"long" and "short" vowels

Kari Castor castor.kari at GMAIL.COM
Tue Jun 16 17:06:08 UTC 2009

I have a (very small) smattering of Japanese, which uses short and long
vowels, but I guess I'd never consciously realized that those terms in
English once referred to the same phenomenon.  In the context of English,
I've only ever heard them used (at least so far as I recall) in the
previously discussed manner where they're actually different vowel sounds.

Thanks for the alternate terminology.  As I said, I don't think it's an
issue likely to come up much in my own classroom, but if it does, I think
I'm that much more well-prepared to deal with it now.  ;-)


On Tue, Jun 16, 2009 at 12:16 AM, Randy Alexander
<strangeguitars at gmail.com>wrote:

> ---------------------- Information from the mail header
> -----------------------
> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       Randy Alexander <strangeguitars at GMAIL.COM>
> Subject:      Re: "long" and "short" vowels
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> On Tue, Jun 16, 2009 at 8:17 AM, Tom Zurinskas<truespel at hotmail.com>
> wrote:
> > I hope teachers still use that phraseology to link with the past.
> You're hoping that they link with the very very distant past -- at
> least 500 years ago.  Very few people, let alone students, will have
> any familiarity with the form of English that was in use at that time.
> "Long" and "short" are very useful terms when dealing with languages
> that have such phonemic distinctions, but since the number of speakers
> using English dialects that maintain any long/short vowel distinction
> is so small (one might even say statistically insignificant), those
> terms are very misleading when applied to "standard" English.
> In my own teaching and pedagogy (including training English teachers),
> I have avoided those terms, replacing them with "basic" for {bat, bet,
> bit, bot, but}, and "name" for {bait, beat, bite, boat, beautiful}.
> For sounds that are not clearly the five basic or five name sounds of
> {a, e, i, o, u}, I call them "other" vowel sounds.
> If I mention "long" and "short", I say that those terms formerly
> referred to what I call "basic" and "name", but as of 500 years ago
> are not applicable (500 years ago there really were long and short
> vowels).  However, many teachers unfortunately still use them,
> including my teachers when I was little.
> For older students who can understand phonetic differences, phonetics
> terms can be used instead (front/back, open/close,
> diphthong/monophthong/glide, etc).
> --
> Randy Alexander
> Jilin City, China
> My Manchu studies blog:
> http://www.bjshengr.com/manchu
> ------------------------------------------------------------
> The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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