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Hi, Emotion: smile

I'm having trouble with diphthongs, especially those in words like nice and down. Diphthongs consists of two vowels, so we will consider the first diphthong as /ai/ (nice /nais/), and the second as /au/ (down /daun/).

  1. Let's consider /ai/ (as in nice, like and I), which sound is /i/ in that diphthong? I've always pronounced it like the i in bit as it is shown by the phonetic transcription in dictionaries, but now I think that's wrong and /i/ should sound like the ee in feel.
  2. Now let's consider /au/ (as in now, down and mouth). I've always pronounced this /a/ like a "front open vowel" (but I tend to make a "back open vowel" sound like the o in god). But today, in an American accent training book, they say that vowel should be pronounced like the a in cat. Is that standard American English? I heard now and down with a vowel like the a in cat, however I don't think pronouncing mouth that way is common.


  3. So what do you think? Thank you in advance.
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Comments  
They are diphthongs; I think you should forget trying to disambiguate the components and learn the diphthong as a unit-- it is after all a mobile phenomenon, always changing, and each dialect has its own slight variations.
The first component in both of those diphthongs should be the a in father in Standard American English. The first component in /au/ is more like the a in cat in some dialects, particularly Southern varieties of American English, but in your place, I would ignore the "a in cat" advice.

As for the second component, it is often some intermediate sound between ee and i (feel, bit) for /ai/ or some intermediate sound between oo and u (boot, put) for /au/. It is so fleeting that there is no point in attempting any real precision. It's more or less whichever sound comes out when you move your tongue, lips, and jaw in the general direction of the second component after pronouncing the first component of the diphthong. There's no need to obsess over it; just imitate the sound of native speakers the best you can. Emotion: smile

CJ
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Thank you for your replies. Emotion: smile

these days I'm trying to improve my pronunciation a little (I'm reading "American Accent Training" by Ann Cook, I also have the audio files)
CalifJimAs for the second component, it is often some intermediate sound between ee and i (feel, bit) for /ai/ or some intermediate sound between oo and u (boot, put) for /au/. It is so fleeting that there is no point in attempting any real precision. It's more or less whichever sound comes out when you move your tongue, lips, and jaw in the general direction of the second component after pronouncing the first component of the diphthong. There's no need to obsess over it; just imitate the sound of native speakers the best you can. Emotion: smile
I'm correcting this diphthong a little. I realized my accent is somewhat southern, I tend to pronounce the second component like the i in bit, and not very clearly (my car ---> similar to: ma car)
CalifJimThe first component in both of those diphthongs should be the a in father in Standard American English. The first component in /au/ is more like the a in cat in some dialects, particularly Southern varieties of American English, but in your place, I would ignore the "a in cat" advice.
In "American Accent Training" the first component is described as similar to the a in cat. I agree that in some varieties of southern American English it is more like the a in cat. Anyway, in standard American English, that sound is not like the a in father, it is similar to that sound but it tends to the a in cat. That is the way Ann Cook treat that diphthong. I didn't know that, so I started to pay attention to any /au/ sound I heard. Well, Ann Cook was right, that's amazing! I'd never noticed that. I've noticed that difference in almost every speaker (Bart Simpson included Emotion: stick out tongue). You can hear the difference even at the Merriam Webster website:

http://www.m-w.com/dictionary/how compared to http://www.m-w.com/dictionary/life

http://eleaston.com/pr/aw-pattern.html compared to http://eleaston.com/pr/ay-pattern.html

Those were just my opinions, anyone is free to disagree and post their own point of view.
To me the /a/ in m-w's how was very much like the a in cat. It's not the way I say it -- and I thought I spoke Standard American. Emotion: smile
To me the /a/ in m-w's life was very much like the u in but. It is the way I say it. I belong to that group of people who use the short u instead of the broad a in /ai/ and /au/ when an unvoiced consonant follows.

If you pronounce as illustrated on the m-w site, you'll be fine.

CJ
>> To me the /a/ in m-w's how was very much like the a in cat. It's not the way I say it -- and I thought I spoke Standard American. <<

Pronouncing how as [ h{U] is a common Southern pronunciation of "how". Some Southwesterners also say it like that. But most Americans would say it as [ haU ]. There's no such thing as "Standard American" pronunciation.

>> To me the /a/ in m-w's life was very much like the u in but. It is the way I say it. I belong to that group of people who use the short u instead of the broad a in /ai/ and /au/ when an unvoiced consonant follows. <<

Then you have Canadian raising if you pronounce both / aI / and / aU / as [ @I ] and [ @U ]. That's fairly uncommon in California. Simply the raising of / aI / can be found in the Pacific Northwest, New England, and Philadelphia, and probably in many other parts of the country as well, as it appears to be spreading.
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Then you have Canadian raising if you pronounce both / aI / and / aU / as [ @I ] and [ @U ].

My understanding of Canadian raising is different. It has to do with changes in the first component of these diphthongs (raising it) before unvoiced consonants, nothing to do with using the same first component in both of these diphthongs.

And yes, I do have Canadian raising. In my speech, the diphthongs in ride and rite are different, and the diphthongs in cloud and clout are different. And (a fact which I've always thought was irrelevant for the determination of Canadian raising) the first component in ride and cloud is the same, and the first component in rite and clout is the same.

I admit I may be misunderstanding what you've said in the snippet I quoted above.

CJ
>> My understanding of Canadian raising is different. It has to do with changes in the first component of these diphthongs (raising it) before unvoiced consonants, nothing to do with using the same first component in both of these diphthongs. <<

Yes, it's only before voiceless consants. What I meant was that if your dialect even possesses the sounds [ @I ] and [ @U ] (not counting [ @U ] for / oU /), then you most likely have Canadian raising, because dialects that do not have Canadian raising virtually never have these particular diphthongs. I've heard some Californians raise / aI / occasionally, but this is the first time I've heard of a Californian raising both / aI / and / aU / . I've always thought that Canadian raising of both / aI / and / aU / was limited to Canada and a small section of the Pacific Northwest and the Upper Midwest, so I was surprised to hear that it also occurs in California.
and the Upper Midwest

Californians nowadays come from all over the nation -- all over the world, really.
Your observations are astute. I was raised in the Upper Midwest and moved to California, like about a million others, as an adult. Emotion: smile

CJ
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