Pronunciation: short 'a' sound [æ] before 'r', AE

Discussion in 'English Only' started by valdemar, Apr 14, 2013.

  1. valdemar Senior Member

    Mexico
    Español mexicano
    I've been observing very closely the way american speakers pronounce the short vowel sound 'a' [æ]. Particularly I've seen that there are basically three allophones: when the sound is "pure" (like in bat, cat, map, tap, fat, apple,...), before the 'm' or 'n' sound (like in understand, fan, man, jam,...), and before the [ŋ] sound (like in rang, hang, bang,...). Now I'm thinking of a third allophone when the sound become before the 'r' sound (like in characterize, paragraph, charity,...). The thing is that I'm not sure if this is really an allophone or people use a different vowel sound. Sometimes I think people pronounce the words using a short vowel a, but also sometimes such a sound is more like a short vowel 'e'. So, the question is, is that a short vowel sound 'a', a short vowel sound 'e', or it depends on dialect? If the answer is that it's always a short vowel sound 'a' then it is an allophone, otherwise could you tell me about some areas where the pronunciation is made by using one sound or the other. Thak you so much. Also I would appreciate any comment from BE speakers.
     
  2. Cenzontle

    Cenzontle Senior Member

    English, U.S.
    I speak a Middle Western dialect of English, and for me the vowels of "bat" and "bet" lose their contrast before /r/.
    I say the name "Barry" and the fruit "berry" the same (more "epsilon" than [æ]​).
    "Carry" rhymes with "ferry". "Mary", "marry", and "merry" sound alike.
    Some northeastern U.S. speakers maintain the contrast before /r/,
    so for them the vowels of "marry" and "merry" are as different as those of "man" and "men" or "mat" and "met"—and I can hear the difference.
    I have been told that these speakers have a third vowel in the name "Mary", like the diphthong in "mate" or "make"—but I haven't heard this in my own experience.
     
  3. JulianStuart

    JulianStuart Senior Member

    Sonoma County CA
    English (UK then US)
    You may find this wiki on "North American Regional Phonology" helpful for your studies. This one discusses the vowels before r (like cenzontle mentions) - as a (still mainly) BrE speaker, I clearly distinguish between Mary, merry and marry, while others don't.
    I'm not a technical phonology type person, but for me the short a is pretty invariant, although its length seems to vary depending on what follows it (in other words it doesn't turn into an e of any kind!)
     
  4. valdemar Senior Member

    Mexico
    Español mexicano
    Completly valuable information, thank you Cenzontle and Julian.

    So basically, you say that such a sound is not a short 'a' but rather a short 'e' in you dialect?.

    I really love BE because their rules for pronunciation seems to be very precise (formally speaking). The problem is that I'm Mexican and I would sound quite weird for sure if I spoke a Britith dialect. So, my intention of doing all this analyisis is to find my own American accent, trying to sound as neutral as possible. Reading the links you gave me, thanks again, I can see that people from the area of New York, Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Massachusetts also have this distinction, I'm not sure about the people leaving near the Mexican border, like in California or Texas. What wold be your suggestion in this case? I mean, how do you see this thing from your own view, what do you like o dislike, or sound totally weird when people merge these sounds, or you agree or disagree (also speaking in general refering to how Americans pronounce their short vowel 'a').
     
  5. natkretep

    natkretep Moderato con anima (English Only)

    Singapore
    English (Singapore/UK), basic Chinese
    As you can see, there is variation in American pronunciation. If you are aiming for an American pronunciation, I say go for one that makes these distinctions rather than one that doesn't. You will have a lower likelihood of causing confusion.
     
  6. Cenzontle

    Cenzontle Senior Member

    English, U.S.
    It seems like you're a person with a good ear, so I'd suggest you listen and imitate radio/TV announcers.
     
  7. Keith Bradford

    Keith Bradford Senior Member

    Brittany, NW France
    English (Midlands UK)
    Hear! Hear! The best advice on this forum for weeks!

    In fact, forget "American" - this is a rule which applies to any brand of English. Words are tools, the sharper and more precise, the better. Don't start with a toolbox full of blunt instruments.
     
  8. JulianStuart

    JulianStuart Senior Member

    Sonoma County CA
    English (UK then US)
    I think what Keith means is "Choose an accent/pronunciation where there is less chance of ambiguity for your listeners" rather than his decrying all "American" pronunciations. As an example, if you choose one, choose one where Mary, merry and marry are all different - this will be understandable wherever you go. Similarly, non-rhotic speakers (those who often don't vocalize their r's - see this WRF thread) can always understand rhotic speakers, but not necessarily vice versa.
     
  9. Keith Bradford

    Keith Bradford Senior Member

    Brittany, NW France
    English (Midlands UK)
    Hey, I didn't decry any American pronunciations! What I meant was: this principle applies to all types of English.
     
  10. JulianStuart

    JulianStuart Senior Member

    Sonoma County CA
    English (UK then US)
    So, I was right in interpreting your meaning! Non-native speakers might have misinterpreted your enjoinder
    and I was simply clarifying for them :eek:
     
  11. RM1(SS)

    RM1(SS) Senior Member

    Connecticut
    English - US (Midwest)
    Barry, berry, bury, carry, ferry, Mary, marry, merry - I use the same vowel for all of these. Somewhere on the Internet I found a recording of a man who doesn't merge marry/merry/Mary - I use the vowel he uses for Mary. It's like "mare" with a y tacked on the end.
     
  12. Wordsmyth

    Wordsmyth Senior Member

    Location: Mostly SW France
    Native language: English (BrE)
    I understand that you're concerned about speaking English to Americans, valdemar, but I assure you that there's nothing intrinsically weird about Mexicans speaking with a British accent (by the way, it's accent you're discussing here, not dialect). I have two Mexican friends who speak English with virtually perfect British (RP) accents. They don't sound at all weird — not even to Americans we spend time with (well, no weirder than they find my speech ;)). Also I spent quite some time doing business with Mexicans in Mexico, and whilst some had American-accented English, many simply had Mexican accents, so their vowel sounds were influenced by Spanish, not at all by AmE: yet I'm sure Americans wouldn't find them weird.

    But my advice would be: don't try to force a particular accent. Whenever I've known non-anglophones try to do that, it always sounds artificial and sometimes comical. If your accent when you speak English is somewhat Mexican, OK, that's a natural base. Then listen to as many native English-speakers as you can (even better if it's in two-way conversation), and let what you hear gradually influence your speech. If they're mostly Texans, you'll end up with a principally Texan-oriented accent; if they're Londoners, that'll be the predominant influence, etc, etc. But whatever the accent, if it's picked up naturally, it'll sound natural.

    Of all the non-native English-speakers I know, the ones who have the clearest, most precise and most comprehensible accents are those who have been exposed to a lot of different national/regional-English accents. They seem to develop a sort of neutral middle-ground accent that is easily understood by everyone.
    Well, RM1, it's like your "mare" with a y tacked on the end — possibly quite different from my "mare".;)

    Ws:)
     
  13. JulianStuart

    JulianStuart Senior Member

    Sonoma County CA
    English (UK then US)
    And you can see how that might be confusing for someone learning English: Hairy Harry doesn't vary his vowels very much?:eek: Hence the advice to learn (and use) the separate vowels but understand that some may not distinguish them.
     
  14. Wordsmyth

    Wordsmyth Senior Member

    Location: Mostly SW France
    Native language: English (BrE)
    Reminds me of the song (by someone like Jim Reeves, I think) with the words "If you love me, Mary, Mary, marry me". Being aware of the AmE Mary-marry-merry merge, when I first heard the song I really thought the line was "If you love me, merry Mary, marry me" — all the more so because the repeated "Mary, Mary" isn't something I'd normally say (any more than "When you get home, John, John, do your homework").

    So it can be confusing even for someone who isn't learning English — and I was quite disappointed to discover that Mary wasn't merry after all.;)

    Ws:)
     
  15. valdemar Senior Member

    Mexico
    Español mexicano
    Thanks everyone for the comments, I really apreciate your help.

    Thank you so much. This make me feel that I'm on the right route.

    When I read it for the first time I thought you were suggesting to forget "American English", but then I thought and read it againt and I realized that you mean "consider English just as a language (it's not British, it's not American,... )", and you're absolutly right.

    Sounds rude to me, but yes sometimes is annoying because one is always trying to find a "standard" pronunciation.

    Very interesting! So, it is no a short 'a' nor short 'e', but a diphtong instead. Could you put the link you found on the internet.

    Totally agree with you, and I don't want to sound unnatural and artifitial. I think that my Mexican accent will always be with me (the melody, the color, etc.), the problem is in choosing the 'right/standard' pronunciation.
     
  16. Wordsmyth

    Wordsmyth Senior Member

    Location: Mostly SW France
    Native language: English (BrE)
    :thumbsup::)
    I guess this thread has shown that there's no universal standard: variety is the spice of life! As for 'right', I agree with everyone who has suggested preferring the pronunciation that best distinguishes between different sounds, to avoid confusion. So, as far as possible, avoid merges (the ones we're discussing here, and any others).

    Ws:)
     
  17. RM1(SS)

    RM1(SS) Senior Member

    Connecticut
    English - US (Midwest)
    JulianStuart (Mod Hatter 10/6*) has given permission to post the following audio links.

    This is the link in question (a man saying "Mary, dear, make me merry - say you'll marry me.").

    By contrast, this link is to a man with the merry/marry/Mary merger reciting the same sentence.

    Both links came from the "Sound samples" section of this Wikipedia article (English-language vowel changes before historic /r/).


    * Love that title!
     

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