Can words like "bend" and "band" merge in AmEn? I always thought they should not but here's a confusing example: https://youtu.be/_C0mc7ZOMF4

To my ear this gentleman pronounces "bend" as [bɛənd] and it's even more apparently diphthongized in this sample than the way he says "band".

Or consider these AmEn pronunciation samples of the word "and": https://forvo.com/word/and/#en

I can't help hearing JerrySun's "and" as "end".

Are my observations correct or am I hearing things being a non-native speaker?

  • 1
    In many dialects, bandbend and bendbinned, resulting in the words bend and binned being homophones (commonly known as the pen-pin merger). – Peter Shor Jul 18 at 11:18
  • I don't hear any difference at all, but that doesn't mean much because it is easy to fool oneself knowing what the answer is supposed to be. Being a native speaker means having lots of different sounds recognized as the same but similarly making lots of distinctions where others don't. And this works between varieties (one person's rhyme is another's clunker. That said, diphthongizing [ɛ] -> [ɛə] seems characteristic of the 'Deep South' American accent, but the rest of the youtube voice doesn't sound southern to me. (this is a very small sample though) – Mitch Jul 18 at 12:21
  • I hear a difference between band and bend in the YouTube video, but they're not very different. And notice that the second and third pronunciations are just the first pronunciations elongated; I'm not sure whether anybody really draws these vowels out that long. – Peter Shor Jul 18 at 14:33
  • Strangely, I think that it was the British upper class that used to pronounce 'band' like 'bend' (few if any today). – Tuffy Jul 18 at 20:36

I don't think such a merger is common in general

Even though /æ/ and /ɛ/ tend to have similar realizations, I haven't read of a general merger between the vowels of bend and band being common in any natively spoken variety of English.

My understanding is that /æ/ generally has a longer duration than /ɛ/, and I think that this applies also to the raised allophone of /æ/ that appears before nasals, and that is often transcribed as [eə] or [ɛə].

As Peter Shor mentioned in a comment, some American English speakers merge /ɛn/ and /ɛm/ into /ɪn/ and /ɪm/, which would increase the difference between the pronunciations of band and bend.

Vowels in unstressed syllables are more likely to merge because of vowel reduction

The word and is a special case because it is usually unstressed and very often reduced to [ən] or [n̩]. Some American English speakers are known to pronounce /ən/ (e.g. in words like student and moment) in a way that sounds similar to /ɛn/ (see my answer to the Linguistics SE question "When should I use /ə/ or /ɪ/ and why does it seem like they're not used correctly?" for more details). For me, the words and and am are rarely pronounced with a fully unreduced [eə] sound; they are often reduced to [ən~n̩] and [m], and they might have partially reduced pronunciations that could sound like they have [ɛ].

  • Mergers are certainly possible in general terms, even if what's happening with bend and band here may well be different from what's happening in beg a bag o’ bagels. – tchrist Aug 11 at 14:14

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