It takes an advanced lesson to handle a word like 'Seattle.'
Hi again, and welcome back to Seattle Learning Academy's American English pronunciation podcast. This is the 169th podcast by Seattle Learning Academy, which means that you've heard me say the word Seattle at least one hundred and sixty-nine times. Seattle is really a fun city name for me to say, and not just because I live here. When I say Seattle my tongue gets to move around and do some interesting things. This is because, linguistically speaking, Seattle has a lot of things going on.
Place names, or names of any sort, often do not follow phonetic patterns. Here in the Pacific Northwest, we have a lot of places with names based on original Native American names that existed here prior to the setting of whites. Some of these names have pronunciations that seem completely unrelated to their spelling. The name Seattle also has Native American roots. The city of Seattle is named after Chief Sealth, a Duwamish Native American chief that was born around 1780, just south of the current city. While the name Seattle isn't as much of a phonetic nightmare as some place names around here, it still can be tricky for non-native English speakers.
In this little 7-letter, 3-syllable word, we have (starting from the end of the word), a syllabic l, a lateral aspiration, a t sound allophone, and adjacent vowels. Why did I list the linguistic concepts of the word Seattle from the end of the word toward the front? I assure you, there is a reason. The reason is that the final sound of the word Seattle affects the sound before it. So starting at the end of the word just makes more sense today. Let's explore these fun linguistic features one by one.
The final sound of the word Seattle is a syllabic l. A syllabic l is an l sound that has no vowel sound in the syllable with it. To understand the syllabic l, compare the final syllable of the word canal with the final syllable of the word final.
In the word canal, spelled c-a-n-a-l, we hear a short a sound in the second syllable nal. If you listen carefully to the word final, you'll hear that there is no vowel sound in the final syllable fin-al. My tongue moves directly from the n sound to the l sound with no vowel in between.
Syllabic l's often occur in words that end in -le, as in the word Seattle as well as the words able, circle, and apple.
It's important to know that the final l sound of the word Seattle is syllabic because it affects the pronunciation of double t spelling that comes before the l-e. When a sound varies from what we consider its more standard pronunciation, we call it an allophone of a sound. The t sound has some very complicated allophones. One of the t sound allophones is a pronunciation that is very similar to a quick d sound. You've heard this pronunciation in words like water and little.
I've heard too many teachers tell students that two t's together in a word will be pronounced as this d sound. While it is true that the two t's in the word Seattle are pronounced as a d sound, it isn't because of the spelling. Instead it's because of that syllabic l we talked about a little bit ago. When a single or double t is between a vowel sound and a syllabic l, the t or t-t will be pronounced as a quick, single d sound. Here are a few more examples of the t sound turning into a quick d sound due to the combination of vowel sound, t or t-t spelling, and then syllabic l:
The vowel+t+syllabic l sound isn't the only sound combination that causes the t sound allophone of a quick d sound, but it is all I'm going to talk about today. I'll link to the t sound allophones lesson from this episode's transcripts so you can learn more if you want to.
Now, you'd think that's all I could have to say about the quick d sound in the word Seattle, but it isn't. There's a special pronunciation trick that native speakers do when a d sound precedes an l sound. This trick is called the lateral aspiration. A lateral aspiration is how we connect a d sound (even a d sound that is an allophone of a t sound) into an l sound.
A lateral aspiration is created when the tip of the tongue does not leave the stopped position of a d sound to link into an l sound. Instead, after the air is stopped, only the sides of the tongue release, and an l sound is produced. It can be thought of as stopping the air like a d sound, but releasing it as an l sound.
Learning the lateral aspiration is the easiest way to transition from a d sound into an l sound without accidentally adding a vowel sound before the l sound. Why don't we want to add a vowel sound? Because if we add a vowel sound, the l sound will no longer be syllabic. So we use this as a way to transition smoothly from the d sound into the l sound.
Here are some more examples of the lateral aspiration, first using words pronounced with a true d sound:
Now I'll repeat the t sound allophone examples I used before because all of those also use the lateral aspiration. Here are those examples again:
I know, that was all really quite complicated. Let's move forward in the word again, to the e-a spelling part of the word Seattle. The letters e-a are always tricky because they have multiple pronunciations. The letters e-a are commonly pronounced as the long e sound, as in the word team, or as the short e sound, as in the word sweat. Then, less commonly, they can be pronounced with an adjacent vowel sound, like they are in the word Seattle. When pronouncing adjacent vowel sounds, it's important to not stop the air between the vowel sounds. What I mean is that I don't want you to say Se-attle, Se-attle. That stop I added to the word was the glottal stop, and it's the most common problem I hear with non-native speakers when words have adjacent vowel sounds. Specifically, the long e sound links to the short a sound in the word Seattle. Other words with this same sound sequence are the words reality and react.
So, if I put all of these linguistic features back into place, from the front of the word to the end, I have adjacent vowels, then the t sound being pronounced as a d sound, then that d sound linked into the syllabic l with a lateral aspiration. After all of that, I get Seattle.
Say that after me:
One more time:
I know that was a lot of stuff to fit into one episode. I'll link to the free Pronuncian lessons associated with these concepts from this episode's transcript page. You can find all of our transcripts by going to www.pronuncian.com/podcast. Then click on the episode number you'd like to see. If it's an older episode, click the "archives" link. Most of the free Pronuncian lessons also have additional exercises or quizzes, too. The exercises and quizzes are only available to Pronuncian's subscribers. To find information about subscribing, go to www.pronuncian.com/join. It's only through Pronuncian.com subscriptions and product purchases that we get to keep so much of this educational English pronunciation content free. If you can't subscribe or buy a book from us, we also really appreciate the iTunes reviews. Those reviews help up stay on the top of the iTunes charts, and that is also very helpful.
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Thanks for listening. Bye-bye.