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Am I phonetically challenged?

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Am I phonetically challenged?

Postby EmptyMan » Sun Nov 07, 2004 3:59 pm

This post may seem strange but I was wondering what sound difference there is between a long a as in calm and a short o as in top. In my book that teaches Hebrew it differentiates the two. Is it because of my American accent that I can not see a difference or is just as hard for folks in places like Australia, England, and Ireland?
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Postby Turpissimus » Sun Nov 07, 2004 4:03 pm

This post may seem strange but I was wondering what sound difference there is between a long a as in calm and a short o as in top. In my book that teaches Hebrew it differentiates the two. Is it because of my American accent that I can not see a difference or is just as hard for folks in places like Australia, England, and Ireland?


Very definitely a difference if I say them (I've a London accent). The vowel in calm is longer and has less rounding of the lips.
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Postby EmptyMan » Sun Nov 07, 2004 4:11 pm

Ok, I found the problem. The book was originally published in the U.K. about 50 years ago.
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Postby Emma_85 » Sun Nov 07, 2004 5:05 pm

calm and top sound totally different! I couldn't think of two vowls that sound less alike! :shock:
must be your strange american accent. No idea how to help you though as I don't know what your accent sounds like, I mean I could give you other examples of words with a's in them which sound like the one in calm, not sure if you'd pronounce those the way I would though...
Hmm... well I'll try anyway. top, the o is like really short and does not sound like an a at all, but like an o. As in pop, flop, drop, rock, knock, lock, docks, sock, frock and so on.
In calm the a is an a sound, like ahh... long vowl. top is really short. calm, palm, balm, arm, farm, harm, barn. I think I need a microphone :P
Last edited by Emma_85 on Sun Nov 07, 2004 5:31 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Postby Emma_85 » Sun Nov 07, 2004 5:29 pm

http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio/

try listening to some english radio stations.
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Postby Timothy » Sun Nov 07, 2004 5:52 pm

Try saying the words:

alm

operate

Try saying just the first phoneme of each word to highlight the difference.
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Postby EmptyMan » Sun Nov 07, 2004 6:18 pm

Timothy wrote:Try saying the words:

alm

operate

Try saying just the first phoneme of each word to highlight the difference.


Thanks, I see it now.
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Postby benissimus » Sun Nov 07, 2004 6:26 pm

I think the 'o' all these people are referring to doesn't quite match the lazy American 'o' in "pot" that is more common where I live; the vowels in "pot" and "calm" sound almost the same to me. I think the 'o' vowel in English English may be closer to the 'o' in our "told".
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Postby Emma_85 » Sun Nov 07, 2004 6:46 pm

Hmm... top and told sound very different in English, I wonder what they sound like in American... wait, all my DVDs are in American English. Why am I still confused? Do American actors speak very clearly so that they can be understood around the world in those countries where they don't dumb the film? Do they sound like they are talking some 'upper class' English to Americans? I find some actors a little difficult to understand, but I don't think I've come across any who pronounce the vowls in top and calm in a similar way. Can you tell me which actors do? I'm really interested now... :wink:
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Postby Timothy » Sun Nov 07, 2004 8:09 pm

Emma_85 wrote:Hmm... top and told sound very different in English, I wonder what they sound like in American

I think they are dissimilar as well. Here's a list of 'o's...

pot
politics
port
potent

The 'o' in 'operate' would appear towards the top of this list.
The 'o' in 'told' at the bottom.

It may be the difference comes from the pronunciation of 'calm' in a manner similar to 'com' i.e. a calm communist. They should be distinct sounds.

Emma_85 wrote:Do American actors speak very clearly...

David Ogden Stiers (of M.A.S.H. fame) speaks fairly well. I think it's his enunciation. A good example of his elocution is his introduction to Disney's "Beauty and the Beast". He also does some PBS narrations that are quite good.

Emma_85 wrote:I'm really interested now...:wink:

Oh. Ah! Well, never mind... :)

Oh! Of course, Johnny Depp is perfect.
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Postby Lucus Eques » Sun Nov 07, 2004 8:14 pm

Actors from Hollywood tend to speak what Americans consider unaccented English, completely neutral. In any case, it's not the vowels in "calm" and "top" that are causing the great disparity of pronunciation or comprehension; it is the 'l'. The 'l' in "calm" is not pronounced in most British dialects, and instead is used to round and deepen the vowel, altering it to the fashion that this Hebrew text must have been alluding. Rarely, though pleasantly, the 'l' is actually pronounced as a true consonant, with the tip of the tongue at the back of the teeth (this is how singers learn to pronounce 'l'); and being a singer myself, this is the pronunciation that I give to all my 'l's in my own speech. In lower British and American dialects alike, however, the final 'l' generally is pronounced slightly retroflex, with the tongue lazily curling backwards and producing a most unsavory sound, all too common in standard English on both sides of the Atlantic. An example of this is the world "all," which to an American sounds more like "aww" when a Briton says it. "Calm" is no exception. In British dialects, "calm" has a longer vowel sound, correct, and is in fact deeper than the 'o' in "top." This must be the discrepency the Hebrew book was intending. Personally, I prefer the singer's pronunciation in my own speech, which in fact sounds slightly like a soft Italian accent.
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Postby EmptyMan » Sun Nov 07, 2004 8:41 pm

Thanks Luces, that helped alot.
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Postby ThomasGR » Sun Nov 07, 2004 8:48 pm

Although I'm not a native English speaker, but I think there is a lot of difference in the sounds of "calm" and "top". The first "a" is quite longer, especially because is followed by "L", which makes "a" sound even longer than in other cases (e.g. like in "part"). The same one might say for "top", where "o" is very short, with rounded mouth, and becomes even shorter because it's followered by "p". (voiced cononants tend to make vowels sound longer than usual, and unvoiced consonants makes them shorter!). I don't know how one can mistake these vowels.
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Postby EmptyMan » Sun Nov 07, 2004 8:55 pm

ThomasGR wrote:Although I'm not a native English speaker, but I think there is a lot of difference in the sounds of "calm" and "top". The first "a" is quite longer, especially because is followed by "L", which makes "a" sound even longer than in other cases (e.g. like in "part"). The same one might say for "top", where "o" is very short, with rounded mouth, and becomes even shorter because it's followered by "p". (voiced cononants tend to make vowels sound longer than usual, and unvoiced consonants makes them shorter!). I don't know how one can mistake these vowels.


I think the reason I was having trouble was because I was not pronouncing the l. Many people, including myself, pronounce calm like com. I think that is why I was confusing it with top.
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Postby ThomasGR » Sun Nov 07, 2004 9:05 pm

I have to correct myself here. Both "L" and "R" in my examples are soundless, at least according to the British pronunciation. In a haste I used wrong examples. I should use "m" and "t" instead. The rest I think doesn't change.
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Postby Emma_85 » Sun Nov 07, 2004 9:23 pm

Ah, that explains it, good explanation Lucus.
:)
EmptyMan wrote:I think the reason I was having trouble was because I was not pronouncing the l. Many people, including myself, pronounce calm like com. I think that is why I was confusing it with top.


You pronounce calm as com? In England you don't pronouce the 'L' either, but you don't say com, it's more like kahm.
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Postby Emma_85 » Sun Nov 07, 2004 9:24 pm

Lucus Eques wrote:Actors from Hollywood tend to speak what Americans consider unaccented English, completely neutral.


Ah... like bbc english, they try not to have any accents too, or used to a lot in the past, not as much now I think.
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Postby benissimus » Sun Nov 07, 2004 9:25 pm

Emma_85 wrote:You pronounce calm as com? In England you don't pronouce the 'L' either, but you don't say com, it's more like kahm.

com = kahm (to me) :P
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Postby Emma_85 » Sun Nov 07, 2004 9:26 pm

benissimus wrote:com = kahm (to me) :P


??? now I'm confused. damn you.
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Postby EmptyMan » Sun Nov 07, 2004 10:12 pm

benissimus wrote:
Emma_85 wrote:You pronounce calm as com? In England you don't pronouce the 'L' either, but you don't say com, it's more like kahm.

com = kahm (to me) :P


That's exactly what I thought.
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Postby ingrid70 » Sun Nov 07, 2004 10:36 pm

I don't have much to say about how I pronounce calm and top, because I'm not a native speaker of English, but I did study it, and I have a pronunciation dictionary. According to this dictionary, in General American , the vowels in calm and top are in fact the same vowel. The vowel used in top in RP (British Received Pronunciation) does not exist in General American. It is closest (according to the vowel diagram) to a shorter, slightly more open version of the GenAm a in war.


Ingrid, good at the theoretical site of English pronunciation, lousy at actually speaking it :).
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Postby Timothy » Mon Nov 08, 2004 2:31 am

The question is: "What sound difference there is between a long a as in calm and a short o as in top?"

So we're looking for the difference between the pronunciations, if any, of calm and top as that would seem to be the pronunciation that the text in question is using.

The problem is that the U.S. pronunciation is varied and the RP isn't. We've run up against this before.

Merriam-Webster online dictionary gives pronunciations that we can use.

top:
http://www.merriam-webster.com/cgi-bin/ ... ary&va=top
Pronunciation: 'täp

calm:
http://www.merriam-webster.com/cgi-bin/ ... ry&va=calm
Pronunciation: 'käm, 'kälm, 'kam, 'ko(l)m, New England also 'k[a']m

The second pronunciation clip of calm ['ko(l)m] has the difference we're looking for.

The Merriam-Webster Pronunciation Guide clarifies the difference:

(Explanation of \ ä \)

as in bother, cot, and, with most American speakers, father, cart. The symbol \ä\ represents the vowel of cot, cod, and the stressed vowel of collar in the speech of those who pronounce this vowel differently from the vowel in caught, cawed, and caller, represented by \o\. In U.S. speech \ä\ is pronounced with little or no rounding of the lips, and it is fairly long in duration, especially before voiced consonants. In southern England \ä\ is usually accompanied by some lip rounding and is relatively short in duration. The vowel \o\ generally has appreciable lip rounding. Some U.S. speakers (a perhaps growing minority) do not distinguish between cot--caught, cod--cawed, and collar--caller, usually because they lack or have less lip rounding in the words transcribed with \o\. Though the symbols \ä\ and \o\ are used throughout this dictionary to distinguish the members of the above pairs and similar words, the speakers who rhyme these pairs will automatically reproduce a sound that is consistent with their own speech. In words such as card and cart most U.S. speakers have a sequence of sounds that we transcribe as \är\. Most speakers who do not pronounce \r\ before another consonant or a pause, however, do not rhyme card with either cod or cawed and do not rhyme cart with either cot or caught. The pronunciation of card and cart by such speakers, although not shown in this dictionary, would be transcribed as \'k[a']d\ and \'k[a']t\. Speakers of r-dropping dialects will automatically substitute \[a']\ for the transcribed \är\. (See the sections on \[a']\ and \r\.)
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Postby Yhevhe » Mon Nov 08, 2004 2:46 am

Hmm, you should try and use these phonetical caracters instead of looking for similarities and describing how the tongue is placed in the mouth... :roll:

http://www2.arts.gla.ac.uk/IPA/fullchart.html

http://www.phon.ucl.ac.uk/home/wells/ipa-unicode.htm
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Postby Timothy » Mon Nov 08, 2004 3:48 am

Yhevhe wrote:Hmm, you should try and use these phonetical caracters instead of looking for similarities and describing how the tongue is placed in the mouth... :roll:

Unfortunately, not all dictionaries use the IPA characters and Merriam Webster doesn't. You use what you have. (I wasn't going to try to explain SAMPA and then corrolate that to Merriam Webster.) The Oxford English Dictionary uses IPA but doesn't cover American pronunciation. So it is of little help in uncovering what the different pronunciations being used are when it doesn't recognize them.

You can see various tongue and vocal movments here: http://www.uiowa.edu/~acadtech/phonetics/
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Postby klewlis » Mon Nov 08, 2004 5:33 am

the vowels in calm and top sound the same to me. western canadian english. :P

for you britishers, the a in calm here really does sound like the short o, not like a short a as you may expect.

but pronunciation around the world will always be a mystery until we can all be in one room or have voice conferencing. :P
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Postby Emma_85 » Mon Nov 08, 2004 8:58 am

I think we need some samples here... I'll try to make an mp3 or something like that with 'top' and 'calm' and someone can try and make one for 'top' and 'calm' in American. I just can't imagine those two sounding even remotely the same until I hear it with my own ears I'm afraid :P . Now if only my computer liked my microphone.... maybe my sister's likes it. *I'll post the file in the evening hopefully* :P
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'calm'

Postby Jefferson Cicero » Mon Nov 08, 2004 11:40 am

To me, 'calm'= 'kahm'. This is true of family and friends from Arkansas, Texas, California, Alaska, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Florida, Arizona, Wisconsin, Iowa, New York, Oregon, Kansas, both white and black, and in he case of Oklahoma, not only of whites and blacks, but also of Cherokee and Choctaw Indians, some of whom still speak their own language and speak English as a second language.

Episcopus, as a dialect buff myself, what do you condsider to be 'lower' dialects as opposed to 'higher' ones? Of course, England still has aristocrats, but America has more of a regional basis of dialect and not as much social class basis.

If this posting seems to ramble a bit, it's because I've been alternating between different wines tonight. First good buzz I've had in months.
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Postby Timothy » Mon Nov 08, 2004 1:34 pm

Emma_85 wrote:I think we need some samples here...


The link I gave above has both samples.
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Postby Emma_85 » Mon Nov 08, 2004 4:16 pm

Ahh... I missed the samples! Thanks... sounds strange hehehe. But they don't have top :-(, I'll see what I can record for emptyman...

Hmm... I've listened to these samples again and again, and even though top does sound different to how I would pronounce it, it still doesn't sound like either the first or the second sample of calm on that website... :-P
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Postby Emma_85 » Mon Nov 08, 2004 5:18 pm

Ok, after a long tutorial from Raya I've managed to sort of record my voice :P . It's .wav format, couldn't quite work out how to make an .mp3 and I didn't want to annoy Raya too much with my lack of PC skills :wink: .
http://emma.bailey.bei.t-online.de/top&calm.wav
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Postby Timothy » Mon Nov 08, 2004 5:43 pm

Just a FYI.

The file comes through fine and you did a nice job with it. :D
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Postby klewlis » Mon Nov 08, 2004 6:16 pm

Emma, your voice is quite different from what I expected. :)

In your sample I can definitely hear distinct vowel sounds. Had I a microphone I'd send a sample from my end... I think I do have one in a box in the basement somewhere... so that may have to wait.

Your a in calm definitely sounds like an a, wherease mine sounds like an o. And the o in your top almost sounds long to me.
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Postby Emma_85 » Mon Nov 08, 2004 6:17 pm

Hehehe, thanks. Had to play around with it a bit and increase the volume by 200% or something, otherwise you wouldn't have been able to hear anything, my microphone is so crap it seem :wink: .
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Postby Emma_85 » Mon Nov 08, 2004 6:19 pm

klewlis wrote:Emma, your voice is quite different from what I expected. :)


That's what Raya said too first time she heard my voice :wink: .
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Postby 1%homeless » Mon Nov 08, 2004 7:11 pm

Actors from Hollywood tend to speak what Americans consider unaccented English, completely neutral.


Heh-heh. Tell that to my former theater teacher. He'd go on about lazy Californians. He even complains that he has assmilaited some Californisms.

I think this issue has been discussed before. Empty man, just do a search for "crazy americans" and you'll find some more discussion on this topic. Sorry, that's not a good search string, but Emma's phrase was the only thing that stuck out of my mind. :D

Unfortunately, there is only one American English dictionary that has IPA transcriptions. American dictionaries, uses god awful and inconsitent transcriptions for pronunciation. Anyway, the top that Americans pronounce is different from the top that the British pronounce. The British "top" is very similar to the German "Gott". Americans actually pronounce "calm" very closely to the British if they enunciate the "L" in calm. "Calm" isn't a good example because it makes things more confusing because "L" colors the vowel pronunciation.

Anyway, I finally just ordered an American English dictionary with IPA and I don't have to completely rely on my ears to compare American and British pronunciation anymore. But yes, for some reason, both vowels have shifted to the same postion --for Americans. I think a more alarming trend is to make all vowels into "e" like "le" in french. My linguistic doomsday forecast is that all American short i's, a's, and o's are all just going to be schwaed. Look for the SHWA falling from the sky.
Last edited by 1%homeless on Tue Nov 09, 2004 5:51 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Postby 1%homeless » Mon Nov 08, 2004 7:30 pm

Ok, found it:

http://www.textkit.com/greek-latin-foru ... ricans+hot

Emma, your voice is quite different from what I expected. :)


Yes, for some reason when you use your own voice to characterise someone, it usually always sounds weird and unexpected, but from my objective perspective, it wasn't that unusual... :)
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Postby Emma_85 » Mon Nov 08, 2004 8:04 pm



Oh, yes, I remember that thread too! :lol: I'd nealry forgotten how shocked I was to find out how different the vowls are pronounced in American. :P

Well, I'm still shocked now, hehehe, as this thread shows.
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Postby Phylax » Mon Nov 15, 2004 5:38 pm

Certainly, when English people attempt to imitate a generic American accent, they tend to make the 'o' sound indistinguishable from the 'a' in cAlm, to make it more convincing. And my English teacher at school told us that the obscure stuff in Hamlet about "mouse trap" and "tropically" (Act III, scene II, line 234) could be understood as a punning play on words if you realized that the 'a' and the 'o' were pronounced like each other in Shakepeare's time (or in his dialect).

BTW, how are they pronounced in a New England accent? Any Bostonians here?
Last edited by Phylax on Mon Nov 15, 2004 10:15 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Postby Jeff Tirey » Mon Nov 15, 2004 6:07 pm

benissimus wrote:
Emma_85 wrote:You pronounce calm as com? In England you don't pronouce the 'L' either, but you don't say com, it's more like kahm.

com = kahm (to me) :P


I have been studying Spanish pronunication quite a bit and during the process it has taught me a lot about how we Americans pronounce words. We tend to aspirate words quite a bit with a slight puff of air and we have an off-glide (I hope that's the technical term) often as well.

For the word 'calm' i would say 'khalm' with a puffy K sound and the 'alm' sound would slide down. I have a midwestern accent, one that's considered I think prettty standard because Peter Jennings, Tom Brokaw and Dan Rather (our national news anchors) do not sound funny to me.
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Postby Timothy » Mon Nov 15, 2004 7:04 pm

Phylax wrote:BTW, how are they pronounced in a New England accent? Any Bostonians here?

Ayeuh. Well, I lived there for 20 years.

The merriam def gave the 'hard" new england pronunciation which I think would be: /ka:m/ and would be sort of like with 'cam' in cam-el, but with an 'h' thrown in, as in cahm-el. And it should be quite nasal. That would be the Maine variety.

In Boston (Bah-stone) you would draw that 'a' out about four feet to kaaaah-m.
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