In online dictionaries, I can hear different pronunciations for different words with æ. Does a specific person pronounce all words with æ in a similar way or there can be a difference in pronunciation for different words for the same person? I'm interested in only American pronunciation now.

Here are several examples:

  • thanks - american pronunciation is more close to [ə] sound
  • cat - american pronunciation is more close to [ə] sound
  • hat - american pronunciation is more close to [ə] sound
  • flash - american pronunciation is more close to [a] sound
  • fact - american pronunciation is more close to [a] sound

If would one american speaker pronounce all words in this list than all of them were sound close to one sound (either [ə] sound or [a] sound)?

  • Of the lot, "thanks" has a pronunciation of the "a" that is farthest afield of the others.
    – Hot Licks
    Commented May 5, 2020 at 0:05
  • 3
    None of these are remotely close to /ə/. Mid-central vowel is the sound you here in "the". And yes, almost all (AmE native speaker) individuals will pronounce at least one of these words differently, but the differences will typically be minor, not enough to push the vowel phonetic to a different IPA classification. They're all /æ/ in American English.
    – R Mac
    Commented May 5, 2020 at 0:29
  • @R Mac the sound you here? Commented May 5, 2020 at 1:18
  • 1
    Words aren't spelled with æ. (At least not normally.) That's a symbol that denotes pronunciation. If everybody pronounced all words according to the same phonetic chart, then the answer would be yes. But people pronounce words differently all the time. And having many different words described in a dictionary as all having the same pronunciation is only a rough guideline. It doesn't apply to everybody, or to the same person for all of those words. In fact, I can pronounce the same word differently at different times and in different contexts. Commented May 5, 2020 at 1:57
  • 3
    I’m not sure who you’re listening to and what you’re hearing but as an AmE speaker I don’t know of any dialect of AmE that uses a schwa for any of the words you’ve listed: thanks, cat, hat, flash, fact. In fact the last could really get you into trouble if you used a schwa.
    – Jim
    Commented Jun 4, 2020 at 6:06

1 Answer 1

  • For all these TRAP/BATH words, the very widespread GenAmE accent has /æ/ (top row), for all your examples.
  • There are some American accents that do have what I think you're describing as /æ/ raising. This is most commonly found in the 'Northern Cities Vowel Shift' (note that this is an urban non-standard accent, and not widespread). It results in /æ/ sounding more like [ɛə] or [eə] or even [ɪə]. These are -higher-, where you seem to be hearing a lower vowel /a/ or /ə/. It could be that you are used to hearing an accent that has raising already and are noticing GenAmE speakers who do not have the raising.
  • Can one speaker pronounce different words with different /æ/ sounds (/æ/ raising and lower /æ/)?
    – Alexander
    Commented May 7, 2020 at 23:40

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