Literal-Minded

Linguistic commentary from a guy who takes things too literally

Doug and Adam Say Peyton

Posted by Neal on February 15, 2010

A couple of posts back, I wrote about my pronunciation of Peyton and similar words. My ordinary pronunciation, you may recall, was [pʰejʔtn] or [pʰejʔn], illustrated in the spectrogram below:

My ordinary pronunciation of Peyton

(Sound file: My normal pronunciation of Peyton)

My wife says it the same way. Here’s a spectrogram of her saying Peyton; note the 75nmilliseconds of silence, highlighted in orange, where she has a glottal stop:

My wife's pronunciation of Peyton

I discussed two other pronunciations as well, which I called the careful pronunciation and the weird pronunciation. Commenter Dw said:

Another possible pronunciation in words like “Peyton” is an alveolar stop with nasal release (in IPA, [pʰejtn]). That is the one I myself would most likely use in normal conversation. One could easily imagine it becoming [pʰejʔn] over the generations.

In other words, my only pronunciations where the final vowel dropped out and the final [n] became syllabic also had the insertion of the glottal stop [ʔ]. Dw is pointing out that you don’t have to insert a [ʔ] in order for that to happen. I responded to Dw:

Funny you should mention this other pronunciation. … Despite this physical possibility, I’d still thought that only people who inserted the glottal stop did the syllabic [n] … until I learned someone very close to me was an exception.

I promised a follow-up, and here it is. Take a look at Doug’s pronunciation of Peyton below. When I recorded him saying it, it sounded like he was pronouncing it the same way as I did. But when I created a spectrogram for it, I was in for a surprise:

Doug's pronunciation of Peyton

(Sound file: Doug’s pronunciation of Peyton)

As best I can tell, the ey and syllabic [n] parts are as labeled, leaving only the teeny little sliver of silence between them. I think this is where he says his [t]. In any case, there’s definitely no stretch of silence corresponding to a glottal stop like there is in my and my wife’s spectrograms. Once I realized this, I wanted to get a recording of Adam, too, to find out if his pronunciation was more like Doug’s, or my wife’s and mine. Here’s a spectrogram of Adam saying Peyton:

Adam's pronunciation of Peyton

(Sound file: Adam’s pronunciation of Peyton)

Adam’s spectrogram is even harder to read than Doug’s. There doesn’t quite seem to be an area of silence, so I’ve made my best guess at where his [t] is. But as with Doug’s spectrogram, one thing is clear: There’s no glottal stop in there.

So is it coincidence that the two adults in my house insert a glottal stop in Peyton and the two kids don’t? Is Doug and Adam’s pronunciation like those of their peers? What about when they pronounce pate? So many questions…

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18 Responses to “Doug and Adam Say Peyton

  1. Herb said

    Certainly there will be differences in pronunciation between parents and children, and even among children in the same household. We live in Muncie, IN, a town split between Southern Midlands and Northern Midlands. The north side is Northern Midlands with a sizable Northern population, including my wife and me. Until 1988, there were three high schools, North, Central, and South, which corresponded roughly to the major US dialect areas, if you replace Central with Midlands. Northside High closed in 1988, the year our oldest graduated. He does not have the low back vowel merger. Our other two children attended Central and both have the low back merger.

    Herb

  2. The Ridger said

    I think kids are always more like their peers than their parents – and in more than just pronunciation. Now you need to record their friends!

  3. For what it’s worth, here’s mine:

    It seems to distinctly be a glottal stop, but it’s shorter than yours and your wife’s. I don’t know if that’s a geographical thing or an age thing (I’m 21), but there you are.

  4. That’s pretty interesting. I remember reading somewhere that /ʔn/ is the conservative realization of /t(ə)n/ and that /t̚n/ is becoming the standard. The /t̚/ sounds like a glottal stop, but it’s not.

    In my speech, the “stop” sound in /t̚n/ gets produced when my tongue touches the alveolar ridge, but not before that :)

    Did you compare your “kitten”, “mitten”, etc. with theirs yet?

  5. Dw said

    This is interesting to me because I have an English accent (although it has
    been modified by my living in the US for over a decade) and I (and probably most English people) would normally think of the glottal-free pronunciation (which is my usual realization) as more “conservative” than the glottal stop.

    Plus ca change…

  6. Are we talking about the same thing? I’m confused ;)
    AFAIK, there are three “common” realizations of /t(ə)n/ :

    /t(ə)n/ Clear T (stilted, much?)

    /ʔn/ Glottal stop (your tongue touches the ridge only for the N)

    /t̚n/ Your tongue touches the alveolar ridge for the T, but it doesn’t pull back. The unreleased T is coarticulated with a quick, audible glottal stop. After that you give it a nasal release. So, if I wanted to be really accurate, I’d transcribe it /t̚͜ʔⁿ/

  7. Dw said

    @English teacher online:

    In /tn/, there is velar activity involved in the nasal release. My guess is that you’re confusing this with a true glottal stop.

    • Dw said

      In addition, an alveolar stop (whether released or not) coarticulated with a glottal stop would be acoustically identical to a simple glottal stop.

  8. No, I’m 100% sure it’s a glottal stop. I can hold it, pull my tongue away from the alveolar ridge while doing this and even open my mouth real wide. There’s no airflow whatsoever.

    • Dw said

      If that is really what you’re doing then, as I point out above, the acoustical result would be identical to a simple glottal stop — i.e. /?n/. If the airstream is blocked at the glottis then it can’t reach the tongue at the alveolar ridge.

      It’s definitely not the same as /tn/, which is a true alveolar stop with nasal release and no glottal blockage.

      • Right… Did you even read the original post? The acoustical result is the same (obviously!!) that’s why Neal was surprised to find out that his glottal stops are different from the sounds that his sons make, which happen to sound just like his glottal stops, but aren’t really the same.

      • Dw said

        Umm — no! The spectrograms were different, which must mean there is an acoustic distinction between them.

  9. Umm – yes! My spectro for “Peyton” matches Adam’s perfectly.

    • Dw said

      Two sounds that have different spectrograms are, by definition, acoustically different. I think that Neal is saying that they sounded the same _to him_, but that comparison of the spectrograms revealed an acoustic distinction that he hadn’t perceived before.

      • ETO said

        OK, so if you’re saying that my “peyton” /tn/ shouldn’t be acoustically different from Neal’s based on how I described it, how do you explain the fact that it is?

        I think that what I described makes perfect sense. A normal glottal stop simply has to be longer because your tongue needs to go up to the alveolar position to start making the /n/ sound (which actually takes longer than it would seem). With what I normally do, the tongue’s already there and the /n/ is just released as you cut off the glottal stop.

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