"long" and "short" vowels

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Wed Jun 17 16:12:02 UTC 2009


At 9:21 AM +0000 6/17/09, Tom Zurinskas wrote:
>  > Yes, long [a] interpreted *quantitatively* (often
>>  represented as [a:] is pronounced with the same
>>  tongue position as short "a", but just prolonged.
>
>So you're saying "mate" and "mat" vowels have
>the same tongue position (I think close but not
>same).

No, I'm not.  "mate" is [ey], a diphthong with
mid front vowel and offglide; "mat" is [ae], low
front.  The former has greater duration as well.
So different quality and different quantity.  I
think there's probably a lot of variation on the
duration part, though, and I'm no phonetician.
Do others know if there's a palpable difference
in duration between "mat" and "mate" in U. S.
English, as I'm assuming?  In any case, the
difference in tongue height and presence or
absence of offglide would keep them distinct.

>  And you say "mate" vowel takes longer to say
>than "mat" (I say them over and over and they
>seem the same).  This is quantitative, somehow?
>(time measure and physical tongue location?)
>
>>  "Long-a" so-called, referring to what is called
>>  long "a" in many grade school classes and in many
>>  traditional dictionaries refers, as was noted by
>>  Randy below, to exactly this vowel as it occurred
>>  in Chaucerian Middle English, before the English
>>  Vowel Shift, but now refers to the diphthong that
>>  [a:] vowel turned into, i.e. [ey] or [ej]
>>  depending on your transcription system. This is
>>  phonetically not an [a] at all, much less a long
>>  one, but a vowel nucleus of a different quality
>>  altogether.
>
>Here you've lost me.  Are you saying the term
>"long a" refers to a dialect that exists no
>more, Chaucerian, and is obsolete?

"Long a" as applied to "mate" or "name" is used
compositionally (i.e. with the standard meaning
of "long" and of "a") to refers to the vowel that
Chaucer pronounced these words with.

>  "Vowel nucleus"?  Don't all English vowels have
>a different nucleus?  (This is the quality part,
>right - what it sounds like)

If two vowels differ only in length or pitch I'm
assuming they don't differ in quality, i.e.
tongue height and backness or roundness.
Phoneticians will feel free to correct me if I'm
wrong.

>
>You say that "long a" [a:] in you notation is a
>diphthong.  As I hear it in
>thefreedictionary.com the USA version is not,
>but the UK version has an off glide and so I
>guess you could say it is (if an off glide
>qualifies as a diphthong maker).
>

We've been through this before, Tom.  You're not
going to convince me (or many others on the list)
that the vowel of "mate" or "bite" isn't a
diphthong, and I'm not going to convince you that
it is.

LH

>----------------------------------------
>>  Date: Tue, 16 Jun 2009 21:14:55 -0400
>>  From: laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
>>  Subject: Re: "long" and "short" vowels
>>  To: ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU
>>
>>  ---------------------- Information from the
>>mail header -----------------------
>>  Sender: American Dialect Society
>>  Poster: Laurence Horn
>>  Subject: Re: "long" and "short" vowels
>>
>>-------------------------------------------------------------------------------
>>
>>  At 6:53 PM +0000 6/16/09, Tom Zurinskas wrote:
>>>
>>>
>>>I'm not sure what is meant by "quantity and
>>>quality" in relation to the "long and shor"
>>>vowels. Any examples?
>>
>>  Yes, long [a] interpreted *quantitatively* (often
>>  represented as [a:] is pronounced with the same
>>  tongue position as short "a", but just prolonged.
>>  "Long-a" so-called, referring to what is called
>>  long "a" in many grade school classes and in many
>>  traditional dictionaries refers, as was noted by
>>  Randy below, to exactly this vowel as it occurred
>>  in Chaucerian Middle English, before the English
>>  Vowel Shift, but now refers to the diphthong that
>>  [a:] vowel turned into, i.e. [ey] or [ej]
>>  depending on your transcription system. This is
>>  phonetically not an [a] at all, much less a long
>>  one, but a vowel nucleus of a different quality
>>  altogether.
>>
>>  LH
>>
>>>  And if it's from Latin class does it relate to English?
>  >
>>  I was referring to the phonetic character of the
>>  vowels, not to which languages they occur(red)
>>  in. Long [a] phonetically, [a:] in my notation,
>>  is not a diphthong in any language, whatever the
>>  orthographic conventions or historical
>>  development may be. We could spell the vowel
>>  sound in "mate" with a or a , but that
>>  wouldn't turn it into a uvular stop or a prime
>>  number, it would still be a diphthong beginning
>>  with [e] or [E] and ending with a [i] or [y] or
>>  [j] offglide.
>>
>>  LH
>>
>>>And did you not hear "long and short" vowels for English at all?
>>>
>>>
>>>
>>>I appears to me that the terms "long and short"
>>>vowels is not a common in traditional Enlgish
>>>training as I had thought.
>  >>
>>>Tom Zurinskas, USA - CT20, TN3, NJ33, FL5+
>>>see truespel.com
>>>
>>>
>>>
>>>>  ---------------------- Information from the
>>>>mail header -----------------------
>>>>  Sender: American Dialect Society
>>>>  Poster: Laurence Horn
>>>>  Subject: Re: "long" and "short" vowels
>>>>
>>>>-------------------------------------------------------------------------------
>>>>
>>>>  At 12:40 PM -0500 6/16/09, Kari Castor wrote:
>>>>>Randy,
>>>>>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. ;-)
>>>>>
>>>>>Kari
>>>>
>>>>  Like a lot of people, doubtless, I mostly associate short and long
>>>>  vowels with learning Latin in high school, where the terms do refer
>>>>  to quantity and not quality (and where our readers helpfully marked
>>>>  them all, as do dictionaries).
>>>>
>>>>  LH
>>>>
>>>>>
>>>>>
>>>>>
>>>>>On Tue, Jun 16, 2009 at 12:16 AM, Randy Alexander
>>>>>wrote:
>>>>>
>>>>>>  ---------------------- Information from the mail header
>>>>>>  -----------------------
>>>>>>  Sender: American Dialect Society
>>>>>>  Poster: Randy Alexander
>>>>>>  Subject: Re: "long" and "short" vowels
>>>>>>
>>>>>>
>>>>>>-------------------------------------------------------------------------------
>>>>>>
>>>>>>  On Tue, Jun 16, 2009 at 8:17 AM, Tom Zurinskas
>>>>>>  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
>>>>>>
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>>>>>>
>>>>>
>>>>>------------------------------------------------------------
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>>>>
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>>>
>>>
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