IPA query

Mi5 Mick   Friday, October 15, 2004, 05:26 GMT
Bingo! As Jim pointed out...

>>Pronunciation for International Intelligibility<<

Vowel quantity: vowel quality varies widely from one NS [native speaker] accent to another. However, the length differences between the vowels of English feature in all accents, and the long English vowels are very long in comparison with average vowel lengths in other languages. Because of this, the distinction between long and short vowels is more important than exact vowel quality, and should be clear in speech. With diphthongs, just as with pure vowels, length should be our main concern rather than exact quality.
Whilst not discouraging attempts to achieve good vowel quality, the core draws teachers’ and learners’ attention decisively towards the far more important issue of vowel length.
Jim   Friday, October 15, 2004, 05:55 GMT
As Mick and I continue to stress, vowel length is phonemic in Australian English which is stardard enough for the pair of us. But AusE and NZE aside, is there really no "particular reason to teach it to ESL students" unless they "seek to adopt a specific English pronunciation or suppress their own foreign accents?" Length is no less important than position for the reasons I've gone over and over.

Vowel length has phonemic importance at least in AusE and NZE. Explaining it as such is not at all misleading to students. If you think that mentioning the fact that some vowels are long and others short would take up a "tremendous amount of valuable time", I doubt that you'd be much of an ESL teacher.

"Students must be taught to render and recognize phonemes;" of course they must. Understanding the distinction (make by just about all of us) between long and short monophthongs can only help and never hinder their rendition and recognition.

"Students who pronounce all vowels with identical length will be understood in standard pronunciations of English without any difficulty." Yeah, if their lucky. How well understood they'll be will depend on at least four factors which are: how closely they've managed to approximate this so called standard, how familiar the listener is with this "standard", the patience of the listener and to what extent context helps to clarify meaning

"Likewise, students who do not distinguish vowel length in listening will still comprehend standard English without difficulty." This likewise will depend on similar factors to those above.

Teaching vowel length distinctions is far from useless and is nothing like teaching nasality. "ESL teaching is about obtaining practical results," absolutely. Making students aware of the fact that monophthongs tend to come in two varieties with respect to length is more likely to achieve those results than pretending that there is no such tendancy.

Vowel length is hardly one of the "idiosyncratic features of some English dialects". It is common to just about all of us: far more so than vowel position. If you're so knowledgible, Mxsmanic, why do you seem ignorant of this fact?
Jim   Friday, October 15, 2004, 06:44 GMT
"Whilst not discouraging attempts to achieve good vowel quality," the article continues "the core draws teachers' and learners' attention decisively towards the far more important issue of vowel length."

Mick, chances are Mxsmanic won't even bother to click on your link much less read the article. But even if he does, you know what his reaction will be. He'll just act as if he knows better: just as he's done since you've posted the link to Cox's paper showing the phonemic nature of vowel length in AusE.

Here's another interesting bit from the article.

"Good vowel length, good pronunciation of most of the consonants, good handling of clusters, the avoidance of incorrect deletions, prominence and good tonic stress - these are the focus of our work on pronunciation, together with one area which did not come up in any traditional list, but is a priority in the LFC, namely the appropriate use of tone groups."

And something along a different line:

"R. Macaulay. In 1988, in an article provocatively entitled ‘RP R.I.P.?’, he pointed out a simple but surprising truth about this supposedly prestige accent: less than 3% of the UK population actually used it at that time, and the percentage was falling."

Multiply this by

"In mid-2003 the UK was home to 59.6 million people."


and you get a rough figure of some 2 million RP speakers. There are ten times this many speakers of AusE. Nice "standard" to cling to, ay, Mxsmanic?
Denis   Friday, October 15, 2004, 09:35 GMT
It is very informative and interesting to read this thead.
The discussion has helped me to notice a few essential errors in my pronunciation and now I understand spoken English better .

Thank you Jim, Mi5 Mick
Mi5 Mick   Friday, October 15, 2004, 10:41 GMT
>>Thank you Jim, Mi5 Mick<<

and Mxsmanic. ;)

Denis   Friday, October 15, 2004, 11:04 GMT
>>and Mxsmanic. ;) <<

Yeah, thanks a lot to Mxsmanic too!
The cornerstone of the discussion and the stumbling block for your coherent arguments ;)
Tom   Friday, October 15, 2004, 13:23 GMT
"I would normally pronounce the /ei/ in "laid" longer than the one in "late", yes. Is it phonemic or simply an allophonic variation caused by the difference in final consonant? I tend to think it's the latter: vowel length depends on phonetic environment."

I guess I didn't make my point clear enough.
Doesn't my recording prove that the length of /ei/ is phonemic? This length is the only difference between the two recordings and everyone can clearly tell that one says "late" and the other "laid".

Mi5 Mick   Saturday, October 16, 2004, 02:05 GMT
Tom: yes, but perhaps not for some people. What I'm getting at is that it's possible that some/many Americans don't perceive nor apply vowel length as "normally" expected. Could it be that some Americans pronounce "wood" and "wooed" or "cook" and "kook" with the same vowel length?
Easterner   Saturday, October 16, 2004, 02:11 GMT

I think the difference in length between "laid" and "late" is definitely due to the fact that in the one it is followed by a voiced consonant, and in the other a voiceless one. There is a similar phenomenon in German (the length of the preceding or following consonant affecting the length of a vowel). This is why German speakers decide on the consonant to use based on vowel length in a foreign language. They end up saying "por" ("dust") instead of "bor" ("wine") in Hungarian, because the vowel is short, and therefore the consonant would be voiceless there in German. I think it is the same with "bye" and "pie" in English: the vowel of "bye" is longer than that of "pie".
Mi5 Mick   Saturday, October 16, 2004, 02:32 GMT
I seriously doubt there is any difference in vowel length between "bye" and "pie" -- of course you can pronounce them short or long as you please, but it doesn't prove much. Even if it were the case it would be insignificant because I don't consciously hear it, as I would for other sound pairs. Anyway, the parallel isn't the same for "laid" and "late", because both these words are pronounced by Tom as "lade": one short, one long.
Jim   Monday, October 18, 2004, 00:08 GMT

You're right, I really should have listened to the recording before I wrote about it but it was too noisy last Friday. I was just thinking about how I might pronounce them.

Well, I've just listened to it now. You're absolutely right: I can't notice any phonetic difference between the two except for the length of the /ei/ but this difference is enough for me to understand which is which.

I guess your point is clear enough (to anyone who takes the time to listen to the recording): vowel length is phonemic in English (not only AusE & NZE but USE too) as proven by the recording.
Jim   Monday, October 18, 2004, 00:41 GMT
"I think the difference in length between 'laid' and 'late' is definitely due to the fact that in the one it is followed by a voiced consonant, and in the other a voiceless one." writes Easterner.

I also agree with him. Don't I contradict myself? Not at all. Here's my theory. You've got to cut the /ei/ short before the /t/ because the /t/ is voiceless. Your vocal chords have more work to do than if what follows is the /d/. Hence the /ei/ in "laid" is longer than that in "late".

The difference here is that the "late"/"laid" appears in conected speach with the following word, "twice", starting with /t/. The /t/ & /d/ of "late" & "laid" gets assimilated into the /t/ of the following "twice". Hence the distinction in final the consonsant "late" and "laid" vanishes.

Listen to the recording and you can hear that this distinction has dissapeared. The difference in vowel length, however, remains (this can be heard too). This difference is enough to tell us which is which because we are used to hearing a longer vowel in "laid" than in "late".

The difference in voice between "laid" and "late" is usually the cause of the difference in vowel length. Here the final consonants have been assimilated into the initial consonant of the following word and thus their difference has vanished. However, we still have the length of the vowel to show which consonant is "missing".

Vowel length is phonemic here. The accent is North American. Hence not only is vowel length phonemic in AusE and NZE but it's phonemic in this speaker's accent too. Nor does this seem simply to be an idiosyncrasy of this individual speaker: the explanation I postulate is not dependent on any particular dialect and should work for most (may be all) accents of English.

Vowel length is phonemic in English.
batter and ba:dder   Monday, October 18, 2004, 03:36 GMT
matter and ma:dder
Jim   Monday, October 18, 2004, 07:10 GMT

I'm glad that we have been of help.
Tom   Tuesday, October 19, 2004, 22:22 GMT
I wonder if Mxsmanic thinks that my recording proves that vowel length is phonemic. Mxsmanic, are you there?