In this video, around 0:45, when Amy Chua says "I am a professor at Yale law school". I was wondering why her mouth pouted twice, once at the end of "professor" and the other between "law" and "school"?

I read the sentence myself, but my mouth doesn't pout.

  • (I am not a phonetician). I didn't see any pouting or lip-pursing or anything strange about her external nouth movements,, and also I did not hear anything strange or off about her pronunciation in anyway, even with paying great attention to those particalr places. Can you give any more details as to what the phenomenon is that you saw and what you would expect differently? For reference, I consider her to be a very standard AmE speaker with no peculiarities at all, (rhoticity is the only relevant thing I can think of).
    – Mitch
    Jun 21 '11 at 15:38
  • @Mitch: I am not saying hers is not standard American English. Instead, I try to say I don't pout near the end of "professor" or "law" like what she, a standard American, did, and I don't get it why American does that?
    – Tim
    Jun 21 '11 at 16:05
  • 1
    I would guess she pronounces cot and caught differently, and she is saying saying law /lɔ/, with the vowel of caught rather than /lɑ/, with the vowel of cot. This typical of an East Coast accent and atypical in a California accent. As for professor, I don't see a pout there (there's one in school). Jun 21 '11 at 16:33
  • I'm also a cot/caught person, but I don't see a 'pout' between law and school when I say them?
    – Darwy
    Jun 21 '11 at 16:38
  • @Darwy: there's quite a bit of variation in the vowel people use for 'caught', and while I believe most people 'pout' when they're pronouncing it, some might not. Jun 22 '11 at 12:27

Try listening to the American English pronunciations for professor (you may want to try following it with at). If you compare British to American English, you'll notice that the final /r/ sound is pronounced in American English - most dialects are rhotic - whereas in British English, the final "r" in "professor" is usually unpronounced.

When Amy Chua says "professor," she pauses for a moment on the /r/ sound, and I think this is what you see as a pout.

Also: Listen to law school (or the separate words law, school, where you'll hear more of the diphthong in "law"). As an American English speaker, I don't notice anything surprising about Amy Chua's "law school" pronunciation. It seems to me that she rounds her mouth a little toward the end of "law" and then more at the end of "school", which I think makes sense because they have rounded vowels.

  • Thanks! But I don't pout when I pronounce the /r/ sound. Instead, I think she pronounced the last syllable as saw instead of sir as I do. Do you think so?
    – Tim
    Jun 21 '11 at 16:02
  • @Tim, It could be because she's using uptalk (at least it sounds to me as if her voice is rising) and that changes the pronunciation a bit. I haven't got any better theory right now :)
    – aedia λ
    Jun 21 '11 at 16:17
  • Thanks! Nice to know the link to uptalk. I have been wondering about the rising pitch in almost every sentence, especially among young Americans. I might ask a question sometime. But do you know if the intention of rising pitch except questions is to show friendliness, and if it is proper in presentation and teaching?
    – Tim
    Jun 21 '11 at 16:58

A pout of the lips between "law" and "school" basically depends on dialect/accent. In some regional accents, the sound "aw" is a monopthong ("pure", unelisioned sound), while in other dialects it has a slight dipthong to it. The sounds "s" and "k" can be made in almost any lip position, but "oo" generally requires a pout. So, she's basically anticipating the "oo" by a few phonemes, and she gets away with it because "law" and "sch" can be pronounced with pouted lips.

  • Thanks! But how about "professor"? Is the last syllable like saw or sir?
    – Tim
    Jun 21 '11 at 15:54
  • 3
    @Tim: /ɹ/ can often be accompanied by labialization/lip-rounding in American English. Though this is generally done word-initially, the /ɹ/ is between two vowels in this particular example, so it can take on an ambisyllabic quality.
    – Kosmonaut
    Jun 21 '11 at 16:15
  • @Kosmonaut, Just when I think I'm starting to learn things, you come in here and remind me I don't even know how my own language works yet. I mean, thanks :)
    – aedia λ
    Jun 21 '11 at 16:25
  • @aedia, I might be even worse off. I had no idea that some people pronounce 'cot' and 'caught' differently from each other. I just assumed that whatever accent they spoke with would leave the two words sounding exactly alike.
    – Ron Porter
    Jun 21 '11 at 16:47

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