2

As I am a foreigner, I have great difficulty differentiating the sounds /æ/ and /e/ . When spoken softly, it becomes almost impossible for me to discern the sounds. Such as this one from movie Inception at 2:06 (...Saito knows. He's playing with us. Dicaprio: It doesn't "MATTER".)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D659PzLQDKk

Matter here almost sounds like "MEtter". As such, I am frustrated by such hardship.

Are /æ/ and /e/ always distinguished when spoken? I always make sure that I emphasize the vowel sound when I speak so as to achieve the best clarity I possibly can. However, it seems that when native speakers speak, the difference becomes extremely subtle or just indistinguishable. Is it only me? And if so, what should I do to attain the ability to hear such difference?

  • 2
    It's probably the influence of your first language. They're fairly close vowels, but native English speakers can distinguish them most of the time. – Peter Shor Jun 5 '16 at 1:49
  • Is the one in the video clear to you? – ohgodpleasegod Jun 5 '16 at 1:50
  • Hi ohgodpleasegod, welcome to ELU. The issue you raise isn't specific to English, it occurs in many other languages: most people speak lazily in their native tongue, not taking the care to use good diction, enunciate clearly, etc. Education, socio-economic status, ethnic background and geography are all strong influences on accent / pronunciation / diction. Two solutions are exposure (eg watching films from different English-speaking countries) and practice at discerning words based on context. But I assure you that even native speakers can struggle with understanding poor diction. – Reinstate Monica Jun 5 '16 at 2:46
  • As a native speaker of English I was confused at your title, these are very distinct sounds to me, and I imagine to most English speakers. /æ/ is a fairly English sound, and one that is less common worldwide . If your native language does not have it, it's no surprise you confuse it with other vowels. What is your native language? – Azor Ahai Jun 5 '16 at 7:59
  • 2
    The one in the video is fairly clear. Another thing ... there are a lot of dialects of English, and in several of them (New Zealand, Chicago) the vowel /æ/ moves into the vowel space of /ɛ/. This can confuse native speakers who aren't used to these dialects (although when we're visiting a region that speaks one of these dialects, we adapt after a while). – Peter Shor Jun 5 '16 at 13:04
0

Phonology works together with word sense and context. In your example, there is no need to mark /æ/ from /Ɛ/ much: "m æ tter" or "m Ɛ tter", the word sense remains the same. I do not mean to support unclear pronunciation. This is just how it happens (along with recording quality; in your example, I hear /æ/).

You would hear more difference, when the sounds are distinctive, i.e. make divergent word senses. Compare

afferent

http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/afferent

efferent

http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/efferent

The website has audio pronunciation.

I understand your language does not have /æ/. It sure has /a/ and /e/. Telling /æ/ comes easier when we can say it ourselves. Try saying /e/ and lowering your jaw, gradually, as for /a/. You should get /æ/, I've tried with students. :)

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.