Sunday, February 04, 2007

'short e sound', 'long e sound'

Another indication that Will Shortz needs some clear way of describing sounds. Last week's puzzle, answered this morning on NPR, involved a famous person's name, one syllable names both first and last, where adding a 'short e sound' to the first and a 'long e sound' to the second would produce an ordinary English word. He pronounced 'e' like we normally call that letter, with the vowel of heat and heed. I couldn't begin to do it because I was entirely unsure what he meant by those vowel descriptions. Turns out, the answer was:
Al Gore
For me, and probably most Americans, that's [ə] and [i:]. For the first, I'll give you [ɨ] as a good possibility and the transcription of the second does vary, especially across subfields of linguistics, from phonetics to sociolinguistics.

I'm not asking him to learn the International Phonetic Alphabet (though it would be useful for him!), but he could at least do what linguists do to disambiguate: 'the vowel in the word heat', etc.

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