Wednesday, 30 November 2011

what [a] means

Commenting on Monday’s blog, Wojciech made the surprising remark
Re the symbol 'a' in IPA: I too find it strange that it's reserved for a phoneme which occurs so rarely in European languages (if it occurs at all). Whereas the common continental (and Northern English, methinks) 'a' has got to be transcribed 'ä'.
I say no it isn’t, and no it doesn’t.

The vowel a occurs extremely commonly in European languages (and of course in non-European languages). The Northern English TRAP vowel, too, is very satisfactorily represented by the symbol a, with no diacritics. The contrary claims reveal a basic misunderstanding of how phonetic symbols are used when we represent the phonemes of a language or language variety. Let’s see why.

The symbol a is one of the set of symbols representing the ‘Cardinal Vowelsi e ɛ a ɑ ɔ o u defined by Daniel Jones.

No language is actually spoken with cardinal vowels: they are idealized reference points not defined by what happens in any particular language. (They are, however, suspiciously similar to a subset of the vowels of standard French as spoken in Jones’s day — though the quality of French ɔ, at least, was and is considerably different from that of cardinal ɔ. In passing we may note that the articulatory-auditory theory behind Jones’s cardinal vowel scheme is no longer accepted.)

Rather, these symbols are used for vowels in the general area concerned. Like all IPA symbols, they allow some considerable leeway. A typical French e is not identical with a typical Italian e or a typical German e, although all share a general similarity and all can be characterized as unrounded, front, and close-mid (‘half-close’). Compare colour terms, where we happily refer to shades of crimson, scarlet, vermilion and so on all as ‘red’. We are dealing not with discrete entities but with points in a multidimensional continuum.

In those languages it so happens that the close-mid e is distinct from an open-mid (‘half-open’) ɛ. (This claim is subject to qualification: for many French speakers the choice of one or the other can be more or less predicted from the phonetic environment, although others distinguish e.g. les le from lait ; not all Italians make the distinction between venti ‘twenty’ with e and venti ‘winds’ with ɛ; in German the vowel quality distinction is accompanied, in stressed syllables at least, by a length distinction.)

There are many other languages in which there is only one unrounded mid front vowel: they include Greek, Spanish, Serbian, and Japanese. Qualititatively this may lie anywhere between cardinal e and cardinal ɛ. In each case the appropriate symbol, though, is e. In the words of the 1949 IPA Principles booklet (§20),
When a vowel is situated in an area designated by a non-roman letter, it is recommended that the nearest appropriate roman letter be substituted for it in ordinary broad transcriptions if that letter is not needed for any other purpose. For instance, if a language contains an ɛ but no e, it is recommended that the letter e be used to represent it. This is the case, for instance, in Japanese…

Similarly, the symbol a, which as a cardinal vowel symbol denotes an unrounded front open (low) vowel, is also appropriate to denote an unrounded open vowel of any degree of advancement (anywhere from fully ‘front’ to fully ‘back’) if that is the only open vowel in the language. This is the case in Spanish, Italian, Greek, Serbian, German, and Polish, to mention only a handful of European languages. It is also the case in thousands of other languages around the world.

In RP I say ðə kæt sæt ɒn ðə mæt. If I switch into northern (I was bidialectal as a child), I say ðə kat sat ɒnt mat. That’s how I would transcribe it. I’ll leave someone else to measure the formant values of my northern a to determine just how central it might be.

This is a live issue. The Council of the IPA, having previously failed to agree, is again debating the issue of whether to recognize an additional vowel symbol, A, to represent a quality between cardinals a and ɑ. I shall vote against.

37 comments:

  1. I'm not sure why you consider Wojciech's remark surprising, not only because several people had said the same several times in comments on this blog, but because you say yourself it's a live issue &c.

    I understand you from a systematic point of view, but this reduction starts to be problematic when one talks about more than one narrow register of one accent. ðə kat sat is rather easy to interpret if the subject is a Northern dialect of English, but the same spelling is used for the contemporary RP vowel - first assigned to 1960s debutantes -, eg by the online OED. A lot of room for confusion.

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  2. "...the articulatory-auditory theory behind Jones’s cardinal vowel scheme is no longer accepted."
    So what is the current theory behind the scheme (if this is still accepted)? Something related to those abominable "formants"?

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  3. What is it about vowel symbols that gets people so worked up? I don't recall many people getting so hot under the collar about the choice of r over ɹ for the /r/ phoneme. Yet with the vowels people seem desperate to make their phonemic transcriptions more phonetic. Misguided phonetic zeal!

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  4. @Beatrice Portinari

    Even Jones himself didn't believe it, so I don't think John was being too iconoclastic when he mentioned it.

    And I very much like the way John put it. 'In passing' indeed, because no present day phonetician would want to give it too much attention.

    Personally, the phrase 'highest part of the tongue' makes me cringe these days. Maybe I'm too sensitive.

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  5. I suspect the need for an extra symbol representing a central open vowel is much more urgent for those working with languages in which the difference between a, ɑ and (say) does matter, as in German and its different varieties and dialects.
    Standard German does not differentiate between different a qualities, and thus you can conveniently write a in all cases even if, in a narrower transcription, you would want to mark centrality more explicitly ([ä], [ᴀ]).
    But, to use an equivalent example to John's, if I switch into a North German pronunciation, I have short front a (corresponding to Standard Germanrt a), long front (corresponding to StG ar)and back ɑː (corresponding to StG ). How am I to write that difference?
    Vor dem Wahn muss man warnen ('One has to warn against the delusion') is either StG foɐ̯ dem vaːn mʊs man vaʁnən or NoG foɐ̯ dem vɑːn mʊs man vaːnː.

    But NoG a, is neither phonetically nor functionally equivalent to StG a, , and (in any German context) you can never tell what a(ː) is intended to mean. A parallel to John's example: imagine æ didn't exist - (how) would the RP vs. Northern example work then?

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  6. I suspect the need for an extra symbol representing a central open vowel is much more urgent for those working with languages in which the difference between a, ɑ and (say) does matter, as in German and its different varieties and dialects.
    Standard German does not differentiate between different a qualities, and thus you can conveniently write a in all cases even if, in a narrower transcription, you would want to mark centrality more explicitly ([ä], [ᴀ]).
    But, to use an equivalent example to John's, if I switch into a North German pronunciation, I have short front a (corresponding to Standard German a), long front (corresponding to StG ar)and back ɑː (corresponding to StG ). How am I to write that difference?
    Vor dem Wahn muss man warnen ('One has to warn against the delusion') is either StG foɐ̯ dem vaːn mʊs man vaʁnən or NoG foɐ̯ dem vɑːn mʊs man vaːnː.

    But NoG a, aː is neither phonetically nor functionally equivalent to StG a, aː, and (in any German context) you can never tell what a(ː) is intended to mean. A parallel to John's example: imagine æ didn't exist - (how) would the RP vs. Northern example work then?

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  7. Though it may be true that ʻthe articulatory-auditory theory behind Jones’s cardinal vowel scheme is no longer accepted’ the ʻhighest part of the tongue’ model that makes Paul cringe still seems the best for teaching the articulation of vowels. Generations of phoneticians were trained to produce vowels in this way. Henry Sweet, Daniel Jones, John Catford, Luciano Canepari all taught it – and were successful in practical articulatory phonetics.

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  8. This posting unfortunately blurs the border between phonemes and sounds. The title uses bracketed [a], which is supposed to indicate an actual speech sound rather than a phoneme /a/, yet the remark the posting reflects to was about phonemes, and the posting itself is pointing out how phonemes are represented.

    I agree with John that in a phonemic transcription, especially in a broad one, you can choose /e/ for /ɛ/, or /r/ for /ɹ/: they are a lot easier to type. In a phonemic transcription that aims to give a hint also about sound qualities realizing the phonemes, using /ɛ/ or /ɹ/ is preferable if they're realized as [ɛ] and [ɹ], respectively. I even agree that A as a symbol for a possible phoneme is not an absolute necessity.

    In a phonetic transcription, however, substituting [ɛ] for [e] or [r] for [ɹ] is clearly unacceptable and misleading. Each phonetic symbol has (should have) a well-defined articulation, so [a] shouldn't be used for such a wide range of open sounds.

    From this point of view, there truly is an urgent need for a symbol that can uniquely represent the central open vowel sound so frequent in the languages of the world. However, I would keep [a] for this purpose (since most existing transcriptions use it to refer to a central sound), and introduce [A] as a fronted open vowel sound that is less common in languages. One shouldn't hold on to [a] as being a cardinal vowel out of tradition or convention.

    IPA is usable only as a phonemic alphabet, at best, but phonetically it makes it impossible to give an accurate transcription without diacritics that are anyway prone to be omitted.

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  9. @homoid
    Luciano Canepari seems to keep good company!

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  10. Yes Paul, he does. I also remember reading threads about his disciple Marco Cerini who literally shocked East Asians by uploading videos in which he spoke Standard Chinese, Cantonese and Vietnamese – all allegedly fluent and accentless, though he didn’t grow up with any of those languages.

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  11. I don't have anything against the addition of an open central symbol since there seems to be quite a lot of support for it and since it's something that's been bubbling away for quite some time.

    Michael Ashby once told me that he supported the idea at a meeting of the IPA council and that the symbol was briefly accepted before being rejected again, so it was IPA for half an hour or so! [Have I got my facts right, John?]

    And as for the issue's historical credentials, Bev Collins told me that Benjamin Dumville (1872-1943) was a known champion of the open central vowel in the early days of the IPA and it was considered a hobby horse of his.

    @ Teardrop
    I don't think changing the value of [a] would be a good idea. Imagine the confusion!

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  12. Paul Carley:
    There would be some confusion either way. But there would be more serious consequences if [A] were the open central vowel sound because all transcriptions that use [a] in this sense would become incorrect. And that's the majority of transcriptions I suspect. Even transcriptions of mainstream English that use [a] in PRICE or MOUTH would be obsolete.

    Redefining [a] the way most transcriptions use it (i.e. open central) would be quite practical actually. I think it would outweigh the significance of artificial cardinal vowels that are hard to find in real-life languages.

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  13. [ä] is one of my pet hates...

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  14. I agree with teardrop. The confusion is irrelevant in broad transcriptions because you'd need to specify what you mean by /a/ anyway, and it's already there in narrow transcriptions as some people use [a] to mean a front vowel and others to mean a central vowel.

    I'd also like it if [æ] was redefined as Cardinal 4 and [a] as halfway between 4 and 5. You'd need a diacritic for a pedantically precise transcription of pre-1960s-RP TRAP, but across languages that's much rarer as a phoneme's most typical realization than the central open vowel is.

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  15. @teardrop ...but IPA transcriptions that use [a] in the sense of an open central vowel are already incorrect, unless they also have conventions which explain that the IPA symbol is being used in that way. It's perfectly OK to use IPA symbols for things which only approximately match their official phonetic values as long as the writer of the transcription makes that explicitly clear.

    When symbols have changed in the past (e.g. [ɷ] to [ʊ]), it's been possible to spot a transcription written in the old style and translate it into the new style. But if we change the value of an already-existing symbol then we can't tell which system a transcription has been made under and so every transcription becomes ambiguous. The penultimate transcription in my own notebook, for exmple, includes [ɐ̟], [ɐ], [ɐ̠] and [a̠]: I'd rather not have to go back and redo all of that sort of stuff to make it interpretable to future phoneticians.

    @Army1987: who says that [æ] is only used for pre-1960s RP? It's available as a symbol to be used for any variety of any language. Changing its value would similarly screw up no end of transcriptions.

    Part of the problem here is the age-old issue of the IPA system being used for narrow phonetic transcription (my interest) as well as phonemic transcription (in which I have progressively less interest). Phonemic transcription is very broad and so symbols can be used loosely. No problem - as long as writer and reader both understand what's going on. Any given phoneme (assuming such things exist!) will have a wide range of phonetics associated with it, so one has to generalise. But the IPA definitions are supposed to be adequate for narrow transcription too - and for that purpose the precise detail matters greatly. So I'm opposed to a line of argumentation from phonemics for changing the phonetic definitions of certain symbols. Phonemics can suggest whether or not we need an additional symbol (this is the sort of argument I think John is making) but it can't suggest that a change in the value of a symbol is required, because the precise value of a symbol is related to the phonetic rather than the phonological domain.

    In short, I'm agnostic as to whether there should be an extra symbol but I'm opposed to changing the value of an existing one. If there's to be a symbol for a fully-open central vowel then it should be a new one (and [ᴀ] seems as good as any to me).

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  16. @Paul
    [jø jø]! as we might say in Pontypridd.

    Imagine teaching a group of undergraduates that [a] means one thing before a certain date and something else after that date. As if getting students enthusiastic about learning a load of new phonetic terminology and symbols wasn't hard enough already.

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  17. I think that a lot of English people vary between [a] and [ɑ] as the first element of PRICE, MOUTH, PALM and START (I do). TRAP seems to be less variable (I only ever use [a]). I don't think that adding A would help matters, and I can understand why John is voting against the proposal.

    It's nice to read that John was bidialectal in his youth. I don't think that many Northerners would bother to alter their TRAP vowel when imitating RP nowadays.

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  18. Chicagoan pronunciation of IMPOSSIBLE sounds like Californian pronunciation of IMPASSIBLE.

    It's difficult to write these pronunciations with IPA symbols without having to use [ä] and [a] symbols.
    [æ] (in impassible) would sound too old-fashioned in Californian accent of today, and [æ] (in impossible) would sound exaggerated even in Chicago.

    And I don't agree about ''many Italians not distinguishing between vènti and vénti''. Why advocate the RP pronunciation of English, and at the same time neglect the RP-equivalent of Italian (RAI accent, described in dictionaries).

    Many English people rhyme price with choice, finger with ringer , and pronounce tank and thank the same. Should we promote these pronunciations to foreign learners of English? I think not. L2 learners should learn the standard variety first. Having mastered the standard pronunciation, they can venture into the rich world of accents and dialects, but 1st thing 1st.

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  19. John,

    thank you for this eloquent explanation. Well, I have no choice but to defer to the authority of a world-famous expert, being a 100 p.c. layman in the noble discipline of phonetics.

    I was going by the standard description of [a] which is open FRONT unrounded vowel, whereas [ä] is described as open CENTRAL unrounded vowel. From this point of view, the latter seems to me to be more frequent in European languages (continental) than the former, this is at least my impression, I'd be happy to see evidence to the contrary effect forthcoming. I know Wikipedia is no reliable source, but totally wrong is she not, either, and just have a look on the list of the languages where these vowels, respectively, occur. Having a lot of experience with German I'd even say German (standard) has rather [ä] than [a].

    I of course know and agree that you have some freedom in using the IPA symbols---the Danes use [a] even for what is to all ends and purposes an [ɛ], say in 'dansk'---but if you make a difference between [a] and [ä] ... well, why bother making this distinction at all? And why can't we more broadly agree on transcribing every low unrounded vowel as [a] ... (rhetorical question of course).

    I am saying all of the above from the point of a CONSUMER of you-guy's efforts... not as an co-inventor, co-reformer or some other _redresseur du monde_ (Weltverbesserer, IPA-verbesserer, in this case). I use your Dictionary in my classes--yea, I even recommend to purchase of your Dictionary to my students---I recommend the IPA transcription to them, too ... but am sometimes asked worrisome, uncomfortable questions, as e.g. why don't they use [a] for our Polish 'a', as it occurs in German, too, in Spanish, in Italian etc.

    You also write:


    There are many other languages in which there is only one unrounded mid front vowel: they include Greek, Spanish, Serbian, and Japanese. Qualititatively this may lie anywhere between cardinal e and cardinal ɛ. In each case the appropriate symbol, though, is e.

    Well, the same is the case for Polish, where however afaik, consistently the LATTER symbol is used. Again, my students ask me 'why not [e]?'

    Coming back to [a]. As you know, many continentals use their [a] for the English strut-vowel. Why do they? My guess is that their 'a' is rather [ä] (centrallish, as is also, though it be less open, somewhat higher and in the conservative variant somewhat backer, the English strut-vowel) than [a]. Interestingly, the French, whose 'a' (yes, I know they have or had two 'a's) is more like [a] than like [ä], prefer or used to prefer their [œ] than their [a], for STRUT.

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  20. From my previous posting:

    'Qualititatively this may lie anywhere between cardinal e and cardinal ɛ. In each case the appropriate symbol, though, is e.

    Well, the same is the case for Polish, where however afaik, consistently the LATTER symbol is used. '

    By 'the latter symbol' I meant 'ɛ'.

    They say we Poles spell 'e' and say 'ɛ'. We have no higher, opener vowel than that, and the French-Italian 'ɛ' seems to me to be a bit lower, opener, than our Polish 'e'. Yet they (i.e. professional IPA users, engineers) go on having us transcribe our 'e' as '[ɛ]'.

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  21. Ad Andaman


    'And I don't agree about ''many Italians not distinguishing between vènti and vénti''. Why advocate the RP pronunciation of English, and at the same time neglect the RP-equivalent of Italian (RAI accent, described in dictionaries).

    Many English people rhyme price with choice, finger with ringer , and pronounce tank and thank the same. Should we promote these pronunciations to foreign learners of English?'


    As one English friend of mine was wont to say: 'English is language par excellence'. Meaning: English is the only true language, the other 'languages' being vernaculars, dialects, jungle-gibberish .. something like that. In these, some natives speak this, some that way... there's no telling and there is no need for a rule.

    This frame of mind is a relic of the glorious days of the British empire, but even though the latter be gone since time long past, it is still somewhat operative in 'workings of mind' of some British persons writing about other idioms... . That English friend of mine told me other things of a similar sort, a bit tongue-in-cheekly, but not quite....

    But on a Polish Wikipedia page [http://pl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Samog%C5%82oska_otwarta_przednia_niezaokr%C4%85glona
    ] I have recently read: in the speech of many English people [a] is pronounced for [æ]! So it's tit-for-tat between them (proud speakers of the language par excellence) and us (benighted vernacular-speakers) :).

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  22. 'When a vowel is situated in an area designated by a non-roman letter, it is recommended that the nearest appropriate roman letter be substituted for it in ordinary broad transcriptions if that letter is not needed for any other purpose. For instance, if a language contains an ɛ but no e, it is recommended that the letter e be used to represent it. This is the case, for instance, in Japanese…'

    This principle is dubious from a consumer's perspective --- dear Messieurs les Phone'ticiens! Here's why: Ordinary (i. e. not professional phoneticians) people often use IPA for learning foreign languages --- I wish they used it more often --- and naturally it is crucial for them to know in what way phonemes of the to-be-learnt language differ from their own's.

    So given that in RP the 'a' in 'cat' is still audibly different from the Polish 'a' (which again is like the English 'u' in 'cut', all the while not being, perhaps, ideally identical with it) a Polish learner of English is little-helped if the 'cat' is transcribed [khath] or some such. Positively misleading is the Danish practice of IPA-ing [a] for their 'a' in 'dansk', which sounds virtually indistinguishable from the Polish (and methinks the English too) 'e'. (DRESS).

    In no language known to me is there any phonemic contrast between [a] and [ä]. OK. But say a Polish or a German learner of French will be helped by being told that the French 'a' in 'la' or 'là' is different from his 'a' in that is is ... well .... [a] rather than [ä].

    But John has io fact explained why we use [a] for the less common 'a'-variant and [ä] for the more common (yes John, until someone proves me wrong I'll insist on this, just going by what I have heard -- aurally perceived --- all these 50-something years) --- rather than the other way 'round:

    '(They [the cardinal vowels] are, however, suspiciously similar to a subset of the vowels of standard French as spoken in Jones’s day..)'

    C'est cela, messieurs!

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  23. I have always been annoyed by the gaping hole in the bottom of the IPA vowel diagram. I'd welcome the new [A], if only to standardize between [ɐ̞] and [ä]. And while we're about it, please scrap that horrible [ɶ] no language uses.

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  24. @Andaman:


    [æ] (in impassible) would sound too old-fashioned in Californian accent of today,


    I've lived in California for the last 14 years and I have yet to hear a local use [a] in TRAP/BATH words. The much-discussed California vowel shift seems to me to be merely restoring [æ] as opposed to the closer values heard in most North American speech today. Maybe I'm just listening to the wrong people (I'm in the Bay Area).

    and [æ] (in impossible) would sound exaggerated even in Chicago.

    I'm not so sure. Have you listened to this?

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  25. @Wojciech:

    "But say a Polish or a German learner of French will be helped by being told that the French 'a' in 'la' or 'là' is different from his 'a' in that is is ... well .... [a] rather than [ä]."

    That may be so. But it's inevitable that you're going to get situations like that when you have a finite set of symbols covering a continuum: every symbol is going to end up covering a range of sounds. I'm unconvinced that this particular distinction is sufficiently important that the long standing convention of using [a] for both types needs to be disturbed.

    (Are there any languages that distinguish them? Some foroms of Finnish might come close, though the convention is to write neither of the vowels in question with /a/.)

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  26. Ad JHJ

    'I'm unconvinced that this particular distinction is sufficiently important that the long standing convention of using [a] for both types needs to be disturbed.'

    I'd be happier if [a] meant the frequent central vowel and [a] with some diacritical sign was used for the relatively rare front vowel, that is all. But as John explained, an idiosyncrasy of French phonology got petrified and eternalised (is there such a word?) in this convention.

    I do not of any single language that had a phonemic difference between [a] and [ä]. But as I said, what matters are various interlingual comparisons, and if you go into the trouble of learning a new alphabet, it's got to be some use. So I'd urge learning material authors to use a rather narrow transciption (showing how the words are actually pronounced)... .

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  27. Kilian wrote: And while we're about it, please scrap that horrible [ɶ] no language uses.

    A truly phoneTic transcription does not reflect what a ʻlanguage uses’ (nor even one of its dialects/accents) but what an individual speaker does and therefore it is highly idiosyncratic. If this doesn’t convince you just think of the use of phonetics in speech pathology. It is certainly true that each and every vocoid (≈ʻvowel’, which term is probably better reserved for phonemes) DOES occur on the phonetic level.

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  28. @vp: that pronunciation of "block" sounds to me more like it contains a front, but still open, [a] than a raised [æ], at least based on what I need to make my mouth do to imitate it. (I do think it's to the front of my TRAP vowel though.) Interestingly I heard it as "blag", not "black", when it was first played, and so assumed it was actually going to be "blog".

    In the other excerpt about "buses with the antennas on top", I heard "buses" correctly (not as "bosses") but of course then heard "on top" as "on tap".

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  29. Ad JHJ

    'In the other excerpt about "buses with the antennas on top", I heard "buses" correctly (not as "bosses") but of course then heard "on top" as "on tap".'

    Lemme guess: are you English, or do you speak England's English? If so,then your 'bus' is rather like a pre-NCS-American 'boss', whereas the pre-NCS-American 'bus' is rather like 'burs' for you...

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  30. I do not of any single language that had a phonemic difference between [a] and [ä].

    One or two decades from now those will be the most common Southern British realizations for TRAP and STRUT respectively. :-)

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  31. Yes, I'm English, with a mild northern accent, but:
    - I think "boss" is a CLOTH word, so the pre-NCS non-cot-caught-merged American pronunciation of "boss" has [ɔ] or thereabouts.
    - Even if it does have an open vowel, the aforementioned mild northern accent means my STRUT is high by southern English (which I fear is what you mean by "England's English") standards and is generally rounded. I would usually transcribe it [ɞ], though it seems to vary quite a bit, sometimes up towards [ʊ] and sometimes front towards [œ].

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  32. @ VP:

    I've lived in California for the last 14 years and I have yet to hear a local use [a] in TRAP/BATH words...Maybe I'm just listening to the wrong people (I'm in the Bay Area).

    Listen to this young lady (from the Bay Area). Listen particularly to the way she says accent at about 10 seconds into the video.

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  33. JHJ:

    Even if it does have an open vowel, the aforementioned mild northern accent means my STRUT is high by southern English (which I fear is what you mean by "England's English") standards and is generally rounded.

    Interesting. Your STRUT, with the exception of the [œ]-like variants, sounds like the STRUT of many Irish people I've listened to. I wonder if there is some connection there. This is getting quite off topic though. I should probably keep some thoughts to myself.

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  34. @Jeremy Smith:

    Listen to this young lady (from the Bay Area). Listen particularly to the way she says accent at about 10 seconds into the video.

    Wow. I have definitely been listening to the wrong people! I love the huge allophony of her pre-nasal TRAP/BATH vowel -- do you think she even thinks of it as the same phoneme any more?

    Interestingly, I don't hear anything like this from my 3-year-old daughter's daycare, or from any of my straight-out-of college colleagues at work. Maybe it's confined to a very specific age cohort that I don't come into contact with much.

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  35. Ad Army1987

    'I do not of any single language that had a phonemic difference between [a] and [ä].

    One or two decades from now those will be the most common Southern British realizations for TRAP and STRUT respectively. :-) '

    Good point. Even today do 'truck' and 'track' in some southern English persons sound very much alike.

    Ad JHJ

    'Yes, I'm English, with a mild northern accent, but:
    - I think "boss" is a CLOTH word, so the pre-NCS non-cot-caught-merged American pronunciation of "boss" has [ɔ] or thereabouts.
    - Even if it does have an open vowel, the aforementioned mild northern accent means my STRUT is high by southern English (which I fear is what you mean by "England's English") standards and is generally rounded.'

    Yes, but I was referring to a pre-NCS but post-cloth-cot merger American English, in which 'boss' sounds like 'bars' more or less.

    I am aware vaguely of what a northern English STRUT sounds like. Is it not vaguely similar to Southern British 'ur', except that it is short? And: is it not closer to the pre-NCS-American English STRUT than to Southern English Strut?

    I sort of identify England's English with RP and the concomitant grammatical (shall-will, e.g.) and lexical peculiarities not because I am in any way partial to Soutthern England, or any social class in Britain or anything of this kind, but simply because I was taught this kind of English when I was very young. At that time, the 60ies in Poland, no other English was available in terms of learning materials, longplay recordings and what have you... Not that today we have a whole range of books titled 'Geordie for Beginners' or 'Shropshire English for Medium-Advanced Students', but i. people hear American English all the time; ii. people generally travel a lot, to anglo- as well as something-else-phone countries and have a lot of exposure to different variants, dialects, accents... . In other words: I fully respect other Englishes than Southern England's, and am informed enough to know of their existence and their charms.

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  36. Kilian, Danish uses the "horrible" symbol. Research before you write.

    It would be interesting to see what John thinks about Canepari's alphabet, made possibly illegally from the typeface found in his PDFs on his website, since he believes that there is no continuum but very precise points which can be described by more than 360 symbols, I believe.

    Science or charlatanism?

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  37. Ad Duchesse de Guermantes

    'Science or charlatanism'

    Good science, if it wishes not to be just good but famous, too, must be charlatanism to an extent, I fear.

    In Spanish, 'charla' means amongst other things an academic talk, which makes us all the more aware of the above...

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