because one vowel in the British word might be used in the US pronunciation of another word!

    For example (these are made up examples I am not talking about any real-life word here).

    - British speaker - pIl and pOl - two arbitrary words with a different vowel in each.

    the same two words for a US speaker - pEl and pIl.

    So for each speaker viewed separately they use a different vowel to give a different meaning (consistently). However, one uses one vowel to represent one sound and the other uses that same vowel to represent another vowel the (I) in my example (overlap).

    I hope that makes sense - in linguistic terms it is using a certain real-life phonetic realisation to represent different phonemes in the different varieties of English.:eek:
     

    nightwish925

    New Member
    nglish
    yeh thats where i noticed the pronouncation, from Buffy. I thought that she just had a name and it was pronounced weirdly, and only realised that it was ment to sound like Taaahra, (how i would preonounce it) when Giles, the english character said her name
     

    kalamazoo

    Senior Member
    US, English
    I think the name of Scarlett O'Hara's plantation is pronounced more like Tar than Tare, even though the name of a person Tara is more like Tare than like Tar.

    Frankly given how wildly unphonetic English is compared to languages like Italian or Spanish or Turkish, I think it's kind of silly to discuss why the "same" vowel is pronounced "differently" in any given country or regional accent anyway.


    It's possible for a skilled actor whose native language is one variety of English to mimic the sounds of another variety, but it's not easy for most people. Certainly the English people that I know who have lived in the US for a long long time tend to end up with an accent that sounds English to the Americans and American to the English, so it must be halfway between somehow.
     

    Franzi

    Senior Member
    (San Francisco) English
    Does anyone know why Americans pronounce this first a in this way? They don't pronounce say the a of fast like an e.

    The best answer I can give to why 'Tara' is pronounced that way is "Because that's how that name sounds in AE".

    As to your question about 'fast' though, it's a mistake to think that all vowels map directly from one accent to another. Not only does one accent use different vowels than another, but it also may have a different number of vowels and which sets of words have the same vowel may be different. This is true between US accents too, not just between US accents and UK accents.

    It's simply not true that you can take AE vowel [x] and turn it into BE vowel [y] and be guaranteed a correct BE pronunciation. This kind of one-to-one correspondence does happen with many words, but some--especially names--will always turn out to not fit the pattern.

    My boyfriend's (AE) accent has more vowels than my (also AE) accent, and he's always getting confused when I say some word that has homophones in my dialect but not in his ('Don' and 'Dawn' for example).

    One thing I will say though is that I have a very hard time pronouncing the 'a' from 'fast' with an 'r' directly following it (as it would in 'Tara').
     
    Last edited:

    kalamazoo

    Senior Member
    US, English
    I had a very funny conversation once with someone from the Eastern US. I heard it as follows (this was in New Mexico)
    _ (she) Everyone around here thinks my name is Mary
    - (me) I thought your name was Mary
    - (she) It's not Mary, it's Mary

    I was left scratching my head. What was her name? Merry.
     

    Franzi

    Senior Member
    (San Francisco) English
    I had a very funny conversation once with someone from the Eastern US. I heard it as follows (this was in New Mexico)
    _ (she) Everyone around here thinks my name is Mary
    - (me) I thought your name was Mary
    - (she) It's not Mary, it's Mary

    I was left scratching my head. What was her name? Merry.

    At least it wasn't Murray!

    Actually, this merger is probably exactly what the original poster wanted to know about:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Englis...ges_before_historic_r#Mary-marry-merry_merger
    (For reference, US tv show accents like those on Buffy tend to be roughly a California accent with all of the distinctive parts taken out--unless a character is specifically supposed to be from New York or something.)
     

    timpeac

    Senior Member
    English (England)
    The best answer I can give to why 'Tara' is pronounced that way is "Because that's how that name sounds in AE".

    As to your question about 'fast' though, it's a mistake to think that all vowels map directly from one accent to another. Not only does one accent use different vowels than another, but it also may have a different number of vowels and which sets of words have the same vowel may be different. This is true between US accents too, not just between US accents and UK accents.

    It's simply not true that you can take AE vowel [x] and turn it into BE vowel [y] and be guaranteed a correct BE pronunciation.
    I didn't suggest it was, my question (very old now!:D) is more about why certain divergences have occurred given that we did all once speak the same language. In general terms one of the reasons that English is so readily understandable between different accents is that although particular pronunciations of a certain phoneme (a "sound" -ish) can vary hugely they vary in a regular way. The use of the written symbol "a" in "Tara" and "far" suggest that when they were first recorded the sound was reasonably similar - as it still is in British English (similar in each occurrence I mean, not necessarily the same quality as what was first denoted by "a") - I was wondering what conditions have made them differ in American English.

    However, I accept it is a fairly woolly question to start with, and not one I would probably formulate in the terms I did here now.
     

    timpeac

    Senior Member
    English (England)

    Franzi

    Senior Member
    (San Francisco) English
    The use of the written symbol "a" in "Tara" and "far" suggest that when they were first recorded the sound was reasonably similar - as it still is in British English (similar in each occurrence I mean, not necessarily the same quality as what was first denoted by "a") - I was wondering what conditions have made them differ in American English.

    Vowel mergers and vowel shifts happen all the time. Wikipedia has a lot of articles on different ones. The one I linked to above is the one I think specifically relates to 'fast' and 'Tara'. The reason why these processes happen at all isn't entirely clear, but they're a standard feature of language change.
     

    timpeac

    Senior Member
    English (England)
    Vowel mergers and vowel shifts happen all the time. Wikipedia has a lot of articles on different ones. The one I linked to above is the one I think specifically relates to 'fast' and 'Tara'. The reason why these processes happen at all isn't entirely clear, but they're a standard feature of language change.
    Vowel shifts happen, and are a major reason for accent differences, but they tend to happen to the same vowel en masse (or at least to the same vowel in the same phonological position). I think (although I don't remember asking the original question) that I was interested in why an "a" (whatever that might have represented) in words like Tara, Sarah, Barry had become an "e" in some accents (but not the "a" of "man" for example). Writing it like that I wonder if it is a regular influence of a following "r" (although maybe not since that wouldn't explain "far" not being "fer").
     

    Franzi

    Senior Member
    (San Francisco) English
    ...I was interested in why an "a" (whatever that might have represented) in words like Tara, Sarah, Barry had become an "e" in some accents (but not the "a" of "man" for example). Writing it like that I wonder if it is a regular influence of a following "r" (although maybe not since that wouldn't explain "far" not being "fer").

    I suppose it's some complicated interplay between which vowels diverged or converged at what times and whose pronunciation the spellings were based on. 'Far' also has an 'r' in a coda rather than as the onset of the next syllable, so that could also be a factor.

    And that's assuming that spelling was ever entirely phonetic in the first place.
     

    kalamazoo

    Senior Member
    US, English
    How would something like "pare" or "fare" be pronounced in BrE then? To me, the sound in "Tara" (the name) is like the sound in "pare" or "fare." Which in turn is like the sound in "bear" or "pair." I assume "far" and "fare" are not pronounced with the same sound in BrE, even though they are both written with "a." I suspect most of us have a lot more vowels in our idiolect that we realize anyway.
     

    timpeac

    Senior Member
    English (England)
    How would something like "pare" or "fare" be pronounced in BrE then? To me, the sound in "Tara" (the name) is like the sound in "pare" or "fare." Which in turn is like the sound in "bear" or "pair." I assume "far" and "fare" are not pronounced with the same sound in BrE, even though they are both written with "a." I suspect most of us have a lot more vowels in our idiolect that we realize anyway.
    You haven't made a point there. But judging from the "then" at the end of your first sentence and reading between the lines I suspect it is "why shouldn't the "a" in "Tara" have a different pronunciation from the "a" in "far" since the words "fare" and "far" both have the letter "a" but are pronounced differently. If so, I don't disagree at all, no reason that they shouldn't. In words written "-are", the "a" doesn't have the same value as the "a" of "apple". No rhyme or reason just fact. Can you formulate a phonological rule to differentiate the "a" in "far" and "Tara"? (Franzi suggests that it is the fact that the -ar is final.) That's what I'm asking about.

    This question seems to be getting some heated reactions. Let me clarify. I am not saying "why are Americans so stupid as not to pronounce an "a" like an "a"?" but rather what is it about the "a" in words like "Tara" but not in others that has led it to change its quality in some varieties of English? It's also led (as far as I remember from the time I asked the question) from the surprise at actually completely misunderstanding something in American English on hearing it that I only realised the difference on seeing the words written down (when for all the many differences between our varieties it is relatively rare for a difference of pronunciation to cause a complete misunderstanding of the word intended as long as you know the variety of the person speaking).
     
    Last edited:

    kalamazoo

    Senior Member
    US, English
    Perhaps I am missing some point. The original question was
    Does anyone know why Americans pronounce this first a in this way? They don't pronounce say the a of fast like an e.

    I didn't realize you were looking for a "rule." Certainly I know in the US at least, people's names may be pronounced differently that one would expect bsed on the way they are written. In the US, I would fully expect one person whose name was "Tara" to pronounce her name like "TAR-a" and another person whose name was "Tara" to pronounce her name like "TARE-a" so you would just have to learn what each person's name was anyway. Perhaps the underlying issue here is that "Tara" is a name, not actually an English "word" and there aren't any standard English words (or are there??) with that pattern. This is actually not an example of misunderstanding a word, but rather of misunderstanding a name.

    Thinking about this a little more, I realized that I don't pronounce the vowel of "terror" like the first vowel of "Tara" anyway. (In other words, if I pronounced "Tara" and stuck an "r' on the end, it would be quite diffferent from the sound of "terror.") In my dialect, the vowel of Tara seems to be a little farther forwrad in my mouth than the vowel of terror. And certainly if I were forced to figure out how to pronounce "tarror" it would be different from "terror."
     
    Last edited:

    chuff

    Senior Member
    USA
    English
    Have any of you been confused by the different pronunciations of our shared language?

    One I can think of is the character "Tara" in Buffy. I used to wonder why she was called "terror", and it was literally only when I happened to see the name in the credits that I realised it was Tara.

    Because we don't pronounce the -r at the end of a word "-a" and "-or" sound the same. It seems in this word Americans pronounce the first a the way we would pronounce the letter e, and the confusion is complete.

    We would pronounce Tara as Taaahra, or at least we do in the south of England. My friend Sara tells me Americans are incapable of pronouncing her name (Saahra) unless she tells them to pronounce it "saw -ra" in which case they get a little closer, but still not quite.

    Does anyone know why Americans pronounce this first a in this way? They don't pronounce say the a of fast like an e.

    Anyone else been confused by pronounciation differences (as opposed to grammar of usage differences) or is it just me?

    I think it is because Americans think they have a better grasp on spelling rules and how they apply to reading aloud...

    Think of the words Scare and Scarring.
    The vowel + single consonant + vowel makes that first vowel long. (This of course makes words like banana unusual, but hey, it's English.)

    The word Scarring is Scarring and not Scaring because of the double consonant.

    How would you pronounce "Teror" if you saw it for the first time and it was not a misspelling of "Terror?" Tea-roar, or tear-er.

    Therefore, we think that you guys are actually pronouncing TARRA and SARRA when you say it that way.

    Sarah = Sare-uh
    Sarrah = Sar-uh

    Again, there are so many terrible exceptions to this, like an American casino called Harrah's (hair-uhz).

    But this is basically why, I think.
     

    Franzi

    Senior Member
    (San Francisco) English
    (when for all the many differences between our varieties it is relatively rare for a difference of pronunciation to cause a complete misunderstanding of the word intended as long as you know the variety of the person speaking).

    I actually think it's pretty common for people to misunderstand names. I've seen BE speakers write the name of the Boston Legal character Alan Shore as "Alan Shaw". It's just that words other than names are much easier to guess from context.
     

    timpeac

    Senior Member
    English (England)
    It's just that words other than names are much easier to guess from context.
    That's true - I suppose if I hear someone called (as I hear it) "Berry" then it's a reasonable assumption that it's actually "Barry", or that "Herry" is probably "Harry", although he may also be "hairy":D.
     
    Status
    Not open for further replies.
    Top