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I'm attending a university course on spatial reasoning in computational systems. So the word spatial is often spoken here. The Germans in the course usually speak English slowly and more carefully so that I can hear an obvious difference between the two words spatial and special. But the English native speakers here, who talk a lot faster, don't seem to make a difference between the words.

Am I just unable to hear the difference because I'm not used to it or do they really make no difference?

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The only flavor of English in which special and spatial are homophones is in a rural, uneducated Inland/Mountain South accent which can be heard from southern Ohio through Kentucky, Tennessee, western North Carolina and into Arkansas and Texas.

Otherwise, special is pronounced with a short e as in DRESS and spatial with a long a as in FACE.

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