pronunciation: fleck and flack (flak)

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Annakrutitskaya

Senior Member
Russian
Hello!

In daily speech (do I need 'a' before daily here? :) :) :) ) how would you actually distinguish these two words 'fleck' and 'flack' (if we omit that the meaning might be obvious due to context) if they sound more or less the same?

They got lots of flecks of gold from a soupy slurry. Fleck - small parts

They are about to get flack from the Parliament. Flack - severe critic

Thank you!
 
  • sound shift

    Senior Member
    English - England
    I'm not Cagey, but ... in my speech they are also very distinct sounds; in my speech the difference between the two is bigger than the difference between the pronunciations on the links.
     

    Annakrutitskaya

    Senior Member
    Russian
    Thank you, Sound Shift. Do I understand correctly that 'l' in 'fleck' is very soft but in 'flack' it is a pretty hard sound?
     

    sound shift

    Senior Member
    English - England
    I don't know what you mean by "soft" and "hard" in this context, Annakrutitskaya. The difference is in the position of the tongue. I suggest you compare the vowel diagram for /e/ with the diagram for /æ/.
     

    Andygc

    Senior Member
    British English
    The e in fleck is the same as the e in beck, bet and fret.
    The a in flack (flak, more correctly), is the same as the a in black, back, bat and fat.
    They only sound about the same as each other if you have a white South African or Zimbabwean accent, or are a member of a small part of the English upper crust.
     

    Keith Bradford

    Senior Member
    English (Midlands UK)
    Anna, I guess you've been taught that British people pronounce their 'A's like 'E's, and that "It's just too bad" is pronounced "It's jast too bed". That was true of many English people in 1950, but it's an accent very rarely heard these days.

    Pronounce A more like a Russian A, and E more like a Russian Э and you'll be closer to modern British pronunciation.

    But there's no difference in the two 'L' sounds. That is to say, you may be able to hear a difference but English-speakers don't recognise it, and it is not what distinguishes between the meanings of flak and fleck (or indeed any other pair of words in English).
     

    entangledbank

    Senior Member
    English - South-East England
    In Russian, the vowel strongly affects the quality of the preceding /l/. It doesn't in English. It makes no difference when they're such similar vowels. (You will hear a difference with strongly different vowels, as in lick and look, but even then it's not nearly as strong as in Russian.)

    Also, I agree with Keith: for any foreign learner, don't use some kind of /e/ from your language as the English /a/ in flak, bad, hat. It's almost certainly less close than some /a/ sound from your language.
     

    Annakrutitskaya

    Senior Member
    Russian
    Anna, I guess you've been taught that British people pronounce their 'A's like 'E's, and that "It's just too bad" is pronounced "It's jast too bed". That was true of many English people in 1950, but it's an accent very rarely heard these days.

    Pronounce A more like a Russian A, and E more like a Russian Э and you'll be closer to modern British pronunciation.

    But there's no difference in the two 'L' sounds. That is to say, you may be able to hear a difference but English-speakers don't recognise it, and it is not what distinguishes between the meanings of flak and fleck (or indeed any other pair of words in English).
    Dear Keith,
    Thank you very much for insightful explanation. I am a bit confused now :) If I pronounce 'A' in flAck (or flAg, sAvvy) like the Russian 'A', it will sound like 'ʌ'. Would it be closer to real pronunciation these days?
    I have also been told an interesting thing about such word as a 'result' - the 'u' in AE sounds more like 'ɔ'.
     

    Keith Bradford

    Senior Member
    English (Midlands UK)
    My Russian is a little rusty, so I may have this wrong, but I said Pronounce A more like a Russian A - not exactly like, but placed further back in the mouth. Also, I know that all vowels in both our languages tend towards /ʌ/ when unstressed - we're only talking about stressed syllables here.

    Here's my version: flak = /flæk/; fleck = /flɛk/.
     

    boozer

    Senior Member
    Bulgarian
    The Russian Э e-oborotnoe mentioned by KB in post 8 is the usual way in which I see the English /a/ (as in bad) transcribed in Russian. Having studied Russian for 11 years, I know the Э sound. As already explained, this is completely wrong. But let our Russian foreros not take offence - even more gruesome atrocities :) are committed in my country, where incompetent journalists and self-proclaimed "translators" have the habit of using the Bulgarian /e/ (which is basically the same as the English one) for words like fan and snack-bar. This pernicious tendency has become so wide-spread in the last 20 years, that we now have extreme cases where Michael Jackson is officially Michael Jeckson while his sister has been spared and is still Jackson. :)

    Having taught English, I have heard lots of bad English and I know that nobody is perfect, least of all me. But I have to say that this particular error never fails to give me the s***s. :mad: I do not know why I feel so strongly about it - maybe because it comes too close to mutilating the language in a comprehensive manner and also because it gives beginners a completely wrong idea of how English is spoken.

    Anyway, of course 'flak' and 'fleck' are completely different in my accent.
     

    dreamlike

    Senior Member
    Polish
    But let our Russian foreros not take offence - even more gruesome atrocities :) are committed in my country, where incompetent journalists and self-proclaimed "translators" have the habit of using the Bulgarian /e/ (which is basically the same as the English one) for words like fan and snack-bar. This pernicious tendency has become so wide-spread in the last 20 years, that we now have extreme cases where Michael Jackson is officially Michael Jeckson while his sister has been spared and is still Jackson. :)
    It's not any better here in Poland, if that's any consolation, Boozer. :D Polish speakers of English, among them quite a few teachers, are notorious for replacing the ASH vowel with Polish [a] or [e]. There's a very interesting paper on it called "Clashes with Ashes", which investigates this phenomenon in detail. If that's of any interest to you, it can be found here (you need to scroll down to page 223). I bet you'll find some similarities between Polish and Bulgarian speakers of English in this regard.
     

    Annakrutitskaya

    Senior Member
    Russian
    My Russian is a little rusty, so I may have this wrong, but I said Pronounce A more like a Russian A - not exactly like, but placed further back in the mouth. Also, I know that all vowels in both our languages tend towards /ʌ/ when unstressed - we're only talking about stressed syllables here.

    Here's my version: flak = /flæk/; fleck = /flɛk/.
    Dear Keith,
    Thank you! :)
     
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