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What is the origin of “long long /i/” before voiced consonants (the [ai] of wide, while, & tribe) versus “short long /i/” before unvoiced consonants (the [ʌi] of white, wife, & wipe)? When did this difference appear? Is it just a secondary distinction, or are there minimal pairs for these two diphthongs?

Obviously the distinction is not present in all accents—though its presence in most leads me to believe it's not a late arrival—and yet I've never found a dictionary that distinguishes them.

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This seems more fitting for linguistics. However, such a site has not yet come into being. –  Thursagen Jul 6 '11 at 5:37
    
Are you sure it's in most accents? I would have said it was rather limited in distribution. –  Colin Fine Jul 6 '11 at 14:21
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2 Answers 2

up vote 8 down vote accepted

I believe this is called Canadian Raising.

Canadian raising is a phonetic phenomenon that occurs in varieties of the English language, especially Canadian English, in which certain diphthongs are "raised" before voiceless consonants (e.g., /p/, /t/, /k/, /s/, /f/).
/aɪ/ (the vowel of "eye") becomes [ʌɪ] or [ɐɪ], while the outcome of /aʊ/ (the vowel of "loud") varies by dialect, with [ʌu] more common in the west and a fronted variant [ɛʉ] commonly heard in Central Canada. In any case, the /a/-component of the diphthong changes from a low vowel to a mid-low vowel ([ʌ], [ɐ] or [ɛ]).


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Below is an excerpt of the possible origin paragraph in the Wikipedia article.

Some have hypothesized that Canadian raising may be related historically to a similar phenomenon that exists in Scots and Scottish English. The Scottish Vowel Length Rule lengthens a wide variety of vowel sounds in several environments, and shortens them in others; "long" environments include when the vowel precedes a number of voiced consonant sounds. This rule also conditions /aɪ/ in the long environments and /əɪ/ in the short environments. Significantly, though, the Scots Vowel Length Rule applies only before voiced fricatives and /r/, whereas Canadian raising is not limited in this fashion; thus, it may represent a sort of merging of the Scots Vowel Length Rule with the general English rule lengthening vowels before voiced consonants of any sort.

The most common understanding of the Great Vowel Shift is that the Middle English vowels [iː, uː] passed through a stage [əɪ, əʊ] on the way to their modern pronunciations [aɪ, aʊ]. Thus it is difficult to say whether Canadian raising reflects an innovation or the preservation of an older vowel quality in a restricted environment.

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This is certainly related, but just as certainly not quite what I'm asking about. +1 anyway. –  Jon Purdy Jul 6 '11 at 5:52
    
@Jon, thx. Do you mean I've dealt with the [ai] vs [ʌi] part of the question but not with the "long long" vs "short long" aspect? I have had no time to delve into the "Scottish Vowel Length Rule" yet. I'm not even 100% sure this is actually related... :( –  Alain Pannetier Φ Jul 6 '11 at 15:28
    
@Alain, @Jon: If you look at the Geographic Distribution section of the article Alain quotes, it says that the geographic distribution of this shift in the vowel long i extends to large sections of the U.S. as well. I believe the change in length (although not quality) of many vowels before voiceless consonants occurs in most American dialects. –  Peter Shor Jul 6 '11 at 15:45
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In most dialects of American English, vowels are shorter before unvoiced consonants. If this is what you're hearing, then in your dialect the length difference seems to have induced a change in the quality of the diphthong as well. I believe that in some dialects, this determines whether long o and long a are diphthongs or not.

To find a minimal pair, you'd have to find two words with VCV, where the first vowel is long i, the consonant is unvoiced and the division into syllables differs. For example, I think bright-eyed and high tide form a near-minimal pair.

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sounds like a consistent explanation. +1. Also I've noticed that in the GVS diagram, the [ʌi] diphthong is the step just before the current [ai] step in Br English. This is well shown on the leftmost vertical path of the GVS chart at WP but I can't make sense of it all. May be you can. –  Alain Pannetier Φ Jul 6 '11 at 15:55
    
@Peter: This looks to be the rest of the story. The article mentions GA and RP, which are widespread enough to've led me to believe that most accents have this. I wouldn't call it allophony as such, because GA has the minimal pair writer–rider where both /t/ and /d/ are realised as [ɾ]. The article on Canadian Raising brings up further complexities: for some (myself included), rider does not rhyme with spider. Interesting stuff. –  Jon Purdy Jul 6 '11 at 17:52
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