14 April 2011

TRAP/FACE in Brunei

The other day, I saw one of my first year students walking along the corridor. When I asked him where he was going, he replied that he was looking for a cable. But he pronounced cable as [kæbəl] instead of the expected [keɪbəl]. Using Wells keywords to represent vowels, he had the vowel of TRAP rather than that of FACE in the first syllable. As a result, I couldn't understand him.

This conflation of TRAP and FACE seems to be very common in Brunei. Indeed, my UBD colleague Salbrina Sharbawi noticed that many of the subjects she studied for her PhD thesis used TRAP in the first syllable of safety.

I have just graded a test for my first-year students, and 9 out of 25 of them transcribed the vowel in the second syllable of notations as /æ/ instead of /eɪ/, even though we had practised the transcription of the ation suffix many, many times in class. My guess is that nearly all of them would have made this mistake if we had not practised it.

I have not heard of this conflation of TRAP and FACE in other varieties of English. I never encountered in in Singapore, and my students in Singapore never used /æ/ in the transcription of -ation. This seems to be unique to Brunei.