Vowel shift moving /ɪ/ below /e/ and closer to /ɛ/

Discussion in 'Etymology, History of languages and Linguistics (EHL)' started by JuanEscritor, Nov 5, 2012.

  1. JuanEscritor

    JuanEscritor Senior Member

    Minnesota
    English - AE
    Hello all!

    I was plotting my vowel formants the other night to test out a new microphone I bought. I was surprised to find that my /ɪ/ is lower and further back than /e/; it is close to /ɛ/, but not on top of it. I really had no idea that this was the case.

    I recall a few years ago doing a phonetics project in which I recorded some words and found the F1 and F2 values for various vowels. At the time, I do not recall noticing that my /ɪ/ was produced lower than /e/, but I didn't create any serious plots then to actually check the positional relationships.

    So now I am trying to figure out whether or not this oddity is a sign that I have adopted some regional vowel shift, but I haven't had much luck finding any vowel shifts that match this. The closest thing I have found is the Northern Cities Vowel Shift, a chain shift which includes a similar movement of /ɪ/. The problem with this one is that according to the Wikipedia article, this movement is the last step in the full chain shift; however, I have none of the other shifts as far as I am aware (I can check when I get home later to be certain). This might just be my partial ignorance of the fine points of the NCVS, though.

    Anyway, I thought I'd post this information for others to look over and maybe give me their opinions and thoughts on. I'm really perplexed here, and would be very grateful for any information that could open up some understanding for me about what is happening.

    JE
     
  2. merquiades

    merquiades Senior Member

    France
    USA Northeast
    Hello
    I pronounce /ɪ/ closer to /ɛ/ too. Since I live abroad in a country where people tend to confuse English /ɪ/ with /i:/ people are often surprised and tell me my /ɪ/ sounds like /ɛ/ (maybe because they are expecting a sound closer to /i:/). Of course I make a difference but I've come to realize there is some truth to it. When I pronounce "wit" it's closer to "wet" than "wheat". I think my "wit" is also lower than "wait". I'm not sure it has to do with the NCVS because I've never lived in the upper midwest and there is no reason for me to be influenced by that shift. My "lost" is definitely not "last", and my "last" does not diphthong into "lay-ust".
    There are some skilled English linguists here who can give you better feedback than me.
    Listen to the sound of "fish" here and see if you match the US sound for the /ɪ/.

    Edit: Wow, I just checked out the map. I wasn't aware that the NCVS went so far eastward. It does put me from an area near to where /ɪ/ is apparently backing towards /ɛ/!
     
    Last edited: Nov 5, 2012
  3. berndf Moderator

    Geneva
    German (Germany)
    /I/ lower than /e/ is normally associated with California accent. Central pronunciation of /I/ is quite normal. I am surprised many AE vowel charts don't show this.
     
  4. JuanEscritor

    JuanEscritor Senior Member

    Minnesota
    English - AE
    And so the mystery is solved. I was merely ignorant. Thank you merquiades and berndf!

    JE
     
  5. olaszinho Senior Member

    Italy
    Central Italian
    I would like to know whether the pronunciation of /I/ is exactly the same in American English and British English, particularly in RP.
    Thank you
     
  6. Youngfun

    Youngfun Senior Member

    Pekino, Ĉinujo
    Chinese/Italian - bilingual
    It depends on which American accent.
    I think there are some American accents where /ɪ/ sounds the same as RP, but in some American accent it sounds more like /ɛ/, i.e. Italian open è.
    In RP the long /i:/ is usually pronounced [ɪi].

    Btw, I hate this Verdana font for displaying short I as ɪ, without serifs....

    Confirm!
    For me /ɪ/ is a foreign phoneme, when I hear it for me it's like a "narrower" /i/... but sometimes it sounds like /ɛ/ to me when I watch American programs.
     
    Last edited: Nov 10, 2012
  7. olaszinho Senior Member

    Italy
    Central Italian
    "It depends on which American accent.
    I think there are some American accents where /ɪ/ sounds the same as RP, but in some American accent it sounds more like /ɛ/, i.e. Italian open è.
    In RP the long /i:/ is usually pronounced [ɪi " Youngfun




    Yes, these days I have heard a lot the phrase "fiscal cliff" on the news and most Americans, including Obama, pronounce cliff like a sort of "klɛf".
     
  8. merquiades

    merquiades Senior Member

    France
    USA Northeast
    It's not really /klɛf/. It's a bit higher but not as far to the front as /i:/. Listen to the US pronunciation of cliff and compare it to cleft. Or better yet bit and bet
     
  9. Youngfun

    Youngfun Senior Member

    Pekino, Ĉinujo
    Chinese/Italian - bilingual
    I think the /ɪ/ of Wordreference's registrations is not close enough to /ɛ/, not low enough.
    Is there some American accent where the merger is complete?
     
  10. merquiades

    merquiades Senior Member

    France
    USA Northeast
    I don't think there are any mergers between /I/ and /ɛ/. It would sound too weird and there are so many minimum pairs.

    Give me a little bet of beer (not bit of beer)????

    I agree that /I/ may be moving in that direction but it's not there. It's just farther away from /i:/
     
  11. Youngfun

    Youngfun Senior Member

    Pekino, Ĉinujo
    Chinese/Italian - bilingual
    I've read that in some Souther accents there is the merger pen vs pin. Only before nasal.
     
  12. merquiades

    merquiades Senior Member

    France
    USA Northeast
    Ok. That is right. I see what you mean in that context. It's a strong southern accent though. It's more like a diphthong /pi:-en/ for both. Don't know how you write that in IPA.

    Funny. I do remember a literature professor from Florida once ask the students for a pen in class and when no one gave it to her she said pen P E N. In this case I think she did pronounce it pin without the drawl.

    I think in those dialects the confusion is limited before a nasal. Not really in cases like cleff or a lettle bet.
     
    Last edited: Nov 10, 2012
  13. berndf Moderator

    Geneva
    German (Germany)
    As merquiades said, /ɪ/ and /ɛ/ are very well distinguished. This applies to all standard varieties of English. Mergers can only occur in heavy dialects.

    In same accents, /ɪ/ maybe lower than cardinal [e] (Italian é) but it is impossible for English /ɪ/ to be closer to /ɛ/ (Italian è) than to [e]. It seem you are analysing [ɪ] only in therms of openness and treat is as a front vowel, like é and è. This is a natural way of looking at it from an Italian point of view where all vowels lie on the side edges or corners of the vowel triangle. English vowels, by contrast, occupy virtually all of the vowel space and it is an important, maybe even the most important characteristic of /ɪ/ that it is not a front vowel. Olaszinho asked if and how AE and BE /ɪ/ can be distinguished. I don't think there is a difference strong and regular enough to postulate a systematic distinction. But as a tendency, the AE /ɪ/ is even more centralized than the BE one.

    I don't think so RP /i:/ is a pure monophthong. This claim sounds rather weird to me. You have to show me examples with a glide.
     
    Last edited: Nov 10, 2012
  14. merquiades

    merquiades Senior Member

    France
    USA Northeast
    Here is an interview with Professor Labov, a well known Pennsylvania linguist, talking about the Northern cities vowel shift. It's a fascinating listen/ read.
     
  15. olaszinho Senior Member

    Italy
    Central Italian
    Interesting! Thank you. There are so many differencies inside the English-speaking world. That's why I prefer the Queen's English. :)
     
  16. fdb Senior Member

    Cambridge, UK
    French (France)
    This might (or might not) be interesting by way of comparison.

    Some years ago I did some work on dialects of Afghan Persian. Classical Persian had eight vowel phonemes, which are generally transliterated as:

    /ī/ /ē/ /i/ /a/ /ū/ /ō/ /u/ /ā/

    Kabul dialect retains (at least in stressed syllables) eight contrasting vowel phonemes. As I perceive it, the basic difference between the reflex of historic ē and i and between historic ō and u is one of tense versus lax, the historic long vowels being the more tense ones. In the urban dialect of Kabul the lax vowels are slightly lower than the tense vowels; thus the eight phonemes are realised typically as:

    /i/ /e/ /E/ /a/ /u/ /o/ /O/ /ɔ/

    On the other hand, in the rural dialects of the Kabul region the lax vowels are normally higher than the corresponding tense vowels. This means that the eight phonemes listed in the first line will typically be realised as:

    /i/ /e/ /I/ /a/ /u/ /o/ /U/ /ɔ/

    The eight phonemes are distinguishable in tonic and post-tonic syllables. In pre-tonic syllables there are only four contrasting vowel phonemes, all with a lax articulation.
     
  17. fdb Senior Member

    Cambridge, UK
    French (France)
    Here in Cambridge, both town and gown pronounce "see" with a very distinct diphthong. It does not sound anything like Italian "si".
     
  18. Youngfun

    Youngfun Senior Member

    Pekino, Ĉinujo
    Chinese/Italian - bilingual
    I don't know how to describe the sounds I hear.
    I meant that the I hear the sound of Wordreference as a normal short i [ɪ], which my Italian mindset would call a "narrower i".
    While, in some American accent it sounds like something between [e] and ... I don't know maybe [ ɪ̈ ] would be suitable as symbol?

    I've read it in Wikipedia: RP vowels.
    It's also my personal experience, when listening to some British speakers, I would listen a diphtong for the /i:/, not sure if [ɪi] or [əi].
     
  19. berndf Moderator

    Geneva
    German (Germany)
    Do you maybe mean the progressive tensening of [i:]. But the starting point of that is so far away from the English [ɪ] that it can't match it to anything I've ever heard. I could relate to a description as a semi-vocalic off-glide, i.e. [ij]. Is that what you have in mind?
     
  20. fdb Senior Member

    Cambridge, UK
    French (France)
    Most phoneticians seem to interpret it as [ɪi], but I must say that to me too it sounds more like [ij], with an off-glide.
     
  21. berndf Moderator

    Geneva
    German (Germany)
    Here is someone who hears it the way we do.:)
     
  22. Youngfun

    Youngfun Senior Member

    Pekino, Ĉinujo
    Chinese/Italian - bilingual
    For my non-native ears, how some British speakers pronounce /i:/ sounds very much as [ej~əj]; especially in word finals, e.g. words ending in -ly as exactly.
    For example, as Nora in How I met Your Mother S07 speaks.
    But they could be non-RP British, or even Australians (as sometimes I can't distinguish British from Australian accent).
     
  23. berndf Moderator

    Geneva
    German (Germany)
    Do you think of speakers who say sorry [so:ɹej] and thank you [θæŋk jow]. This is frequently heard in colloquial British but I it would surprise me, if any one classified this pronunciation as "received".
     
  24. Youngfun

    Youngfun Senior Member

    Pekino, Ĉinujo
    Chinese/Italian - bilingual
    Thanks bernd.
    I can't distinguish a RP accent from a non-RP British accent.
     
  25. merquiades

    merquiades Senior Member

    France
    USA Northeast
    Don't worry. I can't either. I think it's a regional accent from somewhere. The people I know don't make that glide. I'm mentally ticking off Manchester, Scotland, definitely and the far south as places that might NOT have this trait. On TV shows (I know this cannot be a reference) middle class upper middle aged women tend to have it more.

    <...>

    Moderator note: Discussion of various diphthongs move here.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Nov 15, 2012
  26. berndf Moderator

    Geneva
    German (Germany)
    I think it is more sociolect than dialect. The sound I have in my ear is mainly from working class speakers from the Midlands, more female than male. But I think it has more to do with working class than with Midlands.
     
  27. merquiades

    merquiades Senior Member

    France
    USA Northeast
    You're probably right. I associate it with these "ladies" living in small houses in suburbia interested in afternoon tea, gardening and gossiping with neighbors but that's just my BBC TV exposure bias....:D I don't see men speaking that way either.
     
  28. berndf Moderator

    Geneva
    German (Germany)
    I forgot to mention here that in traditional RP the suffix -ly is pronounced with a reduced vowel ("Schwi") [-lɪ] and and not [-li] or [-li:].
     
  29. Youngfun

    Youngfun Senior Member

    Pekino, Ĉinujo
    Chinese/Italian - bilingual
    <...>

    Thanks bernd.
    Probably because [ɪ] is not present in the Romance languages and Chinese, we would perceive it as a sound between [e] and , and sometimes misunderstand it as [ei].
    Most Chinese pronounce [s
    ɔrei], [eiksatlei].
    Even some Italian speakers do that.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Nov 15, 2012
  30. JuanEscritor

    JuanEscritor Senior Member

    Minnesota
    English - AE
    I believe [ç] is a common allophone of /h/ before /i/. I always assumed this was because of /i/ being a high front vowel, but couldn't figure out why I didn't have [ç] before /ɪ/ since it is also roughly a high front vowel.

    Now, however, the answer seems clear as day; since my /ɪ/ isn't close to my /i/ then there would be no reason to expect them to trigger similar allophonic processes. Right? Well, I guess that answer depends on whether /ɪ/ triggers [ç] in other dialects where /i/ triggers [ç].

    So, in BE and other AE dialects that do not lower /ɪ/, does /h/ become [ç] before /ɪ/?

    JE

    Moderator note: This discussion has been moved here.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Nov 17, 2012
  31. merquiades

    merquiades Senior Member

    France
    USA Northeast
    I would like to take the discussion back to the positioning of /i/, /ɪ/ and /ɛ/ for a second. The first vowel is the highest, the second vowel is in the middle and the third one is the lowest of the three. Which vowels have been moving and where?
    Let's take examples where there all three vowels are in opposition: (wheat, wit and wet), or (wheel, will, well) or (Bean, bin, Ben). I'll try to summarize what has been said here. I) /ɪ/ has moved down toward /ɛ/ in this northern cities shift area. So (wit, will, bin) move towards (wet, well, ben). They don't merge because (wet, well, ben) move /ɛ/ towards /e/. Is that right? That would mean "wet" would start approaching "wait" too. II) Besides that, /ɪ/ and /ɛ/ have merged before m, n and l in all the south and center of the US. So in which way have they merged? I assume that this time it's the opposite phenomenon. The sound /ɛ/ would move towards /ɪ/, given my example of "ink pin PEN"? I always thought this was very marginal, not so widespread and in any case a very strong accent??? If extended it leads to plausible sentences like "My brother Bin tills me he dug a will for those min?":confused: This is puzzling. I haven't heard it. I think I would have picked up such a big development. The three vowel sounds are so highly distinguished for me.
    I think there is a chance my /ɪ/ is lower than some people's making it farther from /i/, but it doesn't get near to /ɛ/.

    <...>

    Moderator note: Topics split.

    Edit: I just found this map dealing with/ɪ/ and /ɛ/ merger. Mostly south and south center US. I guess it's true American dialects are diverging from one another.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Nov 18, 2012
  32. merquiades

    merquiades Senior Member

    France
    USA Northeast


    I don't know about Chinese but just perhaps not as high as Italian and certainly less than French. It's high though. The tongue doesn't hit the palate.
     
    Last edited: Nov 17, 2012
  33. JuanEscritor

    JuanEscritor Senior Member

    Minnesota
    English - AE
    Well, as berndf pointed out that a lowered /ɪ/ is a feature of California English and also pretty common in general American varieties. I don't think this is an instance of the NCVS; nothing else is affected in my speech consistent with NCVS. There is also no merger: /ɪ/ and /ɛ/ are still distinct; nasality slightly confounds things, but they are still distinct.

    <...>

    Moderator note: Topics split.

    JE
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Nov 18, 2012
  34. Youngfun

    Youngfun Senior Member

    Pekino, Ĉinujo
    Chinese/Italian - bilingual
    Thanks, merquiades. It's nice hearing the confirm from someone quasi-bilingual in English and French. :)
    In my pronunciation of /i/, practically half of my tongue hits the palate. :eek:
     
  35. berndf Moderator

    Geneva
    German (Germany)
    If wouldn't be a vowel, if it did.
     

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