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As a phonics teacher, I have long had a problem with finding the right explanation to my students about an inconsistent sound. Hope someone has the explanation to it here.

The long i sound in English represented by the IPA: aɪ exists in a lot of words including lie, by, tie, night, rice, lice, etc. Here comes the problem.

Not even talking about accents of different regions, but even within the same person, there seems to be an inconsistency. For example, when one says lice, he/she doesn' say lie-s, but with the vowel being something different. It also applies to tie vs tight, bye vs bite, fly vs flight, and many more. I wonder whether other phonics teachers point this out to their students and, if they do, how they explain it? Is there a rule to when the long i is one way and when the other? Or is it really the same but it's my ears that's playing tricks on me? Appreciate any help and discussions.

marked as duplicate by sumelic pronunciation Oct 27 '18 at 6:09

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  • Are you talking about the automatic difference in length (vowels in English – all vowels, not just /aɪ/ – are always clipped and shorter before unvoiced consonants), or about the quality of the vowel, i.e., the change associated with Canadian raising? – Janus Bahs Jacquet Oct 27 '18 at 6:11
  • I couldn't tell you what other phonics teachers say, but phoneticians -- people who measure what people actually do say, regardless of the spelling -- have noted that many American speakers say slightly different vowels in fly, ride, mime from the vowels they say in flight, write, Mike. In many places including Canada, this also happens to the vowels in blouse, out, lout as opposed to the vowels in loud, rouse, brow. This is called "Canadian Raising" in phonological circles. – John Lawler Oct 27 '18 at 17:56