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Cornered, the seals keep close to the jagged cliffs. BBC (see:1:19-1:23)

I listened to it more than 10 times and suprised to hear the "...jagged cliffs" was pronounced something like "...jag il tiffs."

Furthermore, I hear "..close .." as "..coast...".

To sum up, it sounds to me that:

  • the sound "k" from "cliff" was not pronounced at all.
  • the sound "l" from both "cliff" and "close" were not pronounced.
  • a non-existent "t" sound was added to "cliff" and it sounds somehow pronounced as "tiff"

I am really suprised how it happens but is it simply my ear's mishearing or could there be a reason for the presenter to pronounce the "...jagged cliffs" so differently?

(My native language is Turkish.)

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    I hear it as "jagged cliffs". The "d" is very short, almost not pronounced. (It is probably closer to a flap sound than a voiced [d] sound, which could explain why you are hearing "t".)
    – nschneid
    Commented Oct 22, 2023 at 20:46
  • To me as an admittedly RP speaking Brit, he says 'jagged cliffs' very clearly. Commented Oct 22, 2023 at 20:54
  • It's clearly "jaggéd cliffs". Jagged is pronounced with two syllables. Commented Oct 22, 2023 at 22:41
  • You heard wrong. Something about your native language is probably telling you you hear "tiffs", for instance, rather than "cliffs". The narrator pronounced that phrase clearly and correctly. If you don't mind sharing your native language in your question, someone may be able to tell you what aspect of the phonologies of our two languages is causing this confusion for you.
    – gotube
    Commented Oct 23, 2023 at 4:36
  • @gotube, Thanks for the answer. My native language is Turkish and I am not quite sure whether it is the phonology or my ears. I doubt I can hear well some sounds, because in the same sentence I hear the word "...close to the ...." as "....coast to the....". It seems that I can't pick up the sound "l" in "cLose", "cLiff". I don't know what to do. I continue to re-listen the same part again and again with the hope to be able to hear it. After so many listening, It feels like he says the "cliff" but maybe this is because I force myself to hear it that way. I'd have missed it in real life :)
    – Yunus
    Commented Oct 23, 2023 at 5:45

2 Answers 2

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The narrator pronounces it correctly. Turkish phonology is interfering.

We're going to get into a little technical detail first.

Creating a language sound with the mouth and throat is called "articulation". Every consonant sound has a "place of articulation" and a "manner of articulation".

/t/ place = "alveolar"; manner = "plosive"
/k/ place = "velar"; manner = "plosive"
/l/ place = "alveolar"; manner = "lateral"

(You don't need to understand the technical words here. You only need to see where the terminology is the same, which I have highlighted in bold.)

Let's compare how English and Turkish speakers pronounce /kl/.

In the Turkish "klip", you start by pronouncing the "k" sound, and then you form the "l" sound later.

In English, it's different. We pronounce the "k" and "l" sounds at the same time. The "k" is loud and brief, and the quieter "l" sound continues, so it kind of sounds like the "k" came first, then the "l". English speakers learn to hear this as two separate sounds.

Your Turkish ears, however, haven't learned to do this yet. They correctly hear that it's one sound and try to find the best fit to the Turkish sounds they know. They hear that it's a plosive because of the "k", and they hear that it's alveolar because of the "l".

And as we saw above, alveolar + plosive --> /t/, so your ears decide they heard a /t/.

It's the same story with hearing "-ed" as "-il", but I think one explanation is enough for you to understand.

With more exposure to spoken English, your ears will learn to hear these sounds correctly.

İyi şanslar!

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    Great research, great explanation and great analysis. I appreciate it and I will expose myself to spoken English more and more, which is the only way to overcome such hearing problems.
    – Yunus
    Commented Oct 23, 2023 at 19:04
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As an American, I have to defer entirely to Sir David Attenborough's pronunciation.

I can definitely hear the 'k' and the 'l' sounds in cliffs.

He is definitely pronouncing jagged as two syllables. I think that's normal. In America you might hear the 'ed' added to the end of the word without it being an additional syllable. I think we say aged as a single syllable, where across the pond they might say it as two syllables. On this side if you said aged as two syllables you might be trying to sound ironic and/or posh (not that we ever use the word posh).

What might be fooling you, and it seems a bit odd to me because I have a different accent, is how much space he leaves between the two syllables of jagged, which might make it hard to tell which word the middle syllable of jagged cliffs is supposed to go to. I think it's the 'd' at the end of jagged that you are hearing as a 't' at the beginning of cliffs.

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  • As a Brit I have to say I hear Sir David say 'jagged cliffs' with his usual admirable clarity. Commented Oct 22, 2023 at 20:54
  • @MichaelHarvey I agree. I would not have noticed anything odd if the OP hadn't called attention to it, but once I think about it the first thing I notice is how different RP is from how we talk. Commented Oct 22, 2023 at 21:08
  • What do you mean 'we', white man? RP is how I talk, and plenty of others! The Guardian said in 2018 that it is spoken by 2% of the UK population, that is about 1.35 million people, half the population of Wales. For what it's worth, my wife from Lancashire says they say 'jagged cliffs' more or less the same way. We had a little session enunciating it while we were having gin and tonics. Commented Oct 22, 2023 at 21:52
  • I'm an AmE speaker and would say "her agéd uncle" (disyllabic) and "aged wine" (monosyllabic) Commented Oct 22, 2023 at 22:43
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    I agree with this answer. If you say JAGGED twenty or thirty times, and listen to how you make the "D" sound, your tongue does almost (but not quite) what it does if you make a "T" sound. So, I think you are hearing the "D" as the start of the next word, and then thinking you are hearing T-CLIFF, and then since TC is not a usual combination, you are then mentally dropping the "C" and then thinking you are hearing "TIFF". Commented Oct 23, 2023 at 6:03

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