The Betty Nguyen "a"

Is there any rule concerning the pronunciations of the word “a”? (I’m not referring to using “an” before a vowel sound.)

I always pronounce it “uh,” but lately I’ve been hearing it occasionally as “ay.” I hear it a lot from CNN’s Betty Nguyen, but I can’t discern any consistency; she doesn’t do it before any particular letters; it seems to be random. At first I thought she was doing it for emphasis, but that doesn’t seem to be the case either. If it matters, Betty Nguyen is a Vietnamese-American from Texas.

Can anyone explain this?

Well, as you seem to be aware, generally, “uh” is the so-called “weak form”, used when unstressed, and “ey” is the so-called “strong form”, used when stressed. For particular speakers, this may of course vary.

I wonder if it has to do with hesitation/interruption, as in the pronunciation of “the” as “thee” and “thuh.” (While traditional rules say “thuh” before consonant, “thee” before a vowel, research has found that the long-vowel form usually signals an interruption in speech, not a vowel.)

I personally use both “ah” and “ay” pronunciations myself, and I think my patterns follow the findings of the research above, but it would be hard to prove without recording myself talking all day.

She might be “from” Texas, but she was born in Saigon. However, Betty probably arrived in the US at an early enough age that she did not have to learn to speak English without a Vietnamese accent.

As far as her pronunciation of the word “a” goes, I’m usually to busy looking at her legs or face to notice.

This is how I learned it, as well.

Actually, the website I linked to before also has a discussion of the phonetics of the indefinite article “a.” There’s an audio link there, too, to a speaker who uses both reduced and non-reduced forms of “a” in the same sentence.

It seems that the pronunciation of a in the reduced and non-reduced forms is governed by several things. One is vowel vs. consonant in the following word. Another is emphasis. A third is (as I mentioned before) hesitation.

Yes, everything pulykamell pointed out above regarding further nuances in the conditions under which strong forms are employed supersedes the most simplistic description I gave.