Learn English – Does æ differ or not (American English)


There is a Cambridge American English Dictionary web-site. I was checking pronunciation on some words that have a common sound "æ". Although the sound supposed to be the same, its pronunciation differs in my opinion. I splitted two groups based on how the words sound.

The web-site I used is http://dictionary.cambridge.org/us/dictionary/english.

The first is group:

that, capital, apple, have

The second one is:

cat, glass, grass, class

First question, does the sound really differ or it is me hearing it differently for some reason?

If it is different in the recordings, should that sound sound the same in all the words?

If it should sound the same, may it possibly differ in the recordings because they were taken from people living in different parts of America?



Here is my recording in which I read the words from the list by two ways:

1) the one I heard in an American English phonetics video and from a girl living in Minnesota.

2) the one I taught in school and heard from one guy living in Michigan that said that the first option is more Canadian or something.

Are they both possible ways of saying it and I can choose any? If not, what is most correct way of saying it? And please tell me what sounds I make in the terms of transcription. Thanks!

Best Answer

One will need to record and graph in some way the physical sound of each example to get a real understanding of how they may differ.

A person can hear some differences that really are not there. That is because of the way one's brain processes the sound. Hearing is a sense that is not always the same from one human to another.

Some "talking dictionaries" may not use the same sounds as other such dictionaries use.

You have divided these words into two groups based on how you hear a particular vowel being pronounced. I have no opinion as to how close the vowels were in the eight words cited; my brain tends to ignore small differences in vowels. However my brain does not ignore many differences in how a consonant is articulated by a sonant (vowel, although others have a different definition). I am sure other people process some sounds differently than I. There is, thankfully, some approximate agreement among most people as to what different sounds are. Not perfect agreement, though.

The bottom lime is that the "usual" pronunciation of any word is never more than "approximately" how it is usually sounded. And, a symbol (letter) used to indicate a sound NEVER indicates more than an approximation of how that symbol is sounded.