American in Spain

Long and Short A's

September 16, 2006

I recently posed the following question to some family and friends via email...

I was just having a discussion with one of the other guys in my company, formerly known as "Mage", about how people mispronounced the company's name so that it rhymed with "badge".

Our theory is that for every four-letter word in American English that is in the form "?a?e", the "a" is long (pronounced "ay"). For instance: cage, maze, fate, tame, lake, ...

Can you think of a counter-example? Think about it during your idle brain cycles today. My closest attempt was "pí¢té", but that got disqualified for being French. Hard to believe there's an English pronunciation rule without an exception.

I'm proud to announce that we have a winner. Paul Nystrom has spent the past several years teaching English to Japanese high school students in Japan. If anyone knows the subtleties of proper pronunciation, it's someone teaching the language to foreigners.

Paul says that words like "hare" and its rhyming siblings ("bare", "care", "dare", etc.) are not pronounced with a long A. In pronunciation syntax, "sane" is "sān" (long A), but "care" is "cí¢r". There is a pronunciation guide proving his correctness here.

Good job, Paul. Too bad there wasn't any prize.

Although I got a correct answer to the question that I posed, my question, like many, was flawed. I was reasoning under the false assumption that a vowel is either long or short, without considering other í¢ whatchamathingies. The original hypothesis that there is no precedent for people to people mispronouncing "mage" so that it rhymes with "badge" (short A) is still not disproven. What the question should have been is:

Can you come up with any words in the (American) English language in the form "?a?e" where the A is short?

Any suggestions? Paul?