Today’s Rhymes With Orange:

The easy way to read “Aah’m not a failure” is as having the monophthongization of [aj] in I to [a], a phonetic feature widespread in the dialects of the American South. But there’s another possibility.

One of the concomitants of (certain instances of) Auxiliary Reduction in American English (and perhaps other varieties) is a laxing of a final tense vowel in the word hosting the reduced auxiliary. The phenomenon is quite specific, affecting only certain pronoun hosts, and then only when they are the complete subjects of the auxiliary (the facts are reasonably well-known, and several proposals have been made to describe them). The combination of the pronoun I and the reduced variant ‘m of the auxiliary am (as in I’m going now) is one case in point: though most speakers believe that they pronounce the combination as [ajm], in fact the pronunciation [am] prevails for many (including me, though I am not a speaker of a Southern American variety), except when the subject I is accented for emphasis or contrast. If you hear that pronunciation, you’d be likely to represent it orthographically as AAH’M, as in the cartoon.


One Response to “Aah”

  1. Ellen K. Says:

    For me, the spelling “aah’m suggests a lengthening of the vowel, as if stressing the word, which for me wouldn’t happen without the diphthong. Except, the context of the comic street, my sense is that the doubling of the A is simply so it parallels “aah” rather than meaning a lengthening of the vowel. That is, since nothing suggests I should take this as representing southern dialect, I instead take it as representing a normal pronunciation of “I’m” (ah’m), despite the spelling not quite matching (aah’m rather than ah’m).

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