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    #1

    What is different between "can" and "can't" when say them.

    I am just wondering how English-speekers distinguish these two phases (or words). It seams the only different is the hard-to-heard "t". Then why the language choose this way to indicate total opposite meaning?

    Thank you.

  1. probus's Avatar
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    #2

    Re: What is different between "can" and "can't" when say them.

    What is the difference between.

    The answer is that to those who know the phonemes of English, the "t" is not at all difficult to hear. When you try to learn a new language, you are forced to begin with the phonemes you are used to, since those are all the phonemes you know. They are all the phonemes that have been relevant to discriminating meaning in the languages you know. But if the foreign language uses other phonemes, your ear is not programmed to hear those other phonemes, because they have never been relevant in your past experience.

    A very good example is provided by the tones in Chinese speech. Because such tones are insignificant in Indo-European languages, speakers of those languages have no chance of learning Chinese languages until the system of tones is explained to them by a teacher. They do not hear the tones because they are completely unaware of the idea that tone can make a difference in meaning.

    I have to leave it to others who have a better knowledge of the international phonetic alphabet to express the trailing "t" idea in phonetic symbols.
    Last edited by probus; 15-May-2014 at 06:31.

  2. BobK's Avatar
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    #3

    Re: What is different between "can" and "can't" when say them.

    This 't' is sometimes realized as a glottal stop [ʔ] - the closure usually made between the tip of the tongue and the dental ridge is made instead by a constriction of the glottis (which is not, in English, involved in distinguishing phonemes).

    But I wouldn't question Newbie's 'hard-to-hear' I remember in the late '50s being very confused by Perry Como, in 'Magic Moments', singing 'Time can't erase the memory...'. the context (particularly the phrase 'erase the memory'') makes it clear this is 'can't'; but I had never met the expression at the time. I suppose this just reinforces the point about phonemes; I didn't know the phonemes of Am Eng.
    Then why does the language choose this way to indicate a totally opposite meaning?
    Ermmm... it doesn't. Choose that is. People choose. And they wouldn't have chosen to express themselves in an 'ambiguous' way just for the hell of it. (Which confirms the point that the distinction isn't hard to hear for a native speaker (of American English).

    Of course, the problem doesn't arise in Br English (though I'm sure many others do ): /kæn/ versus /kɑ:nt/ - and whatever happens to the /t/ the vowel is still distinct.

    b

  3. Barb_D's Avatar
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    #4

    Re: What is different between "can" and "can't" when say them.

    It's not uncommon to have to say "I'm sorry - did you say 'can' or 'can't'?"

  4. emsr2d2's Avatar
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    #5

    Re: What is different between "can" and "can't" when say them.

    In many BrE variants, there is no confusion because "can't" sounds more like "car-n-t". We don't just say "can" and add a "t" in the south of England.

    Listen to the very first pronunciation of "can't" here and compare it to the word "can".
    Remember - if you don't use correct capitalisation, punctuation and spacing, anything you write will be incorrect.

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