Teenglish from England

Paul Johnston paul.johnston at WMICH.EDU
Thu Sep 17 20:29:22 UTC 2009

Dear Nathan,
Excellent explanation.  There you go.  Incidentally, my Michigan-born
students all make the distinction, but about half perceive themselves
as using [i] in this position.  I wonder if TZ
is like *them* and doesn't know it rather than the other way around.

Paul Johnston

On Sep 17, 2009, at 4:07 PM, Nathan Sanders wrote:

> ---------------------- Information from the mail header
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> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       Nathan Sanders <Nathan.Sanders at WILLIAMS.EDU>
> Subject:      Re: Teenglish from England
> ----------------------------------------------------------------------
> ---------
> On Sep 17, 2009, at 1:13 PM, Laurence Horn wrote:
>> It's clear that some believe this, and they may be right for their
>> own speech.  It is certainly not my impression that raised/tensed [i]
>> is the usual (or even that common a) pronunciation for U.S. speakers,
>> but unlike some of the "Eenglish" contingent, I am not saying that
>> they're necessarily misguided about their *own* pronunciation.  What
>> rubs me the wrong way is when I'm told *I* pronounce it "Eenglish" or
>> "seeng" and just don't admit it.  But we've been down that road many
>> times, and the odds that minds will be changed on this are roughly as
>> steep as the odds that the health care debate in Congress will.
> It's a shame that TZ hasn't taken a phonetics course, because if he
> had, he might very well have learned why [I] sounds like [i] before
> [N], or at least learned enough to piece it together on his own.
> For the benefit of those who do actually care to learn why this is
> true, I'll explain:
> The two loudest, most perceptually important resonant frequencies
> (vowel formants) that result from a mouth shape for [I] are
> approximately F1 = 400 Hz and F2 = 1900 Hz (the actual values for a
> given individual will depend on the size of their vocal tract).
> Before nasal sounds, vowels in English are often at least partially
> nasalized due to anticipatory articulation, as the velum is
> prematurely lowered in preparation for the following nasal.  Nasalized
> vowels have a very low, extra formant in the 200-300 Hz range due to
> the additional resonance of the vowel's sound wave as it travels from
> the glottis up into the nasal cavity.
> Note that the ordinary F1 value for a plain oral [I] is 400 Hz, which
> is very close to the nasal formant value, so close in fact, that
> listeners may hear only a single formant rather than two distinct
> formants when [I] is nasalized.  When this happens, the perceptual
> result is some weighted combination of the nasal formant and F1, which
> causes us to perceive a nasalized [I] as having a lower F1 value than
> for a plain oral [I].
> Since F1 is an acoustic correlate of vowel height and a lower F1 value
> corresponds to a higher vowel articulation, a nasalized [I] (which is
> found before a nasal) effectively sounds like it is pronounced
> slightly higher than it actually is.
> Furthermore, a following velar sound causes what is known as a "velar
> pinch", in which F2 and F3 values approach each other (i.e., F2
> increases while F3 decreases).  Since F2 is an acoustic correlate of
> frontness/backness in vowels and a higher F2 value corresponds to a
> fronter articulation, [I] before a velar effectively sounds like it is
> pronounced slightly fronter than it actually is.
> Putting these two facts together: [I] before [N] (which is of course
> both nasal and velar) effectively sounds like it is pronounced both
> higher and fronter than it actually is.  Since [i] is the only English
> vowel that is higher and fronter than [I], [i] is the vowel many
> people will hear when [I] sounds higher and fronter (such as when it
> is pronounced before [N]).
> The next thing that can happen is that some speakers who hear [i] in
> this environment will actually produce [i] rather than [I], to mimic
> what they think they hear other people saying.
> So the end result is that some people say [IN], some people say [iN],
> and many people hear both as [iN].
> Nathan
> --
> Nathan Sanders
> Linguistics Program
> Williams College
> http://wso.williams.edu/~nsanders/
> ------------------------------------------------------------
> The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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