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Hi,
this is a weird question.
I once discovered that syllable are important for pronunciation. For example, Merriam Webster says that coolish is coo-lish, not cool-ish. The reason must be that in coo-lish, the L is put at the beginning of the following syllable so that it's clear it's not as dark as an L at the end of a syllable.
I like Webster's transcriptions, they seem very precise to me. No other dictionary is as precise as MW (I am sure because I've tried every dictionary on earth, LOL).

Now, I've noticed some things in MW. First, I have to say that I pronounce a tense a (as in cat) before M or N differently. So pat and pan have different vowels. So every time I see an- or am- in Webster's transcriptions, I change the vowel to the one in pan. The problem is sometimes they move the M or N to the next syllable, so it's not together with the tense a in the same syllable. The question is: does that mean I should pronounce it as in cat even if it's followed by an M or N, just because they are not part of the same syllable?

Example:
Amplify -> am-plih-fy (the syllable is am, so that a is like the one in pan for me)
Ammeter -> a-meter (MW doesn't give am-eat-ur as a trancription, it says a-meter. Does this mean I have to pronounce that a as in cat, and so amplify and ammeter don't start with the same vowel?)

Thanks. Emotion: smile
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Hi Kooyeen,

Sounds like a good question for CJ. I haven't been to MW but plan to go. Mr. M got me some information there which I'd been unable to find elsewhere. I gather from your examples they use what I've heard called phonetic spelling, rather than the phonetic symbols I've seen on this site, and in my own American Heritage, which I like.

I usually consult for accent, or stress marks, which sometimes turn out to be regional. The syllable break points are useful when you need to break a word at the end of a typed line. You've pointed out what I'd consider some very fine distinctions. How do they treat double consonants, as in pat-tern? I guess the phonetic spelling doesn't have to resemble the actual spelling.

Your coo-lish example calls to mind choral group singing, in which we struggle to retain the open vowels til the last possible instant, and always stick the consonants and dipthongs on the next [note] syllable. Since we almost always elide the syllables together in speaking, I expect only the most serious students would be interested in whether a letter goes at the end of one syllable or the beginning of the next one. (I guess it's important in understanding where the stress falls.)

I believe you're saying your different treatment of pam and pan is not necessarily echoed by MW. And you wonder if you should pronounce the a in pa-nache' differently than the a in pan'-da. My dictionary says you should, but it gives different symbols.

I'd suggest searching for specific examples to see if MW actually answers your question for you. I don't think the a-meter example is a good one. Obviously you can't say meter in one syllable. There's something curious about that format. I'd certainly say amplify and ammeter the same way, especially since the accent falls on the first syllable.

Best wishes, - A.

Edit. Oh @?#&$ ! I misinterpreted "before M or N differently." Is that logical and, or what? Sorry.

P.S. My dictionary lists only five pam/n's with a syllable break after the a. All stress the second syllable and pronounce the a as in about. One is a biological term and the rest are foreign. All the others pronounce a as in pat. Ammeter breaks between the m's, stresses the first syllable, and pronounces a as in pat. Your MW ammeter seems to be an anomaly.

If you choose to pronounce pat and pam differently, why would you let a change in the syllable break stand in your way? I guess it's like asking a cop for advice on when you should break the law.
Hi Avangi,
it's pretty complicated, I'll try to explain it better. I'll use an equivalent phonetic transcription to avoid IPA, because I heard not everyone can see the symbols.

MW breaks the words into syllables in phonetic transcriptions according to how the words would be pronounced syllable by syllable, unlike many other dictionaries I have seen. Its transcriptions are different from all the others, and they seem much more accurate to me. A little example... Situation:
sich-oo-ay-shun --> American Heritage, Longman Dictionary of C. E., Oxford Advanced Learner D., etc.
sih-chuh-way-shun -> Merriam Webster
I believe MW's transcriptions are more like what a native speaker would say if they had to pronounce words very slowly and break them into basic syllables and sounds.

Let's go on. MW doesn't say coolish is cool-ish. It's actually coo-lish. That's true. When you say coolish, you don't say cool and then add ish. The L would be too dark.
Now, the fact is that I change the pronunciation of a as in cat before M, N, and the "NG" sound. I also change it before R. So I say Loss Ehuhn-guh-liss... Pair-ihs...
So the question is: are there any cases where I should not change that vowel? Should I say am-eater or a-meter?

PS: I suspect I shouldn't consider that distinction in MW. I just checked some words, and they say parrot can be pair-uht or pa-rut (ok, I only say pair-uht), but Paris is only pa-ris (???). I say Pair-is, and it is said that way in the audio clip too. So I guess I should always change the sound of my tense a in front of N, M, NG, and R.

And I just found another two examples: mammal and parametric. MW says ma-mul and pa-ruh-meh-trik. Does that mean I should pronounce the a in mammal as the one in cat and not the one in pam? Does that mean I don't have to say pair-uh-meh-trik, but I should use the a in cat? There you go, these are good examples of what I was asking about.
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Hi Kooyeen,

I'm too tired to think right now but I'll get back to you. Does MW provide both IPA and EPT (equivalent phonetic transcription)? Do you find them truly equivalent? Can you give me a link? Do you really think if you stopped a native speaker on the street and asked him to say a word slowly with breaks between the syllables he'd do it twice in a row the same? Can you study the motion of a spinning top by stopping it? [as they say]

Later, - A.
KooyeenHi,

this is a weird question.

I'm back.

I agree that from the few examples you've shown, MW's phonic renderings are by comparison more natural. For one thing they're more singable, which is to say each syllable leaves you with a singable sound on which you may dwell until you're ready to proceed to the next syllable.

(sih-chuh-way-shun rather than sich-chuh-way-shun.) (It's totally rediculous to think anyone would pronounce two ch's in a row! - cha! cha! cha!)

I know nothing of dark L, but I've heard the expression It's dark as 'ell!

Again, I have to question your motive. In English, pat and pan have the same vowel - a fact I presume MW endorses. You choose to pronounce pan differently for personal reasons. Why should the syllable break change that? Whatever the test is that justifies changing the a in pan, apply that same test to the a in mammal, and make your decision.

You've said you make a similar change when the a is followed by r. You've said that MW endorses your change as an option. (standard a - pa-rut; your a - pair-uht)

I'm sure you noticed that the change to your sound is accompanied by a shift of the r back to the first syllable. You might say this model solves your dilemma. In ma-mul, for example, if you want to use your special a, simply move the m back to the first syllable and your problem disappears: (mam-uhl).

But so far you've neglected to give us a phonetic rendering of how you pronounce pan and how you might pronounce mammal if you retained your special a. Is it like the a in pair-uht?

Best wishes, - A.

Hi,
sorry, I should have looked up more words in MW before. I just realized that I probably must not pay attention to that distinction. So, the fact that they separate a sound from what follows doesn't affect the way it is usually pronunced when followed by a particular sound. So a tense a + n, m, or ng is always more or less the same, and the same is true for tense a + r.
What made me realize it? The fact that they write a-nih-mul and ca-nuh-duh. I think I usually hear (and say) those with a different a, not the one in cat.
If you wanted to know what I was talking about (pan - pat), I hope you can read IPA:

PAT = pæt.
PAN = peən, or pɛən.

So I say kɛənədə... and I guess I should say ɛəmitər, and not æmitər.

BTW, that pat-pan difference is very common in almost all varieties of American English. Or at least it seems so to me.
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Hi Kooyeen,

Noah Webster was an American. It's ironic that his successors (as well as my American Heritage) fail to pick up on "that pat-pan difference."

And yes, I take the position that separating am or an by a syllable break should not by itself effect the sound of the a. Bear in mind that in all the dictionary entries I've examined where the [pat a] is indicated in the first syllable, whether or not the m/n is moved to the far side of the break, it is always the first syllable that is stressed. In cases where the second syllable is stressed, the [about a] is used. (I assume this is not a tense a, and is therefore not pertinent to our discussion..)

Regards, - A.
AvangiHi Kooyeen,

Noah Webster was an American. It's ironic that his successors (as well as my American Heritage) fail to pick up on "that pat-pan difference.
Hi, dictionaries never give a lot possible pronunciations or dialectal pronunciations, and phonetic transcriptions are never really precise (they would be dificult to understand). For example, only Cambridge Advanced Learner's D. shows which T should be tapped in AmE, all the others (MW and American Heritage included) just use a simple T in the transctiptions. Also, no dictionary gives a possible pronunciation of Santa without the T, Sanna. But I say it that way, like a lot of people do. So I'm always afraid to trust dictionaries or books... In the end I end up asking here, to be sure, LOL. Emotion: wink
Anyway, what I was talking about was this, it's called a-tensing:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phonological_history_of_English_short_A#Non-phonemic_.C3.A6-tensing
They talk about a "nasal system". I tend to have that, even though I think I also tend to change the a in front of others sounds, maybe s and f, I think.
I also have an audio file where you can hear Santa pronounced with the a as in pan, and not in cat. And with no t either. That's how I would pronounce it:
Hey Santa! Santa! I made you cookies Santa! No thanks kid, Santa is not very hungry... Santa Claus clip