pronunciation: How many syllables in "aren't"

Discussion in 'English Only' started by tom_in_bahia, Jul 24, 2007.

  1. tom_in_bahia Senior Member

    Teixeira de Freitas, BA, Brasil
    South Florida/Phoenix-Tucson/the Adirondacks. Native of North American English
    I'm asking this question because I feel like I'm correct in saying that it depends on your pronunciation, even though several people have argued with me that even when I pronounce aren't it only has one syllable. I believe that it has two.

    I was teaching English and we came to a part in a lesson about syllables in contracted English negatives. The book listed can't, don't, weren't, and aren't as one syllable words (I only have a problem with the classification of the bold contractions) and doesn't, didn't, isn't, and wasn't as two syllable words. I can imagine in my head a person from England pronouncing aren't and weren't as roughly arnt and wernt. However, the book was supposed to be focussing on what we can essentially call a standard American English.

    In my speech, aren't is pronounced 'ar-@nt and weren't is 'w@r-@nt (where the @ is representing carrot/schwa and the italicized t is representing an unreleased/glottal t - the r is an American rhotic r). I have to be blunt, I see two vowel sounds separated by a me that means two separate syllables. Any thoughts?
  2. Outsider Senior Member

    Portuguese (Portugal)
    In a BE pronunciation, I would definitely say that "weren't" and "aren't" have one syllable each. But I understand your question: there can be a schwa lurking about before the last consonant in those words, and also in "didn't" and "wasn't". The question is whether that faint schwa is enough to make a new syllable.
  3. jennball Senior Member

    USA English
    I consider "aren't" and "weren't" to be one-syllable words, but I've heard them pronounced occaisionally with two syllables as you described, Tom. It doesn't seem to be a regional thing, but maybe it is where you grew up. Years ago, there was an orange juice commercial on TV with a song that started, "Ar-ent ju smart for drinking ar-enj juice," matching "aren't" with that fairly common pronunciation of orange, "ar-anj" (I say Orange with a long o and closer to one syllable than two.) Anyway, I remember being irritated by that commercial because of that drawn-out "aren't".
  4. Dimcl Senior Member

    British Columbia, Canada
    Canadian English
    I only ever hear them as one-syllable words.
  5. domangelo Senior Member

    United States English
    I think it is a regional thing. I come from New York City and have always pronounced aren't and weren't with two distinct syllables. The one syllable pronunciation sounds to me like the vast regional dialect that stretches to the horizon on the far side of the Hudson River.
  6. sound shift

    sound shift Senior Member

    Derby (central England)
    English - England
    Non - rhotic "aren't" has one syllable.
  7. liliput

    liliput Senior Member

    U.K. English
    I consider it a one-syllable word but I know that many people pronounce two syllables (I've heard some Irish people do this). In my opinion you're adding a syllable where it doesn't exist - are and were have only one syllable, why give them an extra one when they are added to not?
  8. Outsider Senior Member

    Portuguese (Portugal)
    On the other hand, why not? :)
  9. liliput

    liliput Senior Member

    U.K. English
    Because if you add syllables wherever you feel like it you end up with nonsense, a different language or at least different words. You can get away with it with "aren't" and "weren't" (if it fits your accent) but it doesn't seem like correct English to me. What if I decide I'm going to pronounce "syllables" as "syllabless" just because it's pluralized? That's no different from adding an extra syllable to "are" just because it's in the negative.
  10. Outsider Senior Member

    Portuguese (Portugal)
    But it's not wherever you feel like it. It's only in contracted verbs with a "silent e" in their last syllable (and in "didn't" and "wasn't", perhaps by analogy). It's probably not an "addition", either. More likely, these words had two syllables in ancient English, but southern English accents dropped the last syllable after becoming non-rhotic. You have changed, not everyone else... :)
  11. LV4-26

    LV4-26 Senior Member

    That would be my answer as well. Therefore, in BE (as I have no idea about AE), it would depend on the region. As sound shift suggested, it depends what you make of the 'r'. It can be noticeable, inconspicuous, not pronounced at all. Then you'll hear respectively
    - two syllables
    - ?? is it one? is it two?
    - one syllable

    Actually, even in the last case, that doesn't mean the 'r' has no influence on pronounciation. Even when it doesn't add any syllable, it influences the preceding vowel, i.e. makes it longer and more "backward". (Think of cat vs cart, where it's really obvious)
  12. liliput

    liliput Senior Member

    U.K. English
    I maintain that choosing to put an extra syllable "only in contracted verbs with a 'silent e'" is an arbitrary choice, just like my suggestion to add an extra syllable to plurals when the noun ends in "e". I'd be interested to see evidence of are and were with 2 syllables, even if the ancient English did this, it doesn't mean it's correct now. My accent is not southern English.
    Since I'm probably starting to sound like some kind of language fascist, I'd like to make it clear that I have no problem whatsoever with regional accents and dialects, in fact I see such diversity as a positive thing, however I recommend that English-learners pronounce "aren't" and "weren't" as one-syllable words unless they are planning to live and work in such specific regions.
  13. domangelo Senior Member

    United States English
    I never realized that two-syllable aren't and weren't were in such a minority. I am, of course, prejudiced, since my own regional pronunciation strongly favors the two syllable form, but I must say that the one-syllable form sounds excessively inarticulate and lazy to my ear. I think that when a non-native speaker must choose between variants, the clearer articulation is usually preferable. I would steer clear of the stiff upper lip and give it two syllables.
  14. liliput

    liliput Senior Member

    U.K. English
    Aren't and weren't are clearly articulated in the one-syllable form. Clear articulation is not the same as articulating syllables that don't exist. That's over-compensation.
  15. tom_in_bahia Senior Member

    Teixeira de Freitas, BA, Brasil
    South Florida/Phoenix-Tucson/the Adirondacks. Native of North American English
    The downstate New York accent that my dad has and the backwoods Irish ancestry of my mother combined with being surrounded by New Yorkers in South Florida could have all caused this, but I'm not adding an extra syllable, I've always had that extra syllable. I've heard "arnt" and "wernt" (my loose little pseudo-phonetic transcriptions). Come to think of it, my upstate New York relatives pronounce it like I do as well - and we're talking "suburbs of Montreal" upstate New York.

    Now that I think about it, this was never something about my accent that I was ridiculed for in Arizona. I was ridiculed for my pronunciation of tomorrow and borrow because I make them rhyme with toro (well, in a bad American accent of Spanish - I'm focussing on the closed o sound, not the trilled r).
  16. domangelo Senior Member

    United States English
    I would guess that the words aren't and weren't were clearly two-syllable back when the spelling of the language was codified, otherwise they would have lost the "silent e", as its rationale disappeared (silent e comes in the final position of a word, after a consonant). They would have been spelled "arn't" and "wern't".
  17. tom_in_bahia Senior Member

    Teixeira de Freitas, BA, Brasil
    South Florida/Phoenix-Tucson/the Adirondacks. Native of North American English
    The funny thing is that there is such absolute diversity across the board in English varieties, that I think it doesn't matter which accent a non-native speaker learns to pronounce, as soon as they go to a different location it will be automatically assumed (unless the person with whom they are speaking understands dialect variety of English) that the quirk of speech they are repeating is nothing more than their mother tongue interfering with pronunciation. Example, I know an Australian who is teaching English in a nearby city. His students are going to learn the Australian vowel system by repeatedly listening to him (not to mention a mountain of interesting Australian slang terms and expressions). Now, imagine they go to Canada. Will the average Canadian assume their strange vowel cluster in the word "right" (for example) to be a quirk of Australian English or a quirk of a Brazilian speaking English in general? (I won't get started on that though because there are many quirks of Brazilians who speak English).

    The same thing happened to me when I went to Spain. I spoke a Spanish that could roughly be called norteño (northern Mexican) because all of my teachers exclusively spoke in that accent. A word like guajalote doesn't fly (no pun intended) in Spain. And here in Brazil. I've lived consistently in the same region for more than two years and when I travel to another part of Brazil, I often face an interesting situation where the local person I'm speaking to feels the need to correct a word I've said that they've never heard because it's a regional word from where I've been living, assuming I made a mistake as a foreigner.

    Anyway, back to my specific situation. Because I hear my pronunciation in South Florida, and because Domangelo has confirmed it's also a NYC-NJ thing as well, I can almost assure my Brazilian students that they will hear my accent when they go to the states (well, at least the 2/3rds that go to the city and Broward county - the other 1/3rd that moves to Boston-Springfield...well, I can only prepare them for Park your car).
  18. rp1999 New Member

    english U.S
    definition of syllable: the unit of utterance in a word. My English teacher is trying to make me redo a haikou poem because she think's that because of the fact that words like aren't and can't are TECHNICALLY two words they are considered two syllables. Even though everyone I know think's that she's wrong and stupid, her opinion still wont change.
    my poem is:
    students can't resist (she think's this is 6 syllables)
    talking a mile a minute (she thought this was 8 syllables because of mile but I corrected her)
    there's not peace at all (she thought this was 6 syllables)
    It sounds right and I've really been trying to convince her, please reply if you think I'm right or wrong.
  19. natkretep

    natkretep Moderato con anima (English Only)

    English (Singapore/UK), basic Chinese
    You can tell her that a syllable has to do with pronunciation and is independent of etymology. The google definition expresses it simply (perhaps oversimply) but effectively:
    If you say aren't ​with one vowel sound, then it has one syllable.

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