On Wed, 2003-07-02 at 21:40, Christophe Grandsire wrote:
> I don't think the number of vowels is the problem. The problem is more the
> quality of those vowels.

Not that native speakers agree on the quality of them. /&/ may be
anything from half-way between [e] and [E] to [a] (in my
experience---I've heard tell of American dialects that make it [I@], but
never heard them).

((When languages split up, is the first thing to diverge generally
pronunciation, or is that just a feature of the English being first a
written language and only secondarily a spoken one? (Of course, there
are exceptions, with individual words and such, but grammatically the
dialects don't seem to me to be very much different.)))

> For instance, for French people /&/ (that's
> supposed to be the ae-ligature) and /V/ are very difficult to recognise (it
> took me years to recognise them). /I/ and /U/ are also problematic (it took
> me more than ten years to realise /I/ was different from /i/ - until then I
> wondered why English dictionaries used this symbol in their phonetic
> descriptions -, and I still don't know which words have /u/ and which words
> have /U/ - is "book" /buk/ or /bUk/ for instance? I still don't know! -).

It's /U/. (As is book, hook, sook, nook, chook (chicken), look, foot and

I think as a generalisation, if it's in a syllable closed by /k/, /g/
and sometimes /t/ and /d/, it's probably going to be /U/. This rule does
not apply when there's a /j/ (or former /j/ that was lost regularly)
before it, though. (So it does apply in 'sugar' /SUg@(r)/, where the /j/
was lost irregularly, but does not apply in 'suit' /s(j)u:t/, where the
/j/ has often been lost regularly).)

Unfortunately, that's one that can't be reliable, because there are
people who use the short/lax vowel in room, roof, whereas I don't... And
exceptions, such as 'spook', will always be around to defy me.

(To me, the American/British value of the vowel in 'book' often sounds
like [Y], but I've been assured that Americans do say [U], which leads
me to suspect that I probably say [u]. Some British pronunciations sound
more like [2] or [8].)