. . . calm . . . heart . . . heart . . . half . . . [audio source]

The first [ɑ] sound in calm seems to be made at noticeably nearer the middle [IPA] than the others. Am I hearing right? If yes, is it because of [m] sound that is made in front?

  • That is the same /ɑ/ sound you hear in car, mar, and tar. I don't think the sound can be explain only by the presence of the M in calm.
    – apaderno
    Feb 12, 2013 at 12:26
  • Please fix the audio source link.
    – Sinusx
    Aug 22, 2022 at 10:29

1 Answer 1


You have an acute ear: yes, this speaker's pronunciation of /kɑːlm/ approaches /kɔːm/. I would guess that this is because her /l/ is reduced (as it is for many speakers) to a 'glide' before /m/—/lm/ is almost /ʊm/—and that pulls her /ɑː/ towards the front.

/lm/ is not a frequent syllable termination in English, and different speakers have different approaches. Some employ a glide, as here; others drop the /l/ altogether and say /kɑːm/, /pɑːm/, /sɑːm/ for calm, palm, psalm.

  • 1
    The OED gives /kɑːm/, which is how I pronounce it. No /l/. Feb 12, 2013 at 12:43
  • Me, too; but back in the Dark Ages when I was a child that was regarded as substandard over here. Twain, I seem to recall, makes a point of noting his characters' pronunciation as psa'm. Feb 12, 2013 at 12:46
  • @StoneyB, Thank you very much. I’ve been wondering over a year, but anybody says ‘they are the same.’ Now you solved my long puzzlement. Thank you.
    – Listenever
    Feb 12, 2013 at 13:02

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