The mouth tends to be a lazy organ.
The result is that what we "know" we're hearing or saying isn't always so. Very often the mouth takes the route of least resistance, and the result is a slightly different pronunciation than is "correct" or even what we think we're hearing.
A prime example is a long-A sound next to an L.
Much of the time, our mouths just don't make the effort to really make the long A a strong sound, and it ends up being softened to something closer to a short E (or even a plain old short E).
When I first heard the idea, I argued it. No way did I say well instead of whale, tell instead of tale, or sell instead of sale.
But . . . did I really say those words with a clear, long A when I was in the middle of a conversation?
I started to pay attention. Yes, of course I might say it "right" when it's just one isolated word. But what about when I'm talking in full sentences, just chatting? Do I clearly say yard SALE?
What about others I talk with? Do they relax the A? Even a little?
Turned out that yep, sometimes I did relax the A, just like nearly everyone else I talked to. We just didn't notice it unless the pronunciation led to confusion and the speaker had to pause and repeat the word, this time that one long vowel.
I witnessed the power of this phenomenon back in college. I had several theater friends who regularly participated in plays at Orem's Hale Center Theater.
Over and over again, when they'd tell people where they were heading for rehearsal, the listener would get a confused look on their face.
"You're going where?"
Take the long A in Hale and make it a short E.
No wonder people were confused (especially at religiously conservative Brigham Young University).
It happened so regularly that eventually our group reached the point of just calling the theater not Hale Center but Hell Central.
It was simpler.
But really, we just thought it was hysterically funny. (We were mature like that.)
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