David Madore's WebLog: A poll on the pronunciation of English vowels

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(Monday)

A poll on the pronunciation of English vowels

Here is an online poll on the pronunciation of English vowels. It consists of 40 pairs of words (like pin / pen), in no particular order, and for each pair, the question is whether you pronounce them identically or not. For example, if shown make / cake you would hopefully say they are not pronounced identically, whereas if shown know / no you would presumably say that they are (these are examples with consonants, but my poll is essentially concerned with vowels). If you are unfamiliar with one of the words or don't know how to pronounce it, answer don't know; but if you aren't sure whether they are identical, choose unclear / varies.

(The point of this not-at-all-scientific experiment is to gain some insight into (a) how much we are influenced by the written form of a word into how we think it is pronounced, and (b) how well English pronunciation is taught to foreigners, especially in France, and what vowel distinctions they uphold — or think they do.)

I am interested in answers from native and non-native speakers alike. Note that there generally isn't any “correct” answer: many of these pairs are a shibboleth for some particular kind of merger or split, some are for confirmation. There are a few pairs which I expect no (or almost no?) native speakers tell apart, and a few which I expect all (or almost all?) do. So maybe some questions will seem like they're “easy” or “hard”, but this is really meaningless.

Once I declare the poll over (which I will do when the number of responses received stabilizes), I will publish the answers together with “expected” answers for some reference pronunciations, comments on why I included this or that particular pair, and comments on the answers I actually received (hopefully from both natives and non-natives if I get enough of both for some sort of statistical relevancy to kick in).

Anyway, please don't hesitate to share.

Update: results are here.

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