After hearing my students struggle with the difficult pronunciation of English “-ed” words (listen to the three different ending sounds of “cleanED,” “askED” and “acceptED” and you’ll know what I mean), the linguist in me decided to do an abridged version of my quarter-long university phonetics course. Below is the hyper-abridged version, and then I’ll make my point:
“Voiced” means that your vocal chords vibrate in order to make the sound, and “voiceless” means they don’t. (Touch your throat and do a ‘z’ sound to see.) Notice that your tongue and lips are in the exact same position to make the “p” and “b” sounds—the only difference is the vibration. Same goes for all the pairs in the two columns.
- If a word ends in a voiced sound, the -ed sounds like “d”
Cleaned=ending sound voiced “n”=CleanD
Bathed=ending sound voiced “th”=BathD
- If a word ends in a voiceless sound, the -ed sounds like “t”
Clapped=ending sound voiceless “p”=ClappT
Liked=ending sound voiceless “k”=LikT
- If a word ends in a vowel or a Y, the -ed sounds like “d”
Agreed=ending sound “e”=AgreeD
Cried=ending sound “i”=CrieD
- If a word ends in a “t” or “d,” the -ed sounds like “id”
Aided=ending sound “d”=AidID
Accepted=ending sound “t”=AcceptID
Still with me?? Congratulations, you have a greater attention span than 50% of my middle-schoolers.
After explaining all the rules and demanding that they share my same interest in linguistics (“Isn’t this fascinating?” I kept asking as they nodded off) we played a game to jazz things up. All the students stood in a line, and I put a word on the screen that every student attempted to pronounce correctly. We went down the line and whoever had the best pronunciation got a point.
It started off fine. I threw some easy ones out—
Then of course, they started to over think it. Does a voiced sound take a “t” or “d” ending? But if it’s spelled “-ed,” doesn’t that mean it’s pronounced “-ed?” or was it “et?” or “it?” (Maybe if ANY STUDENT HERE TOOK NOTES . . . but that’s a frustration for another post.) The lesson began to unwind, the rules jumbled, and in this inopportune time I tossed out the verb “begged.” Big mistake. The first student confused not only the ending pronunciation but the pronunciation of “beg” as well (she made it “big”), and the rest followed suit so as not to be the stand-alones who pronounced it differently. So one by one, down the line, I tried not to take it personally as they recited off to me:
“Bigot. Bigot. Bigot. Bigot. Bigot. Bigot. Bigot. Bigot. Bigot. Bigot.”
This is why pronunciation matters, people. Begged and bigot mean two very different things, and I hadn’t been called the latter even once in my life until Zorroza students said it 20 times consecutively, and unabashedly, to my face. Still nursing the wound.
We’re all familiar with the “Bitch/Beach” pronunciation. . . . any other great ones you’ve heard? I’d love to hear, in the comments below!