Many Sydney trains travel from the city to Glenfield (an outer suburb, countryside until not long ago, as its name might suggest) via Granville (a ‘middle-circle’ suburb and important rail junction) , but as I don’t usually travel in that direction I don’t usually hear those suburb’s names in close proximity, so had never thought about how similar sounding they are, at least in non-careful pronunciation – the announcer was moderately careful). Yesterday as the train I was on pulled into Granville station, there was an announcement to the effect that due to scheduled maintenance, buses were replacing trains between Granville and Glenfield. My wife (a Korean speaker of English as a second language) commented on how similar the names sounded.
Sounds are most likely to be confused when there is only one difference between them. Granville is /grænvɪl/ and Glenfield is /glɛnfild/. The obvious difference is the /d/ on the end of Glenfield, but that is easily and often omitted in anything but the most careful pronunciation. Some train guards pronounce Granville as /’grænvəl/, which results in a greater difference in syllable stress, but I will base this post on what I heard yesterday.
* /g/ is the same for each.
* /l/ is an ‘alveolar lateral’ (‘in which the airstream proceeds along the sides of the tongue, but is blocked by [in this case, the tip of] the tongue [against the ridge behind the front teeth] from going through the middle of the mouth’) and /r/ an ‘alveolar approximant’ (which ‘involve[s] the articulators approaching each other but not narrowly enough nor with enough articulatory precision to create turbulent airflow’’. In this case, there is no contact between the tongue and anything else. These two sounds famously cause difficulties for East and South-East Asian speakers of English. (The other approximants in standard English pronunciation are /j/ (that is, the sound on the beginning of ‘you’) and /w/.)
* /æ/ is a ‘near-open front unrounded vowel’ and /ɛ/ a ‘open-mid front unrounded vowel’. (Don’t worry about all those details, but clearly there is only one difference between the two.)
* /n/ is the same for each.
* /v/ is a ‘voiced labiodental fricative’ and /f/ an ‘unvoiced labiodental fricative’. Sixteen of the 24 English consonant sounds form eight pairs of unvoiced and voiced sounds, and many puns are based on this feature.
* /ɪ/ is a ‘near-close near-front unrounded vowel’ and /i/ a ‘close front unrounded vowel’. These two sounds make the famous ‘ship and sheep‘ pronunciation (or, as two students of mine demonstrated, ‘shit and sheet’ and ‘bitch and beach’. (Actually, I’m wondering if my pronunciation of Glenfield has /ɪə/ (as is ‘ear’), which would make it even closer to the /ɪ/).
* /l/ is the same for each.
The two Sydney stations with the most phonetically similar names are probably Wynyard (one of the stations on the City Circle and Vineyard (a tiny station, little more than a platform) in a rural area (but still listed as part of the City Rail network). Has anyone ever ended up in Vineyard (or Glenfield) when they wanted to go to Wynyard (or Granville) (or vice versa)? I don’t know.