IPA query

Damian   Friday, October 08, 2004, 09:54 GMT
Hey, calm down lads! It's not worth all this scashing....it's only a ******* language after all and not worth starting WW3 over....come to the pub tonight and I'll buy you all a wee drink ;-)
Mi5 Mick   Friday, October 08, 2004, 10:33 GMT
WW3? Get real... it's just an argument with a bit of jostling on my part. My style is to prod and shove, especially when it comes to cold inanimates; don't take it the wrong way Damian.
Juan   Friday, October 08, 2004, 11:23 GMT
I agree with the non-rhotic speakers. The length of vowels is important.
Mxsmanic   Friday, October 08, 2004, 18:30 GMT
I've read up on it, extensively, and vowel length is not important in English. I tell my ESL students not to worry about it, and I don't explicitly teach anything about vowel length. The length of a vowel in English is no more important than its nasality.

It is not a problem for ESL students in my experience. It does not prevent them from being understood, and it does not prevent them from understanding, because vowel length is not phonemic in English.

If vowel length is not a "technical requirement" (i.e., phonemic, I presume), then it's not important. It doesn't matter whether or not native speakers systematically alter vowel length. It might be important for someone who wants to eliminate an accent, but most ESL students don't want to do that. And those who are far enough along to seriously consider eliminating an accent will rapidly adjust vowel length through imitation, anyway.
Mi5 Mick   Friday, October 08, 2004, 23:30 GMT
Vowel length may not be a technical requirement in rhotic English is all I said.

I'll just repeat myself too with some examples. In non-rhotic English, vowel length alone distinguishes the following words of the same vowel position:

dead, dared
stead, stared
fed, faired
bed, bared
bark, buck
bars, buzz
barn, bun
charm, chum
darl, dull
bid, beard
biz/bus., beers
his, hears
piss, pierce
quiz, queers
calm, come (incl. rhotic English)
balm, bum (incl. rhotic English)
psalm, some (incl. rhotic English)

If you don't think each word above has the same vowel position as its complement, then argue that.
Yon   Saturday, October 09, 2004, 02:18 GMT
Mxsmanic, The vowel sound in ''father'', ''psalm'' ''pasta'', ''ma'' and ''pa'' is short in my accent but the vowel sound in ''Saab'', ''ah'' and ''baa'' is longer. The difference between these vowels is only in length. So, you're wrong about saying that vowel length is not phonemic in English.

In Sampa,

[A]-father, psalm, pasta, ma and pa
[A:]-baa, Saab, ah, aah
Mxsmanic   Saturday, October 09, 2004, 03:13 GMT
That's not what "phonemic" means. A phonemic difference is one that serves to distinguish between utterances with different meanings. In the examples you give, there are other distinctions among the words besides vowel length; therefore vowel length is not phonemic.

An example of a phonemic difference is the vowel in "pin" and "pan": the only distinction between these two words is in the vowel position, therefore the vowel position is phonemic. This is called a minimal pair. There are no minimal pairs in standard English that are distinguished only by vowel length, such as there are no minimal pairs in English distinguished by nasality. (By way of comparison, in French, nasality is phonemic, but vowel length still isn't.)

In addition, baa, Saab, ah, and aah are not English words to begin with.
Yon   Saturday, October 09, 2004, 03:18 GMT
Mxsmanic, ''baa'' is the sound that a sheep makes. It's definitely an English word.
Mxsmanic   Saturday, October 09, 2004, 04:45 GMT
No, it's just a sound.
Mi5 Mick   Saturday, October 09, 2004, 04:58 GMT
I can't persuade you or stop you from repeating yourself like a scatched record, but at least address the examples I've provided. You don't think their phonemic differences are based on length, OK FINE, but what does happen for each pair in your mind?

In non-rhotic English, whether it's South African, Zimbabwean, Macanese, Hong Konger, Indian, Pakistani, British or Oceanic, how do you suppose these English speakers distinguish "his" from "hears"? or "dead" from "dared"? (and in many cases: "cart" from "cut")

Also, do you think non-rhotic English to be non-standard?
Easterner   Saturday, October 09, 2004, 07:09 GMT
Just to throw in my own tuppence's worth:

Although I'm not a native English speaker, in the variant I have been taught to speak (a non-rhotic accent close to RP), vowel length is definitely important, as can be seen from examples like "hum" and "harm" or "come" and "calm" (the same phoneme pronounced with perhaps a slightly different tongue position - my feeling is that long vowels tend to become inevitably "darker" due to a lower and more backward tongue position). For me, these words are definitely minimal pairs, and it's not the same if you say "come down" or "calm down".

As for words like "baa" and others, as long as those onomatopoeic or sound-imitating sequences are used in meaningful sentences, they should be regarded as words. Consider: "The sheep looked at me and gave out a loud baa" or "This cat's miaow is becoming intolerable". By the way, my Oxford Advanced Learner's dictionary lists "baa" and "miaow" as both nouns and verbs. Interjections are more doubtful, but as soon as they are used for anything else than imitating actual sounds, they become nouns (and maybe verbs) as well. Can you say, for example: "She gave out a loud ouch/ouched out loud, feeling the hot coffee spill on her hands"? As soon as such sentences are acceptable, "ouch" is a honorary member of both the family of verbs and nouns, as some onomatopoeic words have become.
Mxsmanic   Saturday, October 09, 2004, 08:57 GMT
Nothing happens for each pair in my mind. I pay attention only to vowel position, not vowel length. Proof of this is that I have to listen carefully to hear differences in vowel length, whereas differences in vowel quality are easier to discern—the reason being that vowel length has no effect on meaning and thus one tends to ignore it.

There are many types of non-rhotic English, but only one or two (e.g., RP or Estuary English) can be considered standard. Some of the variants you list as non-rhotic are in fact rhotic (such as that of India).

In RP, his is pronounced /hIz/ and hears is pronounced /hi@z/; vowel length is unimportant. Dead is pronounced /dEd/ and dared is pronounced /dE@d/. Some word pairs become homophones in RP: formerly and formally are pronounced identically, /fo:m@li/. Vowel length just doesn't enter into it.

Furthermore, most English speakers do not pronounce vowel lengths with complete consistently. Certain vowels in certain positions tend to be regularly short or long, but they aren't always that way, and if they aren't, comprehension is still unaffected.
Jim   Saturday, October 09, 2004, 12:36 GMT
Thus Aus.E ain't `standard,' ay, Mxs? O.K.
Mxsmanic   Saturday, October 09, 2004, 13:09 GMT
No, it's just that vowel length isn't phonemic in AusE, either.
Mi5 Mick   Saturday, October 09, 2004, 22:38 GMT
bard vs. bud

The long vowel in bard is almost a pure length contrast with the short vowel in bud in Australian English. Both are low (open) central vowels, with the longer of the two having a slightly more open pronunciation. The traditional phonemic symbol for the short low central vowel in cut is [...]. However, this is inaccurate for Australian English, where it is a central, not a back vowel. In view of the almost identical vowel quality of these two vowels, it can be argued that the same phonetic symbol should be used in their transcription, differentiating them only with the length diacritic.