What kind of feeling do you register when you pronounce ɜː in 'bird' and æ in 'fat'? 日本語にはない二種類の母音を発音するときどんな気持ちになりますか?

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Jul 31, 2011 05:09 pronunciation
What kind of feeling do you register when you pronounce or listen to the ɜː sound in 'bird' and the æ sound in 'fat'?

I bet you say, 'Nothing particularly. What a bizarre question it is!" But for me, as a Japanese speaker, these vowel sounds don't sound neutral.

As you may know from lots of Japanese manga books, Japanese language is full of onomatopoeia. We have developed some sort of associations between sounds of words and many qualities such as colour, texture, movement etc. We often make up new onomatopoeia but they are often easily understood by others, further implying a shared set of auditory associations. Moreover, Japanese is vowel-rich language. Perhaps we're more sensitive to nuances of vowel sounds than consonant sounds. The two English vowels don't exist in Japanese. That is, they're unusual sounds. Naturally, they could be associated with something unusual.

The ɜː in 'bird' sounds like something disgusting, unpleasant, unwelcome or scornful. If I suddenly produce the ɜː sound during a conversation in Japanese, it might be mildly offensive or rude.

The æ in 'fat' sounds like something violent, aggressive or energetic, especially when it is stressed. Just like what the word 'bang' means, the stressed æ sound itself is associated with those qualities in my head.

The word 'Japan' contains the stressed æ sound followed by the very plosive consonant p, so 'Japan' sounds fairly violent or energetic, which could be in a good contrast to what the sounds of words 'Nihon' and 'Nippon' in Japanese are associated with.

Then, are these associations only for me?

Interestingly, I often encounters English words which contain ɜː and æ sounds and mean something connected with above mentioned rather negative qualities. This could be just my imagination. Since I associate those sounds with those qualities, I may tend to spot words with those qualities more vividly. So I'm waiting for your response from the view (or listening?) point of native English speakers.



The words in the following lists are NOT randomly chosen. There are lots of 'positive' or 'neutral' words which contain either one of the two vowel sounds. Still I cannot help thinking that a good proportion of the words share some sort of 'negative' or 'unusual' qualities.

Words containing the ɜː sound in 'bird'

absurd
alert
blur
burn
burp
burst
burden
controversial
curfew
curl
curt
dirty
disturb
flirt
hurl
hurt
incur
inert
lurch
lurk
murder
murky
murmur
perturb
pervert
purge
purr
quirk
smirk
sea urchin
slurp
usurp
whirl
worm
worse
worst



Words containing the æ sound in 'fat'

abandoned
adamant
action
adamant
adversary
agonize
algae
alas
allergy
anecdote
anger
angry
anguish
arrogant
attack
audacity
bad
baffle
bang
barrage
battered
blasphemy
.....