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Missing syllables - Qualified Perceptions
firstfrost
firstfrost
Missing syllables
So, a while ago, chenoameg mentioned that many people pronounce her name wrong, as "May-gun" instead of, um, "Mehg-un". And I said ooh, I bet I do that wrong.

It's been rattling around in my head since then, and it keeps bothering me. I can't hear the difference. I can barely even think the difference, without concentrating hard. The difference between "eg" and "aig" is a phonetic blind spot for me. Why is this?

So, I thought about it some more. I can distinguish between "et" and "ait". "Met" and "mate" are different words. Okay, maybe it's because the "ai" vowel combination ends with the back of the tongue closer to the top of the mouth, and a "g" sound closes there. But no, I can tell the difference between "ek" and "aik", and the K does the same thing the G does. "Mech" and "make" are different.

But I can't tell the difference between - um. Hmm. I can't think of any pairs of words for my syllables. "Vague" and "veg", but no, because "veg" is pronounced "vehj", though maybe not in England? "egg" and "leg" and "peg" and "Meg" and "beg" don't have "aig" equivalents. Is that it? When I was little, I never learned any words that made me have to tell those two sounds apart, and now I can't? That's how it's supposed to work.

But it's driving me crazy. I walk down the street muttering "tweg... twaig... tweg... twaig... to myself" and I'm probably getting funny looks. Is it just me? Can everyone else hear those two syllables clearly? (And if you can, do you know any matching pairs of words?)

Current Mood: confused confused
Current Music: Sixpence None the Richer

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Comments
navrins From: navrins Date: March 3rd, 2006 10:27 pm (UTC) (Link)
I hear the difference clearly when it is actually pronounced, but it's common enough that it isn't that I have not known how chenoameg prefers her name pronouced. I will attempt to remember she actually prefers Mehg-un; my default pronunciation is May-g'n.

I also hear the differences between Mary/merry/marry, and Aaron/Erin, for what it's worth. There's another pair like that too, but I'm not thinking of it. I don't think there is any distinction of that sort made by Americans that I can't hear, though the local Croatian can certainly pronounce sounds he claims are distinct that I cannot distinguish.
firstfrost From: firstfrost Date: March 3rd, 2006 10:39 pm (UTC) (Link)
Ah, I also cannot hear Mary/merry/marry, and Aaron/Erin. The former, I even now recall as a canonical example. I feel better somehow. :)
desireearmfeldt From: desireearmfeldt Date: March 3rd, 2006 10:40 pm (UTC) (Link)
Mehg and Maig sound very different to me. (And my default pronounciation of the name is Meh-gun.)

I can't offhand think of a word or syllable pair such as the one you seek.

And re navrins's comment about merry/marry/Mary, I tend to pronounce the latter two similarly but differently from the first one; I can if I try pronounce them all distinctly, but it takes conscious effort; I can (I presume) hear the difference when someone who differentiates all three pronounces them.
ilhander From: ilhander Date: March 3rd, 2006 11:07 pm (UTC) (Link)
Yes, merry/marry/Mary are MEHR-ee, MAHR-ee, MAI-ree when I say them.

(Will you marry merry Mary?)

So I think I differentiate all three (but for me merry is closer to Mary than marry), and I can hear all three when spoken by someone who differentiates them. Maybe.
chanaleh From: chanaleh Date: March 3rd, 2006 11:01 pm (UTC) (Link)
I think the answer is that in English this is a distinction of phoneme (you know that "egg" and "vague" do not exactly rhyme), but not of morpheme (I can't think of any pairs where this distinguishes the meaning).

However, there certainly are American dialects -- the South, parts of the Midwest -- where the distinction disappears and "egg" and "vague" DO rhyme.
twe From: twe Date: March 3rd, 2006 11:19 pm (UTC) (Link)
Really? People treat the syllable break as Me-gan and not Meg-an? Hunh. I certainly think I'm say Mehg-un. :)
firstfrost From: firstfrost Date: March 4th, 2006 12:11 am (UTC) (Link)
I don't think people get the syllables wrong; I just thought "may-gun" was easier to describe how it sounded than "mayg-un" because "mayg" doesn't look like a word at all. :)
pekmez From: pekmez Date: March 3rd, 2006 11:58 pm (UTC) (Link)
I say "Mehg-un" (for chenoameg and by default for the name),
but if I were chenoameg I would be pleased with the phrase "May-Gun" being applied to me even if it's not pronounced right, because it involves Guns! and the month of May!

who me, silly and ridiculous?

(What I actually struggle with is adding the -an and the -ert to the end of names that I seem to have first learned in the short form.)
(Deleted comment)
twe From: twe Date: March 4th, 2006 01:22 am (UTC) (Link)
See, now that's the place I'd expect people to be unsure of the pronunciation - the second syllable.
(Deleted comment)
remcat From: remcat Date: March 4th, 2006 05:16 am (UTC) (Link)
<<"egg" and "leg" and "peg" and "Meg" and "beg" don't have "aig" equivalents. >>


To me, "Egg" and "leg" *ARE* "aig" words :)

firstfrost From: firstfrost Date: March 4th, 2006 03:23 pm (UTC) (Link)
Ooh. So "leg" doesn't rhyme with "beg" for you, but it does rhyme with "egg" (and "vague")?
chenoameg From: chenoameg Date: March 4th, 2006 01:54 pm (UTC) (Link)

For the record

The second syllable of my name is a schwa; I don't really think about how people pronounce it. I'm from Boston, we swallow second syllables; I would probably write out the pronounciation of my name as Megg'n

You all say my name just fine (by which I mean I've never noticed anyone who's responded to this thread by this time to say my name in the way I think of as wrong).

My strategy is to tell people who mispronounce my name shortly after we're introduced and if they can't hear the difference I tell them it rhymes with egg, and if they still can't make it sound right I give up. There's only one person I talk with routinely who says my name in the way I don't like (Lisa) and she really can't hear the difference, and in her dialect it does rhyme with egg, so I deal. I think firstfrost asked me about the Meg/Megan preference and I expounded on the whole pronounciation thing.

I can hear all of the differences in "Merry Mary will you marry me" but I'm not good at saying them.
intuition_ist From: intuition_ist Date: March 4th, 2006 02:44 pm (UTC) (Link)
it seems to me that the difference you're noticing is possibly in a voiced vs. unvoiced vowel in the final syllable of Megan's name, and where the syllables break. Final word syllables that start with a vowel tend to be less voiced: "May-gun" vs "Mehg-'n"

i also sometimes have trouble recognizing the mary/merry/marry set, though for me the first two sound much more alike than the third.

Aaron/Erin are very distinct when i pronounce them, but i sometimes have difficulty recognizing the difference when *other* people are doing the talking.

and for the longest time, "pen" and "pin" were indistinguishable, either spoken or heard.

(but i'm not from 'round here...)
From: gmpe Date: March 4th, 2006 03:46 pm (UTC) (Link)
May I ask where you are from? I only heard about the pen/pin thing at work this week and had never stubbled across it before. The person who was having trouble grew up near Kentucky, but suggested the challenge was something you ran into more as you went south.
kirisutogomen From: kirisutogomen Date: March 4th, 2006 07:12 pm (UTC) (Link)
This is why it's important to have parents from different places. Ideally from entirely different language families, but heck, just my parents' different dialects of English seem to have expanded my phoneme recognition.
twe From: twe Date: March 5th, 2006 05:58 pm (UTC) (Link)
This all reminds me of the "Yankee or Dixie?" quiz that was going around a couple years ago. The most interesting part about that was the way it identified the regions of the country the word choices/pronunciations were from. (My parents being both from the Great Lakes area, I am a mismash of that and the DC area. :)
jdbakermn From: jdbakermn Date: March 8th, 2006 02:17 am (UTC) (Link)
Beg and Bag are pretty close to the same word for me. Unless I concentrate and exaggerate my pronunciation of Bag (or Vague).

It also reminds me of when I was taking a French class. I'd say "uh" (un) and the teach would look at me with exasperation and say "No, it's pronounced "uh". I couldn't hear the difference.

Anyway, years later heard a story on NPR. It turns out that there are over 4000-6000 different sounds that languages contain. But as you grow up (starting at about 6 months), you're down to distinguishing about 40-60 sounds that make up your native language (40-45 for English). That's why they tell you to teach your kids that second language from birth - it helps them keep more than the 60 distinguishable sounds. I'd guess that across the US there are a handful of those sounds that are present in some places and not in others.

I think it's the same reason that native Japanese speakers have a hard time with English "r" and "l" sounds - there aren't 2 corresponding sounds in Japanese and the native speakers can't hear the difference any more - their brains have learned to ignore the sounds that don't matter to them.

BTW, are these 'sounds' that I'm talking about called Allophones?

dcltdw From: dcltdw Date: March 8th, 2006 10:44 pm (UTC) (Link)
I can mentally hear the difference, but I have trouble generating the difference, I suspect. Or, at least, that was the case when I was taking chamber chorus and trying all the different open/closed vowel sounds down.

One game I sometimes play when I'm around my in-laws is trying to distinguish phonemes. But I totally cannot tell where the syllables are in Mandorin. At least if I were reading, say, German, I could say "ok, that's a word... and that's a word. And another word." But I can't hear the spaces.
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