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When you read "crab", do you think of "crap"? Is it usual to pronounce wrongly?

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I can't tell if this is a serious question. – Ed Guiness Mar 4 '11 at 11:08
It is. It may seem easy for native speakers but is not for the rest. Thanks. – donald Mar 4 '11 at 11:16
@Ed serious, yes, but mildly amusing at the same time. It is very serious if you confuse "crab" and "crap" ... – Will Mar 4 '11 at 13:54
up vote 4 down vote accepted

Native speakers' brains are already on the right path. We won't mess it up in a conversation between native English speakers. When a native speaker hears, "What's your name? Mine ..." we already have "is" in our heads queued up. If we hear anything else, we will be surprised. A non-native speaker may not have this anticipation, and may hear "Minus" instead of "Mine is". This exact problem happened this morning between my German roommate and me.

Native speakers would almost never hear "minus" where the speaker said "mine is", and likewise we will never confuse "crab" for "crap".

Of course, I make the assumption that the speaker is also a native speaker. Non-native English speakers also have subtle linguistic clumsiness that throws off this anticipation effect. So another time we could mess it up is if the speaker says something that we have to parse word-by-word to understand, throwing off the sense of rhythm and anticipation.

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In the spirit of Gilbert & Sullivan, I'd suggest we hardly ever confuse "crab" and "crap" :-) – user1579 Mar 4 '11 at 14:11
@Rhodri, I orphan confuse them. – Peter Taylor Mar 4 '11 at 14:45

No. They are two different words. If someone is saying crap when they mean crab, either their accent still needs a lot of work or else they really don't like the meal.

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+1 - I'm wondering how you thought the person might have said "crap" while looking at a dish made of "crab"!?!?!? :)) – yasouser Mar 4 '11 at 16:02

Voiced and unvoiced stop consonants at the ends of words can be hard to distinguish. Particularly at a break in the sentence or immediately before another stop consonant there really isn't much to voice, so the difference between 'p' and 'b' (and 't' and 'd', and 'k' and 'g') can be quite slight. Colin Fine points out that the preceding vowel tends to be lengthened before a final stop consonant, and thinking about it I have an unproven suspicion that it happens for stressed syllables too.

As @tenfour pointed out this doesn't matter so much for native speakers. We know without having to think about it what the next words plausibly could be in a spoken sentence, both from syntax and semantic information. We will frequently 'correct' what was actually said to fit our expectations. This can go as far as inserting entire omitted words because we know they must have been there. We have to be paying attention to notice that a mistake actually occurred.

I saw an entertaining experiment that demonstrated this effect in a TV documentary some years ago. One person was given a piece of text to recite, with secret instructions to get a word wrong. A second had to listen to what was being said and repeat it a second or so later -- English to English simultaneous translation, if you like! The repeater passed on the right word, without realising that there had been any error.

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But in many dialects (I'm not sure if all), the vowel is generally longer before a voiced final consonant. Certainly in my dialect the /æ/ in 'crab' is significantly longer than that in 'crap'. – Colin Fine Mar 4 '11 at 14:18
Hmm, there's certainly a tendency that way, isn't there. – user1579 Mar 4 '11 at 14:29

I suspect the two words have significantly different collocational profiles, so it seems unlikely that they would be mistaken for one another even during speech, although one could imagine a situation on a dock on the Chesapeake Bay, where a deck-hand on a fishing vessel saying "I have to take a crab" might be misunderstood as meaning "I have to take a crap", or vice-versa. In American English at least it seems that in addition to devoicing, vowel length might also distinguish the pronunciation of "crab" from that of "crap"

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In some dialects aspiration would be another distinguishing feature. – psmears Mar 4 '11 at 11:57
lmao ... while we're at it: "Holy crap!" vs "Holy crab!", or "a pile of crab" vs "a pile of crap". I do agree, though, that depending on where you are in the US, the way that someone pronounces their words would definitely give a non-English speaker pause when trying to piece together the sentence and its meaning. – Will Mar 4 '11 at 13:52

I think you are thinking that these two words (crab and crap) are same , but it's not like that. Crab and crap both are different words. Go to the links , you'll get the things clear.

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I can't say I find it particularly common, but Dutch speakers of English might well pronounce them the same way due to their native language's devoicing of the final consonant (in a similar way that a Dutch speaker may have problems pronouncing a difference between beat and bead, and pod and pot.)

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