Can somebody tell me when the sounds 'schwa' and /æ/ are used in the following tongue twister:

Can you can a can as a canner can can a can.

  • What does a dictionary tell you? – Glorfindel Apr 26 '17 at 6:40
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    When I pronounce the sentence all the "cans" sound the same to me. Of course, they might sound different others, plus I might pronounce "can" differently in other contexts (or when I'm not observing myself). – Hot Licks May 25 '17 at 22:38
  • They are all unreduced /æ/ in that sentence. That's part of what makes it a tongue twister, although I think it must be one of the easiest tongue twisters around. – Arm the good guys in America May 26 '17 at 6:01
  • (Of course, I doubt that I could do the Can Can.) – Hot Licks Apr 18 at 20:16

The short answer is that the modal "can" is optionally, and often, reduced from [kʰæn] to [kʰən] when it is not being emphasised.

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  • So you are saying that "can" can rhyme with "bun"? – Cascabel Apr 25 '17 at 17:58
  • No, since "bun" is pronounced [bʌn] or, more likely, [bɐn] (at least in most dialects of English, though in mine it happens to be [bʊn]). It's like the reduction of "to" from [tʰuː] to [tʰə]. – Miztli Apr 25 '17 at 18:02
  • Unstressed "can" often rhymes with unstressed "been". It's more like c'n. – Hellion Apr 25 '17 at 18:04
  • Unstressed "can" doesn't rhyme with unstressed "been" in most dialects since the former is pronounced [kʰən], the latter [bɪn] (though there might well be dialects where they do in fact rhyme). – Miztli Apr 25 '17 at 18:06
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    There are definitely American dialects where unstressed can rhymes with unstressed been, and I think they are quite common. Many dialects that don't have the weak vowel merger reduce /æ/ to /ɪ/. – Peter Shor Apr 25 '17 at 18:43

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