Give me an "a" (vowel pronunciation question)

Hi everyone (first post here),

I have a lingering question about the rules for the pronunciation of the letter ‘a’ when it occurs at the beginning of a word. I understand the letter can be open or medium, but it does not seem consistent. For example, in the word “amigo” the ‘a’ sounds more closed (like an uh sound). In the phrase “até logo” the ‘a’ sounds open (like the ah sound and the first a in the word casa).

I am not sure if my ears are not trained enough or if my mind is playing tricks on me. To add to the confusion I’ve found the following info on sites describing European Portuguese pronunciation:

  1. The letter ‘a’ is always closed unless it has a stress mark or falls on a stressed syllable (like casa)
  2. The letter ‘a’ is usually open at the beginning of words but otherwise it is closed

I’ve watched the vowel pronunciation video (and read the accompanying PDF) from PP over and over. There is only one medium ‘a’ example (amigo) which clearly sounds closed to me. Am I going crazy or does ‘a’ at the beginning of words have varying sounds? If it is the latter, are there any rules or do I simply need to memorize the pronunciation for any given word.

Any help is much appreciated.

Tom

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Wow what a great post, Tom, thanks! Glad to hear you’ve watched that video multiples times. That was a TON of work to plan and edit etc., but it’s messages like this that make me want to record a lot more.

You have good ears for being able to distinguish these different sounds enough to ask a question like this.

You had me second-guessing, so I grabbed the phonetic spelling of the words using this tool, and also attached clips below from our Learning Studio for you to hear them both:

Até: ɐ.tˈɛ

Amigo: ɐ.mˈi.gu

So that tells me they’re both supposed to be the same medium “a” sound, and that perhaps differences you’re hearing could be based on the way the speaker happened to say it in the individual recording you heard, and/or your ears might be getting influenced by the other syllables that follow in each of those words.

I’d be curious if @Joseph would have anything to add as a native speaker?

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Wow, thanks Joel! The more I listen, the more I think it must be the interaction with the vowel sound and the adjacent consonant. I recorded my self pronouncing the words and at normal speed (not overly exaggerated), the two ‘a’ sounds were the same. I also suspect there is some variation in how different individuals speak as well.

I notice this with rhotic sounds, especially at the end of words (some Eu-PT speakers have more of a flap/tap R, while others have more of a strong american-style R). I suspect these speech variations exist in my native language (English), but I simply accept them without much thought.

Tom

Hey, @tlaw387! As @joelrendall said and as you’ve figured out in the meantime, it’s the same sound in até and amigo. But you’re right that the pronunciation of A isn’t 100% consistent, because of a number of exceptions to the general rule of thumb, which is…

I wouldn’t say always, but it’s what happens more often than not.

Examples of closed As in unstressed syllables (following the rule):

  • até, amigo, agora, artista, ajuda, amor, aranha, aviso, advogado, astuto…

Examples of open As in stressed syllables (following the rule):

  • arco, água, atirar, armário, aquário, arma, arara…

A água

Ajudar

Examples of closed As in stressed syllables (exception to the rule):

  • anjo, âncora, ângulo, comando, amante…

O anjo

Examples of open As in unstressed syllables (exception to the rule):

  • ator, alçapão, alforreca, saltar, Algarve, alcoólico, alpendre, altar, alperce…

The sound of these As is more influenced by adjacent vowels than adjacent consonants. In Portuguese, when an A is close to another vowel (e.g. word that ends in a vowel + word that starts with one), it tends to be pronounced more openly.

A avó pinta os lábios -> the two supposedly closed As merge into a long open A

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Thanks Joseph! I’m simply amazed by the level of support and individual attention at PP. I’ve dabbled in other languages and websites/apps (until I heard portuguese) and none come close to the level of interaction here. The team has created a real cohort feel-a real achievement with an e-learning platform! Keep up the great work, muito obrigado.

Tom

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Hi @tlaw387,

I’d just like to echo your assessment of the support and attention we get here at PP.
Many thanks to @Joseph, @joelrendall and the rest of the team! You are all doing a fantastic job!

:clap::clap::clap:

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Thank you so much, @tlaw387 and @Jeremy! :pray:

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