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The TRAP vowel

English has two vowels that can convey different words like 'bad' and 'bed'. How do these two vowels differ? Watch Laura Rupp explain more.
The TRAP-vowel. One of the short English vowels is the vowel that occurs in the word “trap.” We therefore call it the TRAP-vowel The TRAP-vowel can be used to convey a particular meaning, as in the minimal pairs, “head-had,” “beg-bag,” and “pen-pan.” In contrast, many other languages do not have the TRAP-vowel in their inventory. Therefore, speakers tend to substitute a vowel from their native language that is relatively close to TRAP– short “e” or short “a.” However, “head” is not “had”. Compared to “e,” TRAP is a more open vowel. And compared to “a”, TRAP is a closer vowel. The TRAP-vowel is the result of a language change that is known as the TRAP-BATH split.
As you can see from spelling, historically, all TRAP-words were pronounced with short /a/. For example, “trap,” “hand,” “bath,” “dance.” Speakers from the north of England still have this pronunciation. Thus, whenever you hear a Northerner say “trap,” “hand,” “bath,” “dance,” you now know that this is the way that these words were pronounced historically. However, in the southeast of England from the 17th century onwards, some of these words came
to be pronounced with TRAP: “trap,” “hand.” And some of these words came to be pronounced with the long vowel /ɑː/– “bath,” “dance.” Hence, the name TRAP-BATH split. In the United States, however, all of these words are pronounced with TRAP– thus “trap,” “hand,” “bath,” “dance.”

This video explains the history of the TRAP-vowel /æ/ and variation in its pronunciation between British English, American English and other English accents. By the end of the video, you will know how you want to pronounce it!

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English Pronunciation in a Global World

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