How to Pronounce the AA /æ/ Vowel
The AA /æ/ in bat vowel occurs frequently in American English, but it is relatively rare in other languages. And the AA vowel also can change its pronunciation depending on the sounds that occur next to it in a word. Because of this, I almost always target the AA vowel with my clients.
The pure AA vowel
I’ll first discuss how to pronounce the AA vowel when it is in its pure form, AA. The lips are pulled back and the jaw is dropped low. The tongue is forward in the mouth, and the back of the tongue is pulled up. The tongue tip is behind the bottom front teeth.
The pure AA sound is in the word cat. Here is a close up of my mouth as I say the word cat. The corners of the lips are pulled back. The tongue is in a wide shape, and pulled forward in the mouth. The tongue tip is down. The jaw drops low.
When AA is in a stressed syllable, like in cat, the pitch of my voice glides up and then down. Cat. AA. Cat. But in an unstressed syllable, like in the word daypack, the pitch of my voice is flat, and the AA vowel is said faster. AA. Daypack.
This is common in American English. Native speakers will reduce or simplify the pronunciation of unstressed syllables, because unstressed syllables are said faster and with a lower pitch than stressed syllables.
Stressed AA vowel vs. Unstressed AA vowel
Let’s take a look at the stressed AA compared to the unstressed AA.
The picture on the left is the stressed AA in cat, and the picture on the right is the unstressed AA in daypack. The mouth position in both pictures is very similar, but the unstressed AA has slightly less jaw opening and is a little bit more relaxed than the stressed AA. The unstressed AA is also said with a lower pitch and a flatter shape, so it will sound unstressed compared to the stressed AA vowel.
AA vowel before nasal consonants: M, N, NG
An important feature of the AA vowel is how it sounds when it comes before a nasal consonant, like M, N, or NG. When a vowel comes before a nasal consonant in the same syllable, like in the words fan, window, and pond, the vowel has a more nasalized quality to it - more air escapes out of the nose than when the vowel is said by itself. This happens because when two sounds occur next to each other, they may influence the way the other sound is pronounced. When a vowel is followed by a nasal consonant, the muscles in the mouth anticipate that a nasal consonant is coming up next, so the muscles change their placement slightly for the vowel.
For some vowels, you can’t hear the difference, but for the AA vowel, the difference in pronunciation is noticeable.
When AA comes before N or M, like in the words man and ham, the back of the tongue will relax just a bit, so that the AA sounds more like AA+uh. AA+uhn, AA+uhn. Man. Ham.
Listen to how it sounds when I pronounce man and ham without the effects of the nasal consonant: Man. Ham. It doesn’t sound...right. Man. Ham. You need to relax the back of the tongue - this will help you to make the correct sound.
When AA comes before NG, like in the word rang, the AA vowel sounds more like the AY /eɪ/ vowel. Rang. AY. Rang.
Listen to how it sounds when I pronounce rang without the effects of the nasal consonant: Rang. Rang. Again, it doesn’t sound correct. Think of saying the AY vowel instead - and the middle part of the tongue will come up to the roof of the mouth.
Here’s a close up of the word rang.
The tongue is forward in the mouth, and the mid part of the tongue comes up to the roof of the mouth for the vowel, and then into the NG sound. The tongue tip stays low, behind the bottom front teeth.
AA vowel: Stressed, unstressed, and before nasal consonants
Stressed AA: Cat. AA.
Unstressed AA: Daypack. AA.
AA when followed by nasal consonants:
The N consonant: Man. AA+uh. Man.
The M consonant: Ham. AA+uh. Ham.
The NG consonant: Rang. AY. Rang.
Practice words and sentences: AA vowel
Here are some practice words and sentences.
Dad. AA. Dad.
I have the world’s greatest Dad.
Contact. AA. Contact.
Contact me when you know the answer.
Land. AA+uh. Land.
The sailors cried when they reached land.
Crammed. AA+uh. Crammed.
The space was small, so we crammed in.
Sang. AY. Sang.
She sang beautifully.
Thanks so much for watching! And let me know how I can help you with pronunciation of the AA vowel.