Pronunciation: calm down, come down (cawm, com)

Discussion in 'English Only' started by Mr Bones, Oct 24, 2006.

  1. Mr Bones

    Mr Bones Senior Member

    España - Español
    Hello, everybody. I'd like to ask you about the pronunciation of these two verbs: calm down and come down (or calm and come, I don't know if it matters at all). I think I know the theory and, according to it, the only difference is located in the vowel quality:

    /kɑ:m/ and /kʌm/

    But my question is: don't you ever get mixed up with it? I think that, in many cases (I'm not saying always), the pronunciation is practically identical and only the context prevent you from get it wrong. What do you think?

    Thank you, Mr Bones.

  2. deegee_sister

    deegee_sister Member

    Moldova, Canada
    Depends where you go and who you're speaking with. In the UK, the pronunciation would be almost identical, as you pointed out. However, in North America, we tend to pronounce our "l"s much more, so you would definitely hear a difference. Same with the "r"s.

    dee gee
  3. Dimcl Senior Member

    British Columbia, Canada
    Canadian English
    I don't find those words identical, Mr. Bones. I pronounce the "ca" in "calm" like the sound of a crow (caw) or "comet" (caw-mit). I pronounce "come" like "gum".
  4. Mr Bones

    Mr Bones Senior Member

    España - Español
    Thank you, both. My experience is that I have trouble differentiating these two words (especially with British people, films, etc., I agree), and I have to resort to the context, which, by the way, is the normal way of doing things.

    The question occurred to me because once I said "calm down" to Mr Bones (the Border Collie you can see in the photo) and an Australian friend who was with me told me that I'd actually asked her (Mr Bones is a girl) to come down.

    Thank you, Mr Bones (master)
  5. Toepicker Member

    Manchester England
    Hi Mr Bones,

    As a speaker from Northern England, I pronounce the two words very differently:

    calm = karm (as in arm with a 'k' at the front)

    come = kum (not kam, as in 'standard' or southern pronunciation)

    However, I can see how standard pronunciation could confuse the two words.

  6. panjandrum

    panjandrum Quondam Moderator

    Belfast, Ireland
    English-Ireland (top end)
    Sorry for hijacking your post Toepicker, but with the change in vowel sound as indicated, it expresses exactly what I want to say.
  7. darthnick Member

    Russia(Moscow) - Russian
    Hi everybody!
    I'd like to know, Is it possible to pronunce the word 'calm' in this way - 'ko(l)m ? ( in America or somewhere else )
  8. Tabac Senior Member

    Pacific Northwest (USA)
    U. S. - English
    I'm not sure I understand your pronunciation guide, but I think I can answer your question. There are a few words in English in which, traditionally, the 'l' is not pronounced. However, since most people do pronounce the 'l', that tradition has been lost. Examples: calm, palm, balm. These all have a broad 'a', as in 'far'.

  9. Welcome to WR forums. Darthnick.

    In British English we say "carm" - rhymes with "arm".

    I can't speak for our US cousins.

  10. sweetpotatoboy Senior Member

    English, UK (London)
    This surprises me. Are you telling us that Americans pronounce the "l" in calm, balm etc?? My impression is that this is certainly not the case. I can imagine that the vowel sound is not the same as in British English, but I would not expect the "l" to be enunciated.
  11. Oh, yes, we do :D! I would say it is Kahlm or Bahlm if I were pronouncing carefully. If I'm speaking quickly it may well becom Kahm or Bahm.
  12. sweetpotatoboy Senior Member

    English, UK (London)
    Happy to stand corrected! I looked at several American dictionaries online and they all gave pronunciations without an 'l' sound. But Merriam Webster also included additional possible pronunications that included an 'l' sound, so you learn something every day!
  13. darthnick Member

    Russia(Moscow) - Russian
    thanks for your answers
  14. MissFit

    MissFit Senior Member

    Almost all Americans pronounce the L in balm, calm, and palm. I believe the L is dropped in parts of New England and in a few isolated parts of the Deep South, but I'm not absolutely sure.
  15. Joelline

    Joelline Senior Member

    USA (W. Pennsylvania)
    American English
    Most people in my neck of the woods do NOT pronounce the "L" in calm or palm (I'm not sure about "balm": it's not used frequently enough outside of church hymns to be certain, but I don't pronounce it). Many also do not pronounce the "L" in almond (aw-mund--stress on the first syllable)!
  16. languageGuy Senior Member

    Kansas City, MO
    USA and English
    The 'L' is NOT usually pronounced here either. In fact, the only time I have ever heard the 'L' pronounced is when people are reading aloud. Something about seeing an 'L' on the page compels them to pronounce it.
  17. liliput

    liliput Senior Member

    U.K. English
    I concur. I'm also from NW England.
  18. sound shift Senior Member

    Derby (central England)
    English - England
    Sorry, Mr Bones, but I don't agree with your assertion in post #1 that "in many cases the pronunciation is practically identical". There is a difference in vowel quality and in length. I don't recall hearing or seeing any sort of confusion arising from the similarity between these two words, even in south-eastern pronunciation. It is not the case that only the context indicates which of the two is being spoken. This type of difference is particularly difficult for Spanish speakers because Spanish has only five vowel phonemes, so the differences between the Spanish vowels are large, whereas English has twelve vowel phonemes (if I remember rightly), with correspondingly smaller differences between them.
    Last edited: Apr 19, 2010
  19. Sound shift, is it also the case in rapid speech? Is "calm" distinguishable from "come" then?

    Panjandrum, do you also pronounce "come" /kum/? :) Cor blimey, I can't say how much I love the northern accent. I could listen to it for hours at a time. :)
  20. timpeac

    timpeac Senior Member

    English (England)
    Same here (southern English). I agree that the vowels aren't massively different, but different they are - particularly because of the length difference. I'm not aware of any misunderstandings caused by native speakers mishearing these vowels.
  21. sound shift Senior Member

    Derby (central England)
    English - England
    Yes it is, because even in rapid speech "calm" has a different quality from "come" and is much longer. In my experience, many students of EFL or ESL pronounce the English long vowels too short; it may seem to these students that there is little difference between a short vowel and a long one, but there is in fact a lot.

    These differences can be difficult for a non-native to hear at first, but they will come with practice.
  22. I'm just trying to pronounce the two expressions, and my observation is that in the case of "calm down" there's a greater deal of aspiration (which may also help distinguish the two expressions). Would you agree?
  23. sound shift Senior Member

    Derby (central England)
    English - England
    I don't think aspiration is the right word. The vocal chords vibrate for longer in the case of "calm"; this requires a more "energetic" pronunciation. I am sure there are members who can express this in more technical/academic terms.
  24. If you mean a puff of air being blown from one's mouth by "energetic pronunciation", then, I think, aspiration works here. :)
  25. berndf Moderator

    German (Germany)
    I agree. The distinctive feature is vowel length and nothing else. There maybe a minor difference in vowel quality (/ɑ/ is more open than /ʌ/) but, in practical terms, it is vowel quantity which makes confusion impossible.
    No, aspiration is unvoiced. Sound shift is talking about a prolonged vowel. In addition, "come" and "calm" are both pronounced with a aspirated /k/ (the letter "c"); in British English more markedly than in American English.
  26. Inasmuch as I can agree the vowel quality is the key feature which allows to distinguish between "come" and "calm", I believe aspiration has also something to do with telling them apart. Since it is a longer vowel, the puff of air must naturally be relatively stronger than in the case of "come", which may help discern the difference.

    What do you mean?
  27. berndf Moderator

    German (Germany)
    Aspiration modifies the preceding consonant. The difference between "come" /kʌm/ and "gum" /kʌm/ has something to do with aspiration but not the difference between "calm" and "come". An unaspirated /k/ could be confused with /g/, especially in British English. BE is not as radical as German where aspiration is the ONLY difference between /k/ and /g/ but almost.
    Sound shift wrote "The vocal chords vibrate for longer in the case of 'calm'; this requires a more 'energetic' pronunciation" he described a voiced process. The vocal cords do not vibrate in aspiration.
  28. JulianStuart

    JulianStuart Senior Member

    Sonoma County CA
    English (UK then US)
    This type of discussion cries our for audio :D

    Type "come fun calm farm" and select Audrey UK at this online pronunciation audio site and you will hear the marked difference in length and difference in quality. The r in farm is not pronounced by this non-rhotic speaker but the broad a is similar to that in calm.
  29. berndf Moderator

    German (Germany)
    Of course, there is a difference in quantity and quality. But I am convinced that quantity is more important than quality in this particular case. I am convinced that */kɑm/ would be understood as "come" and */kʌ:m/ as "calm". But it would be interesting to put this to a test.:)
  30. cuchuflete

    cuchuflete Senior Member

    Maine, EEUU
    I couldn't disagree more heartily. In AE there is a great difference in vowel quality, or whatever term you may prefer to describe vastly different vowel sounds.

    Bah! Humbug! Leaving aside the clearly pronounced "l" in AE, the vowel in calm is like that in bah! It is impossible to confuse that vowel sound with come, which shares a vowel sound with bum.
    This is merely my larval stage. You should see me when I pupate.
  31. berndf Moderator

    German (Germany)
    Do you want to tell me you would hear */kʌ:m/ as "come"?
  32. cuchuflete

    cuchuflete Senior Member

    Maine, EEUU
    Sorry berndf,
    I have never heard IPA. I hear spoken words, and calm and come do not, in AE, share vowel sounds that are even slightly similar.

    I'll have a look at an IPA site and then try to answer your question.

    OK, according to Random House Unabridged dictionary, calm is pronounced in a variety of ways. Here is what they show for "spelled pronunciation" and for IPA--

    kahm; older kam; spelling pron. kahlm
    kɑm; older kæm; spelling pron. kɑlm/

    As to */kʌ:m/, here's what I've found for the components other than the ":" --

    /k/ can, speaker, stick
    /ʌ/ up, mother, mud
    /m/ make, summer, time

    That seems to fit. Come rhymes with the first syllable of summer and with some.
  33. JulianStuart

    JulianStuart Senior Member

    Sonoma County CA
    English (UK then US)
    It seems I'm as au fait with IPA as cuchu is, but it seems as though you are asking

    1) if we lengthen the duration - but not change the "quality" of the vowel sound - in come - perhaps going from */kʌm/ to */kʌ:m/, would we hear it as come or calm? I would hear it as a longer version of come and it would not have the necessary a quality to it to be confused with calm (even though I don't say the L)
    2) Similarly saying calm more quickly than normal speaking speed would not give it a ʌ sound and it would remain, with its unchanged a quality, unmistakable as calm, just shorter.
  34. natkretep

    natkretep Moderato con anima (English Only)

    English (Singapore/UK), basic Chinese
    The problem is that there is a range of accents of English with differences in vowel qualities, and what needs to be done is to tune in to them. I agree that length is important, but it would be difficult to decide on the word spoken if you just heard the word in isolation. For example, if I heard /kʌ:m/ from an Australian speaker, I'd be more likely to interpret it as calm, as the PSALM vowel is often not a back vowel in AusE.

    In the meantime, in Singapore the PSALM and SUM vowels are often indistinguishable and length is not clear - see Wikipedia.
    Last edited: Apr 20, 2010
  35. Pedro y La Torre Senior Member

    Hauts-de-Seine, France
    English (Ireland)
    The ''a'' sound in my calm is the same as in damn. I pronounce come like you however.
  36. berndf Moderator

    German (Germany)
    I stand corrected.
  37. liliput

    liliput Senior Member

    U.K. English
    Say "aaah" as if the doctor were checking your vocal chords, then grunt a short "uh" as if someone just bumped into you on the street. This might help illustrate the difference in the vowel sound for many.
    I notice that the friend mentioned in the original post is Australian and there are no replies here from the southern hemisphere. I believe that the two words would sound much more similar in an Australian accent - both being closer to "kem" - but there would still be a noticeable difference in the length of the vowel.
  38. entangledbank

    entangledbank Senior Member

    English - South-East England
    For me (one typical kind of South-East England speaker), the two vowels are identical apart from length, but would still never be confused. 'Come' is [kam], 'calm' is [ka:m], and rapidity of speech doesn't eliminate the length difference. (If there is a difference in vowel quality, it's microscopic and I've never been able to pin it down. There might possibly be a small Advanced Tongue Root difference, if you want a technical term.)

    I understand there is also a tendency for there to be a microtonal pitch difference: all else being equal, short vowels rise very slightly at the end, long vowels fall. But I might have this wrong, as it's very difficult to hear, and I'm not sure I'm remembering correctly. However, if this is true, it might be a cue we use to identify vowels.

    In typical Australian the two vowels also differ only in length; their [a] is a bit further forward than my central [a].
    Last edited: Apr 20, 2010
  39. berndf Moderator

    German (Germany)
    Thank you for the clarification. "Typical SE-England English" is how I would describe the variety of English I am most familiar with. So my earlier characterization that there is a difference in quality but it is minor in relation to the difference in quantity seems to be valid only for the variety of English I leaned.
  40. JulianStuart

    JulianStuart Senior Member

    Sonoma County CA
    English (UK then US)

    My comments were from one (common) manner of speaking and not meant to imply "correctness". As the more recent posts (and your latest, too) have made it clear, pronunciation issues are often quite regional:D
  41. timz Member

    I have a quection:
    Is in AmE the vowels as in the words "calm" - "com", "father" - "bother" being the same?
  42. natkretep

    natkretep Moderato con anima (English Only)

    English (Singapore/UK), basic Chinese
    There are different AmE accents. In some AmE accents, yes, the vowel sounds are identical.
  43. mplsray Senior Member

    When the vowels in these words are pronounced the same, it is referred to as the cot-caught merger, and is discussed in this Wikipedia article.
  44. panjandrum

    panjandrum Quondam Moderator

    Belfast, Ireland
    English-Ireland (top end)
  45. natkretep

    natkretep Moderato con anima (English Only)

    English (Singapore/UK), basic Chinese
    It might be more useful in this context to think of the father-bother merger because without that, the cot-caught merger wouldn't describe the American pronunciations indicated by timz. (Scottish English, for example, shows the cot-caught merger, but father and bother do not rhyme.)
  46. Biffo Senior Member

    English - England
    As someone who is British but speaks Spanish, I would like to point out that these spelled-out versions, e.g. calm == karm, are entirely misleading, to AE speakers, to Spanish speakers and to anyone who rolls or sounds their "r"s..

    In non-rhotic BE speech we pronounce "alms" and "arms" identically because we don't pronounce the 'r' and we don't pronounce the 'l'. The effect of the "r" or "l" in non-rhotic BE is to make the vowel sound longer. This is not true in rhotic speech, and by saying that "calm" sounds "like "karm" is quite wrong because non-Brits are likely to assume we roll the "r" in "karm" - we don't.

    In non-rhotic (RP) BE, the sounds, in IPA, are as follows:

    cam ---> /kæm/
    calm ---> /kɑːm/
    come ---> /kɐm/

    These vowels sounds are all different in BE and easily distinguished by native speakers.
    AE == American English
    BE == British English
    IPA == International Phonetic Alphabet
    RP == Received Pronunciation
    rhotic pronunciation == rolled "r"
    non-rhotic == non-rolled or silent "r"
    Last edited: Sep 16, 2013
  47. RM1(SS)

    RM1(SS) Senior Member

    English - US (Midwest)
    If I'm understanding this correctly, most people are saying that the vowel in calm is pronounced like that in father or dot. For me, it's quite different - calm is pronounced like call (rhymes with wall or bawl), with an added m.

    (And yes, I also pronounce the l in palm, balm and almond.)
  48. Biffo Senior Member

    English - England
    Yes, but again RM1, we have the problem that we don't know how you pronounce "wall" or "bawl"! I'll bet any sum you like that it is different from how I pronounce them.

    As for saying that "father" and "dot" have the same vowel sound, well in my sort of English those two vowels are entirely different. I can't even imagine an accent in which they could sound the same.

    I'm trying to make the point that we simply can't have this discussion without a common reference point. Can you find the appropriate IPA symbols?
  49. RM1(SS)

    RM1(SS) Senior Member

    English - US (Midwest)
    I think I want /ɑː/ for father and dot, and /ɔː/ for wall, bawl and calm.

    And I really, really hate the way writing is done on this forum - changing the words to italic in the rough draft instead of showing where the HTML open and close tags are....
    Last edited: Sep 17, 2013
  50. Hildy1 Senior Member

    English - US and Canada
    Three cheers for Biffo in post #46, for pointing out that when British people explain the pronunciation of a vowel by including an R (for example, saying that a word rhymes with "arm", it does not mean that they pronounce the R; it means that they do not pronounce the R, since the pronunciation of most British people is non-rhotic.

    For example, when a British person says that a word rhymes with "arm", it is what an AE speaker might represent by "ahm". It is similar to the sound in "pom pom", but the vowel is a little longer than in "pom pom".

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