My son is using Spalding phonogram cards in his kindergarten class. I like them for the most part, aside from a few weird examples and explanations that aren't quite right, but that I can live with.

But we got to the cards for ey and ie, and these get me. It says both can be the short "i" sound (pin, tip, bit), and gives the examples of "valley" and "lilies".

I've never heard either of those or similar words pronounced with a short "i", in any English dialect - they're always pronounced with a long "e".

I'm probably overthinking it, but I don't like the idea of my kid learning to mispronounce words. Am I wrong on this? Or did the phonogram people make a huge mistake?


1 Answer 1


It's not necessarily a mistake to identify the vowel in the last syllable of "valley" and "lilies" with the "short i" sound, but I've only heard of this as a feature of very old-fashioned British "Received Pronunciation." It is well-known however. It applies to all words like "happy," which is used as the standard keyword for this lexical set. Basically, this vowel sound occurs in unstressed syllables at the end of a word, or before another vowel sound (as in variation).

In some dialects the "happy" vowel = the "kit" vowel, in others (such as yours) the "happy" vowel = the "fleece" vowel.

Here is a blog post about it by the linguist John Wells: "happY again".

  • I just looked at the lexical set for British Pronunciation: in the box, they say happY=/i/. And the short i is at the top of the chart as: ɪ. But I agree that happy can be pronounced in RP as /ɪ/
    – Lambie
    Apr 25, 2018 at 23:07
  • @Lambie: In the linked blog post, Wells explains what he meant by /i/ as follows: "The symbol i [...] means that RP traditionally has lax ɪ in these positions, but that many speakers nowadays use a tense vowel like iː"
    – herisson
    Apr 25, 2018 at 23:10

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.