I have noticed that Americans have (broadly speaking) two ways of pronouncing the long "ee" vowel as in "fleece".

  1. A simple [i] that ends with the same quality it starts with: listen to user MinimalPairsChicago from Chicago

  2. A glide, (diphthong?) that starts from a position similar to the vowel in "bit": /ɪ/ and ends in /j/: listen to user falconfling from Texas

I have found that people who pronounce the glided version (ɪj), also pronounce the simple vowel in other places: listen to falconfling say [tɹikəɫɪj]


Also, the glided version occurs more often at the end of words, e.g.: "Danny", "really", but I haven't been able to hear it when it is fortis-clipped (before voiceless consonants like k,p,t and others). Also, when shouting, people usually glide the vowel.

My question is: How do Americans perceive this difference? Is one pronunciation more dramatic/educated/melodic than the other? Which accents tend to use which type of sound? Is there a more structured way of saying which sound is used depending on the environment (e.g. according to adjacent sounds)? Is there any research done on this?

  • 5
    Most Americans wouldn't notice any difference; or if they did, they'd attribute it to some other phoneme in the word, or to a different "accent". Americans are not taught anything about English phonology, so they don't recognize diphthongs as such. Especially not a high front offglide from a high front vowel, which is phonemic in Russian, for instance, but completely allophonic in American English. Dec 13, 2019 at 22:33
  • See also: Linguistics Good Luck.
    – Kris
    Dec 14, 2019 at 7:28
  • Dr Geoff Lindsey recently (2021) uploaded a video which suggests that the fleece vowel should be characterized as a (off-glide?) diphthong. See also Armstrong who observes a glide as an onglide
    – phlaxyr
    Dec 30, 2023 at 20:47

1 Answer 1


What you are referring to is most likely what's referred to as a "Southern drawl" where those from the southern states in the US tend to speak a bit more slowly and draw out their vowels, which is what results in the glide as the initial emphasis behind the vowel (I forget how to describe this in phonetic terms) starts to diminish due to how long it's being pronounce. This may help better explain: https://www.quora.com/What-does-%E2%80%98southern-drawl%E2%80%99-mean

  • 1
    Thanks for the answer! Taking this from Wikipedia: "the short front vowels [æ], [ɛ], and [ɪ] become accompanied by an off-glide [ə] (also known as a schwa) such as in the words pat [pæ(ə)t], pet [pɛ(ə)t], and pit [pɪ(ə)t]". It doesn't seem to me that what I am talking about is the drawl per se.Although it could be possible that in states where people have (or had) such drawl, would normally also exhibit the kind of gliding I am describing. Also, I have heard people who don't have the "southern drawl" but occasionally do the upward glide of the long "e" Dec 14, 2019 at 0:13
  • The southern drawl may just be an example of the phenomenon. I do suspect that the length of the pronunciation of the vowel is a key factor when this happens. Possibly related to difficulty sustaining the longer vowel physiologically, so abnormal tightening or loosening of throat muscles to sustain the longer vowel causes the glide to help complete the rest of the word.
    – Jonathan
    Dec 14, 2019 at 1:25

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