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Here and hear/ Q. for native speakers
Thread poster: Lingua 5B

Lingua 5B  Identity Verified
Bosnia and Herzegovina
Local time: 17:11
English to Croatian
+ ...
Oct 25, 2010

Here is a question:

As a native speaker, what do you think is the difference in pronunciation between the verb "hear" and the adverb "here"? Do you even hear a difference?


I really don't understand why it's been transcribed identically by Merriam Webster:

Main Entry: hear
Pronunciation: \ˈhir\
Function: verb

1 here
adv \ˈhir\

I don't think they are quite identical in sound. I'm talking about these two words pronounced in isolation, and not in a specific context when they would be quite clear and distinguishable, based on a context.

What about hair and hare? Again, identical transcription in Merriam Webster's.

Your opinions please?


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Melissa Dedina  Identity Verified
Local time: 17:11
Czech to English
+ ...
I agree with MW! Oct 25, 2010

In my dialect, at least, both word pairs are pronounced exactly the same. Of course, we also don't distinguish between merry, marry and Mary (for example), though some other regions do. I don't know if there are any variants of English that do distinguish between hear and here or hair and hare.

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Christine Andersen  Identity Verified
Denmark
Local time: 17:11
Member (2003)
Danish to English
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Maybe a dialect thing, but Oct 25, 2010

I think British speakers with more or less standard pronunciation would say that Merriam Webster was right. (I.e. hear = here & hair = hare). I pronounce them that way.

It is an American dictionary though, so there is plenty of scope for regional variations which I would not dare try to explain.

On the British side, there are many different dialect pronunciations.
A totally exaggerated joke I heard about the Devonshire dialect was a sentence on the lines of:

Put yer yer yer, yer if yer can yer owt.
-- Put your ear her and hear if (=listen whether) you can hear anything.

Scots from some regions might have a spectrum reflecting the spelling.
Someone I know from Paisley might have a more closed e in ´I can hear it´s you´ than in ´You´re welcome to come here whenever you like.´

(Sorry, I am not going to try to spell her beautiful cream caramel accent!)
It might be a little more open, but still on the same spectrum in hair, and I am not sure what she would call a hare!

In West Yorkshire you might well find different vowels for all four - but I am no good at phonetics and not really familiar enough with the dialect either.

I lived for a short while in Birmingham, which was different again, and Liverpool Scouse would provide even further variants... As would Geordie from Durham and again on Tyneside.

So what the dictionary says and what you hear in real life may be quite different!



[Edited at 2010-10-25 13:14 GMT]


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Yasutomo Kanazawa  Identity Verified
Local time: 00:11
Member (2005)
English to Japanese
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What I learned in school was Oct 25, 2010

that the words mentioned are called homonyms, words which sound exactly the same but with a different spelling and a completely different meaning.

I'm not a native speaker so I cannot say much, but I still believe what I was taught in school.

FYI, my native Japanese language also has homonyms, ex. hashi, pronounced ha+she, meaning both a bridge, a tip (in the sense of edge) and a chopstick. We distinguish them by putting the accent on the last syllable or pronouncing the word without any accents.


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Lingua 5B  Identity Verified
Bosnia and Herzegovina
Local time: 17:11
English to Croatian
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Yes, but.. Oct 25, 2010

.. absolute synonymy ( on any level) doesn't exist.

Even homonyms will be different on the level of accentuation, pitch, etc ( even slightly), since they refer to different things ( two different semantic notions). And this should be marked within transcription brackets.

I agree, dialects have a lot to do with it. Good points made, Christine.

[Edited at 2010-10-25 13:39 GMT]


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Neil Coffey  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 16:11
French to English
+ ...
Homonyms in British English at least? Oct 25, 2010

In standard British English (and actually I think all dialects I'm aware of), "here" and "hear" are homonyms. Said in isolation, there is no pronunciation feature specific to these words that differentiates them.

Lingua 5B wrote:
Even homonyms will be different on the level of accentuation, pitch, etc ( even slightly), since they refer to different things ( two different semantic notions). And this should be marked within transcription brackets.


I suspect this is generally true, but... the point that the dictionary is making is that there is no feature inherent to these particular words that differentiates them by pronunciation. It may well turn out that in actual use, statistically "here" tends to have a higher pitch than "hear" (let's say, for the sake of argument). But to include this as defining feature of the pronunciation of the word, you'd need to show that it was an inherent feature of these specific words, and wasn't just an artefact of (say) 1-syllable adverbs/prepositions in a typical contexts always being said on a higher pitch than 1-syllable verbs in typical contexts.

Remember that a phonetic transcription is essentially an analysis. Like a map or technical drawing, the idea of a transcription isn't to put "as many details as possible" into the transcription, but rather to represent just those details which are relevant to your purpose. In the case of dictionary transcriptions, they are essentially fairly "broad" or "phonemic" transcriptions: i.e. they represent pronunciations just in terms of those "building blocks" that can specifically be used to differentiate words.


[Edited at 2010-10-25 14:15 GMT]


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Angela Dickson  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 16:11
French to English
+ ...
Homonymy & transcription Oct 25, 2010

Lingua 5B wrote:

.. absolute synonymy ( on any level) doesn't exist.

Even homonyms will be different on the level of accentuation, pitch, etc ( even slightly), since they refer to different things ( two different semantic notions). And this should be marked within transcription brackets.


I don't see what synonymy has to do with this.

Any transcription in a dictionary is necessarily a simplification - even a very narrow IPA transcription of a particular instance of speech is a simplification of sorts, as the symbols of the IPA are only correlates of what the speech organs are assumed to be doing.

In my dialect (southern English), "hair" and "hare" generally sound the same, as do "here" and "hear". There may be slight differences when the words are used in context, as there always will, as speech sounds do change depending on the nature of adjacent sounds. But it wouldn't be possible to capture these in a dictionary transcription.

I don't think your assertion about homonyms is true. I contend that there *are* true homonyms in English.


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Lingua 5B  Identity Verified
Bosnia and Herzegovina
Local time: 17:11
English to Croatian
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
To Neil: Specifics of the English language Oct 25, 2010

In my language, homonyms are spelled identically. Sometimes there's an accent added above a specific vowel, as a distinguishing feature, but not always.

It's the English spelling ( different spelling) that always implies, even a slightly, different pronunciation. And I always thought the "here" contained a diphthong; diphthong should be a very basic transcription feature, nothing overly analytical or detailed.

Anyway, that's why I asked for your opinions; it's always useful to share a piece of information.

Thanks all and keep posting.

[Edited at 2010-10-25 14:25 GMT]


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Lingua 5B  Identity Verified
Bosnia and Herzegovina
Local time: 17:11
English to Croatian
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TOPIC STARTER
Phonetic. Oct 25, 2010

[quote]Angela Dickson wrote:

Lingua 5B wrote:



I don't see what synonymy has to do with this.


phonetic synonymy, not semantic. That's why I put synonymy ( on any level), you may wanna re-read it.

Btw, Angela, good points about different phonetic realizations in different surroundings. That's why I presumed pronouncing these words in isolation, as a basis for this discussion.

[Edited at 2010-10-25 14:31 GMT]


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Angela Dickson  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 16:11
French to English
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I repeat Oct 25, 2010

Lingua 5B wrote:

It's the English spelling ( different spelling) that always implies, even a slightly, different pronunciation. And I always thought the "here" contained a diphthong; diphthong should be a very basic transcription feature, nothing overly analytical or detailed.


To me it is slightly diphthongised, but the transcription is American so doesn't reflect my dialect (I don't have the final "r" at all). I do pronounce "here" and "hear" in exactly the same way, though, regardless of the fact that they're spelled differently.

Homonyms are an annoying feature of English, but somehow we manage, mostly because words that become homonyms aren't often used in the same context as each other.

phonetic synonymy, not semantic. That's why I put synonymy ( on any level), you may wanna re-read it.


Synonymy is about meaning. There is certainly a commonly-held view that true synonymy doesn't exist, but this has nothing at all to do with pronunciation.

[Edited at 2010-10-25 14:55 GMT]


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Neil Coffey  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 16:11
French to English
+ ...
Transcription system/analysis Oct 25, 2010

Lingua 5B wrote:
It's the English spelling ( different spelling) that always implies, even a slightly, different pronunciation.


Pronunciation differences in the sense of ones that differentiate words are categorical, not gradient. There's really no such concept as taking one word and, say, "making the vowel slightly longer" or "making the vowel slightly breathier" or other changes that aren't essentially phoneme changes and then turning that word, consistently, into another word because of that change.

[It wouldn't surprise me to learn of some occasional exceptions to this in some language somwhere, at least in paralinguistic uses such as onomatopoeia, though I can't think of such an example off the top of my head.]

Lingua 5B wrote:
And I always thought the "here" contained a diphthong; diphthong should be a very basic transcription feature, nothing overly analytical or detailed.


Well, that's an arbitrary decision on the part of the dictionary editors.

In this case, it looks like they've chosen to transcribe as /ir/ what is effectively a dipthong on a phonetic level (and indeed without any 'r' sound as such in many dialects, including many British pronunciations).

I think their analysis is something like this: they're analysing that in /ir/, the /r/ is genuinely an "r-sound", and analysing that it's then irrelevant to transcribe the /i/ as a diphthong, because there is no case in English where two words would be differentiated based on whether or not the /i/ is diphthongised or not before an /r/. In my dialect of English, I would probably analyse things differently, and say that in "here", I have no /r/ at all. So in a transcription system more suitable to my British dialect vs Merriam Webster's system, "tier" and "tea" and "here" and "he" would be transcribed as follows (the second transcription is the MW system in each case):

tier /tɪə/ /tir/
tea /ti/ /ti/
here /hɪə/ /hir/
he /hi/ /hi/

(NB: in reality, /i/ as in "tea" and indeed most vowels of English is actually diphthongised slightly, but we transcribe as though the diphongisation is not a "characteristic differentiating feature" of this vowel.)


[Edited at 2010-10-25 14:54 GMT]


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Lingua 5B  Identity Verified
Bosnia and Herzegovina
Local time: 17:11
English to Croatian
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
I see, thanks. Oct 25, 2010

Neil Coffey wrote:

(NB: in reality, /i/ as in "tea" and indeed most vowels of English is actually diphthongised slightly, but we transcribe as though the diphongisation is not a "characteristic differentiating feature" of this vowel.)


[Edited at 2010-10-25 14:54 GMT]


I have always been presented with phonetic material addressed at non-native speakers, perhaps that's why we always had them clearly diphthongised ( to get used to diphthongisation where necessary, whereas it's automatic to native speakers).

More on homonyms in English:

may( verb) and May ( month) are spelled ( disregarding the capitalization) and pronounced identically, so you have two types of homonymes? This is clearly a different case to hear and here which are spelled differently.


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Angela Dickson  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 16:11
French to English
+ ...
Homonyms Oct 25, 2010

Lingua 5B wrote:

More on homonyms in English:

may( verb) and May ( month) are spelled ( disregarding the capitalization) and pronounced identically, so you have two types of homonymes? This is clearly a different case to hear and here which are spelled differently.


I think we haven't distinguished clearly enough between the strict sense of "homonym", i.e. words that are both homographs and homophones (written the same and sound the same, like your May/may example) and the looser sense in which I was using it, and in which it is often used; I should more properly have written "homophone" (i.e. words that are pronounced the same, regardless of spelling).

As we don't have phonetic spelling in English, we can have both true homonyms such as "left" (in the sense "opposite of right" and "preterite of leave"), and pairs of homophones such as "here" and "hear".


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Neil Coffey  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 16:11
French to English
+ ...
'homonym'/'homophone'/'homograph' Oct 25, 2010

Lingua 5B wrote:
may( verb) and May ( month) are spelled ( disregarding the capitalization) and pronounced identically, so you have two types of homonymes? This is clearly a different case to hear and here which are spelled differently.


Yes, as Angela points out if you really really want to make the distinction between the two cases, you can use the term "homophone" to denote speficially similarity of sound (or rather, identical phoneme sequence).

In all honesty, I'm not sure that the distinction between the two cases is linguistically terribly interesting most of the time, though. In a sentence such as "'left' and 'left' are homonyms", or "'hear' and 'here' are homonyms", it's kind of obvious whether or not they're homographs, and it's not clear that your brain really makes a distinction between the two types of cases in terms of how you process language.

[Edited at 2010-10-25 16:35 GMT]


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Christine Andersen  Identity Verified
Denmark
Local time: 17:11
Member (2003)
Danish to English
+ ...
English is a highly composite language Oct 25, 2010

The erratic English spelling reflects to some extent the way the language is descended from many different languages, and probably even dialects of those. While the Vikings from Norway and Denmark, who left their mark on many dialects, could probably understand each other quite well - and their descendants can today with some practice - there were probably variations even then in the language spoken over such a wide area.

Words coming from the south - Latin, directly or via French, and the Germanic and Celtic languages and others have all been absorbed into English.

When spelling began to be standardised, Dutch printers also left their mark on the spelling, as earlier Dutchmen had no doubt also contributed to the language.

There was a vowel change too - many of Shakespeare's rhymes do not rhyme for modern speakers - but the spellings have sometimes remained the same, or not changed in the same way as the pronunciation.

I have a small book on dialects - (Peter Trudgill - The Dialects of England) - which even gives examples from East Anglia of a dialect where here and hair are the same - and according to this, people in Norfolk are known to drink bare on Yarmouth Pare (in standard spelling beer on Yarmouth Pier...)

Apparently in that region the vowels in here and there are the same (and written similarly after all). I prononce there to rhyme with hair, pair - and pear, the fruit, just to add to the confusion!

Where spelling and pronunciation are closely related, the written language has a stabilising effect on pronunciation. In other languages, the spelling only reflects one dialect - and in English it reflects different dialects at different times...

There never has been a single standard pronunciation of English, and for the foreseeable future, there never will be!

However, there are certain dialects that are considered more correct than others - in Britain called Received Pronunciation, BBC English, the Queen's English (maybe slightly old fashioned, but still understandable!) and Southern English, Oxford English or Estuary English... with different connotations.

In American English too, some forms are considered more correct than others, although the spectrum is even wider.
And I have not touched on all the other varieties that I know exist, but know very little about!

The dictionaries try to give the pronunciation from these ´correct´ dialects to cut the confusion to a minimum, but as others have explained, they cannot give all the subtleties.

Don't worry if you are confused - the natives are sometimes confused too!



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