This is it!
I’ve finally found out everything about the “ash” sound in American English – and if you’ve also been wondering about the following problem:
Why is it that in some American English words the letter ‘A’ gets pronounced as [eə] despite the phonetic transcription describing it as [æ]?
… then you should definitely read the rest of this article and watch the video above!
Let’s take a very simple word such as “frank”, for example.
Any dictionary will tell you it’s pronounced as /fræŋk/ while in reality it’s to be pronounced as [freənk] – it’s almost as if the actual word is “frenk” instead of “frank”.
So, over the time I’d noticed that the “ash” sound [æ] is often pronounced as [eə] in American English, but I couldn’t figure out WHEN it’s happening – I mean, are the any RULES?
- I recorded the first video about it (watch it HERE) a year and a half ago – the conclusion was that you just have to learn which words are subject to the letter ‘A’ sound transformation.
- Another video followed a year later and the advice was – just gravitate toward the [eə] sound whenever possible and you won’t get it wrong! (It’s not actually such a bad piece of advice, by the way.)
- Then I recorded a video as a response to Greg’s comment where the main focus is on the word “family” – I pronounce it as [feəmli] whereas Greg sticks with [fæmli].
And then, when all hope was lost, I received a comment with a Wikipedia article link in – and it actually answers every question I’ve been having about the American “ash” sound ❗
HERE’s the Wiki article about Æ tensing – yes, turns out the technical term for this pronunciation transformation I’d been noticing is Æ tensing, and it also turns out there are definite rules to follow.
To put it simply, if the “ash” sound is followed by the following sounds: R, M and N, the letter ‘A’ is pronounced as [eə] in General American pronunciation – and it’s called Æ tensing.
Moreover, I found out in the same article that if you were to tense the “ash” sound at all times, it wouldn’t be so wrong either, because there are American accents – such as Chicago – were it’s tensed in all words. Turns out, I wasn’t so wrong advising you to do so in the second video!
But if you’re going to argue that if you were to do that, it wouldn’t be pure General American pronunciation, let me tell you this: if we, foreigners, manage to speak fluent English with an accent that sounds even 80% American, it doesn’t really matter whether it would be perceived as the General American, Boston or Chicago accent.
I’ve spoken about it previously – please check out this video HERE – but of course, it’s nice to finally be aware of the rules determining when the American “ash” sound becomes tense and try to get it right just like the General American.
Is it not?
And thanks so much for the eye-opening comment, Titi