I could find many resources online about vowel length in English and in American English, but I got to say that although they're interesting, no one directly answers the question "what the length of each vowel in comparison to all the others?"

I do understand that the answer may vary for different regional accents, but let's limit ourselves to the theoretical GenAm for a second.

The way I see/hear it, all the vowels in GenAm are "short"** in the way that non of them should be artificially elongated, and they differ in 3 levels of "shortness":

Extremely short: ə (before l/m/n/r - mostly dropped entirely - correct -> crrect)
Intrinsically short: ɪ, ɛ, ʊ
short : i, u , æ, ʌ, ɑ, ɔ, all the diphthongs.

Having a voiced consonant after a vowel makes it longer, but the relative "shortness" is still preserved.

Having the stress on a vowel makes it longer, but the relative "shortness" is still preserved.

For me, "bed" sounds shorter than "bad", "beat" sounds longer than "bit", "foot" sounds shorter than "root" and so one.

"lock" sounds a little bit longer than "luck" but not long enough to have a different category.

Am I correct?

** "Long vowel" for me, is for example what I can hear in classical Arabic, where the speaker really makes the vowel noticeably longer, so "sallam"(gave away) is way shorter than "salaam" (hello, peace). the American vowels remind me the vowels in modern Hebrew length wise, all of them are kinda short.

  • American English vowels tend to be much longer in the traditional Southern dialects..."vowels among her Southern-sounding speakers lasted longer on average than those of Northern-sounding speakers, a pattern which proves “consistent across vowels (and across the voiced/voiceless consonant environment dimension of those vowels) and across speaking styles" ~ ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2829779 – Bread Apr 20 '18 at 11:14
  • definitely, one of the main feature of the southern accents is the famous drawl. they also tend to drawl a bit in New York. this is why I limited my question to GenAm only. – David Haim Apr 20 '18 at 11:24
  • 1
    Understand that if someone was taught English more than about 40 years ago they learned short and long vowels. This has very little to do with the duration of the vowel sound, but rather the pronunciation. A "long vowel" is pronounced like the letter in the alphabet, and a short vowel isn't. "Long a" is pronounced like the letter A, "short i" like the letter E. (I personally don't understand why this scheme has been abandoned, as it is much easier to grok than newer schemes, and still comes about as close as one can hope for English pronunciation.) – Hot Licks Apr 20 '18 at 11:47
  • 1
    Since vowel length is mostly predictable from stress and consonant context, it tends to be extremely variable from individual to individual, like most allophony. I certainly don't think the lax vowels are "intrinsically short", for instance; they're just not diphthongized. In general, vowel length should be largely ignored in American English, unless there are actual physical data for contrast. – John Lawler Apr 20 '18 at 19:12
  • 1
    I think Peter Shor's answer to the following question is very relevant: What are the longest English vowel phonemes? – sumelic Apr 26 '18 at 1:57

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.