The Letter I.

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Mark W
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The Letter I.

Postby Mark W » 2005-05-04, 18:48

I'm a native speaker of English, but this has bugged me. It seems to me that the letter i, when lengthened, makes two different sounds.

For example, compare the i in right, to the i in ride. To me, they sound different.

My theory is that it depends on whether the consonant after the lengthened i is voiced.

"Bite", "Like", "Might", and "Ice" all share the same sound, because they have an unvoiced consonant after the i.

"Ride", "Tiger", "Slide", and "Rise" all share the same sound, because they have a voiced consonant after the i.

Does anyone else have more information about this?

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Postby ekalin » 2005-05-05, 12:22

In the Oxford Advanced Learner's dictionary, all these "i" soudns are represented by /aɪ/. And I never heard about this difference you mentioned anywhere.

As for hearing, I certainly hear no difference.
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Postby Le Serpent Rouge » 2005-05-05, 19:11

Mark_W where in the States are you from? I live in the Northeast where there is a definite difference in pronunciation of the “i” sounds (we turn them into diphthongs, in which case your explanation is very accurate), but I’m not so sure if it’s the same in Southern dialects.

“Might” around here is a glide from “muh” to “eet”, but in the South it sounds more like “maaht”. Whereas “tiger” here sounds like “t-eye-ger”, Southern pronunciation is again more like “taahger”, in which case there’s no difference in how they pronounce the “i”. So, it depends on where you’re from I guess, in the South the only audible difference between “rice” and “rise” is the unvoiced or voiced consonant itself as the “i” is pronounced exactly the same in both, unlike how we do up North. Just some food for thought.
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Postby Mark W » 2005-05-05, 19:39

That's a good point, Rouge. I had never considered that, and I live in the northeast as well (New York).

Are there different IPA transcriptions for the "Northern" and "Southern" i sounds?

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Postby Geist » 2005-05-06, 2:03

I agree - when I think about it, I can hear the difference described by Le Serpent Rouge in the words. Also, to me, i+voiced consonant seem a bit longer than their i+unvoiced consonant counterparts.
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Postby Car » 2005-05-06, 8:25

Yes, I also hear a very slight difference there, including what Geist said about the length.
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Postby Le Serpent Rouge » 2005-05-06, 18:00

Mark_W wrote:Are there different IPA transcriptions for the "Northern" and "Southern" i sounds?

Not sure, but I don’t think so. I know Webster’s assumes that a speaker of each variant of American English will read his own pronunciation into the symbols.
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Postby JackFrost » 2005-05-06, 20:54

Mark_W wrote:That's a good point, Rouge. I had never considered that, and I live in the northeast as well (New York).

Are there different IPA transcriptions for the "Northern" and "Southern" i sounds?

Ditto, I can notice a very slight difference the way I say them. ;)
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Postby Nukalurk » 2005-05-06, 21:33

I'm also sure to hear a difference.

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Postby Stan » 2005-05-06, 23:33

Le Serpent Rouge wrote:Mark_W where in the States are you from? I live in the Northeast where there is a definite difference in pronunciation of the “i” sounds (we turn them into diphthongs, in which case your explanation is very accurate), but I’m not so sure if it’s the same in Southern dialects.

“Might” around here is a glide from “muh” to “eet”, but in the South it sounds more like “maaht”. Whereas “tiger” here sounds like “t-eye-ger”, Southern pronunciation is again more like “taahger”, in which case there’s no difference in how they pronounce the “i”. So, it depends on where you’re from I guess, in the South the only audible difference between “rice” and “rise” is the unvoiced or voiced consonant itself as the “i” is pronounced exactly the same in both, unlike how we do up North. Just some food for thought.

Well I pronounce might as "m-eye-t" and tiger as "t-eye-ger".

I'm not sure I understand the difference. Are you talking about vowel length? Probably true, though I myself have never noticed a difference length of "i" sounds. Perhaps the difference in the i's in "rice" and "rise" is a different tone, like the tonal system in Chinese (which I'm thinking about learning). "Rice" seems to have a bit of a rising tone, while "rise" seems to have a neutral or falling tone. LOL I might be wrong, but it's just a guess.
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Postby Chico-Nico » 2005-05-23, 2:01

I learned that many times if a word ends in a silent "e", the vowel in the middle of the word tends to be long.

ice, fate, like, bite, mote

I realize there are plenty of exceptions to this, but that is one thing I remember from reading my linguistics book.
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Postby Stan » 2005-05-23, 2:20

Chico-Nico wrote:I learned that many times if a word ends in a silent "e", the vowel in the middle of the word tends to be long.

ice, fate, like, bite, mote

I realize there are plenty of exceptions to this, but that is one thing I remember from reading my linguistics book.

That's interesting.

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Postby bender » 2005-05-25, 16:30

I've heard that this difference between the two "I's" is typical Canadian Accent.
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Re: The Letter I.

Postby Pittsboy » 2005-05-25, 17:28

Mark_W wrote:"Bite", "Like", "Might", and "Ice" all share the same sound, because they have an unvoiced consonant after the i.

"Ride", "Tiger", "Slide", and "Rise" all share the same sound, because they have a voiced consonant after the i.

Does anyone else have more information about this?


This is probably due to the time your vocal cords need to start vibrating. I mean, in group one (bite, like, etc) the vowel sound is probably shorter due to the unvoicing of the following sound, and in group two (ride, tiger, etc) it is longer because the vocal cords do not stop vibrating, for the following sound is voiced and this gives the perpection of a slight longer vowel.

I guess this happens any many languages, and you do not need a different symbol to represent the vowel sound because is has to do with quantity which is veru irrelevant and does not, in this case, convey different meanings to the words. This process is natural and has to do with physiology rather than to language-specific constraints.
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Re: The Letter I.

Postby Kirk » 2005-05-27, 4:33

Mark_W wrote:I'm a native speaker of English, but this has bugged me. It seems to me that the letter i, when lengthened, makes two different sounds.

For example, compare the i in right, to the i in ride. To me, they sound different.

My theory is that it depends on whether the consonant after the lengthened i is voiced.

"Bite", "Like", "Might", and "Ice" all share the same sound, because they have an unvoiced consonant after the i.

"Ride", "Tiger", "Slide", and "Rise" all share the same sound, because they have a voiced consonant after the i.

Does anyone else have more information about this?


From your description, I would guess you have what's known in phonology as "Canadian Raising." I haven't looked at your profile details but I would guess you either are from Canada or live in some part of the Northern US. Here's a link explaining the basics of Canadian Raising:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Canadian_raising

Essentially what happens is the diphthongs [aɪ] (as in "eye") and [aʊ] (as in "cow") raise to [əɪ] and [əʊ], respectively, before unvoiced stops.

"tide" [taɪd]
"tight" [təɪt]
"bowed" [baʊd]
"bout" [bəʊt]

What's even more interesting about this is what happens when an underlying unvoiced vowel becomes voiced in a certain phonological position--in that case the sound is still given the raised vowel, showing it's the underlying form that counts. So, for example, in dialects with Canadian Raising:

"writing" underlying /ɹəɪtɪŋ/ --> [ɹəɪɾɪŋ]
"riding" underlying /ɹaɪdɪŋ/ --> [ɹaɪɾɪŋ]

Besides all this, it's normal in all English dialects for vowels to become longer before voiced sounds, so even if you don't have Canadian Raising (I don't), your vowel will be the same, but longer, before voiced vowels (I do have this). Thus, in (non-Canadian Raised) English:

"tight" [taɪt]
"tide" [[taɪːd]

Of course, this difference isn't contrastive, so it isn't always marked when phonetically transcribing because it's simply assumed, but it is a phonological feature common to English the world around.

Hope that helped :)

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Postby JackFrost » 2005-05-27, 17:24

"bowed" [baʊd]

Well, this word have two pronounications, two different meanings.
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Postby Kirk » 2005-05-27, 22:14

JackFrost wrote:Well, this word have two pronounications, two different meanings.


Well, of course, but I was referring to the "bowed" with the same sound as "cow," not "boat." :)

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Postby linglover » 2005-06-03, 22:58

Chico-Nico wrote:I learned that many times if a word ends in a silent "e", the vowel in the middle of the word tends to be long.

ice, fate, like, bite, mote

I realize there are plenty of exceptions to this, but that is one thing I remember from reading my linguistics book.


yeah, this is why they say that the silent e makes a vowel say its name. Interesting as well - double consonants in the middle of a word shorten the vowel. :)


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