Americans use different intonation for vowel sounds in one-syllable words, according to the final consonant (whether it is voiced or unvoiced). Examples:

Bit - Bid (the vowel in "bid" sounds different, it is on two levels of intonation)
niece - knees (the vowel in "knees" is on two levels)
cot - cod (the vowel in "cod" is on two levels)
boot - mood (the vowel in "mood" is on two levels)
...and so on

1) Do all Americans do that? Most of them? Are there dialects that don't do that? What about other dialects (UK, etc.)?
2) Does that only happen in one-syllable words? I think it applies to every stressed syllable, but not only in one-syllable words.

Thanks Emotion: smile
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I don't think it's called intonation. It's allophonic vowel length: vowel phonemes are realized as longer vowel allophones before voiced consonant phonemes in the coda of a syllable. This is found in all dialects of American English. Some American dialects have some phonemic vowel distinctions as well, but this is less common. Australian English has a distinctive phonemic vowel length: pairs such as ferry/fairy; hut/heart; and bid/beard are distinguished solely by vowel length.
Hi Marvin,
thanks. Yeah, maybe I should call it "vowel length". It's just that those vowels are on two different levels of intonation (=pitch), so...

But I tend to use long vowels where I shouldn't use them. I don't think I tend to use short vowels instead of long vowels, but I I think I tend to do the other way around. In other words, I tend to say:
got with the same vowel in god
but with the same vowel in bud

What do you think?
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>> It's just that those vowels are on two different levels of intonation (=pitch) <<

?? How so?

>> But I tend to use long vowels where I shouldn't use them. <<
Well, since it's allophonic, it really makes no difference. It might add to the impression of a foreign accent, but incorrect vowel length in English is not so noticeable. As long as you get the tense-lax distinctions down, then all's well.

Also, note that short tense vowels are about the same length as long lax ones: so bid and beat have about the same length.
Marvin A.As long as you get the tense-lax distinctions down, then all's well.
Do you mean, as long as I don't merge "did" and "deed", "bad" and "bad", like Italians do?
Marvin A.>> It's just that those vowels are on two different levels of intonation (=pitch) <<

?? How so?

It is diffucult to explain... I made this drawing
I have newly joined this forum, just to give a reply to you.

I know what you were expressing,
and in fact a voiced consonant always sounds lower pitch than the vowels (also unv. consonant, unv. consonant always seems to have a high pitch though it doesn't voiced).

But in terms of pronunciation the pitches may not be the difference.
The pitch of voiced consonant is low because the voicing of a voiced consonant in coda position is different to that of a vowel, it is more tough,
so the pitch drops at the coda position when you are pronouncing "cod".

But all in all, the factors of vowel length and tenseness are much obvious in distinguishing the pairs like "cod" vs "cot".
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KooyeenDo all Americans do that?
Frankly, I can't picture mentally exactly what you're talking about.

If I say the vowel in bid any differently than the vowel in bit, I am not aware of it. (That doesn't mean I don't say them differently.)

I think the terms you are looking for are called 'vowel length' and 'vowel duration'. As it has been mentioned, vowels before fortis sounds tend to be shorter because the fortis sound needs more power, that is, it is aspirated. Now, vowel length is a phenomenon in which different vowels are placed in the same phonetic environment (minimal pairs: /pit/ vs. /pi:t/), whereas vowel duration refers to the exact amount of time the same vowel lasts in different environments ( change of a fortis consonant to its lenis counterpart, for example).

Obviously, the differences in duration are hard to notice by ear, but they still affect one's pronunciation. These three examples should expound the difference with the vowel sound:


From top to bottom, you can give a 'time duration' for each vowel in each case, as in 2 for car, 1.5 for card and 1 for cart. Now, the numbers are only representative, they are not exact. By reading them alone, you should feel how the vowel feels shorter and shorter in the bottom.
Hi Kooyeen,
I think I know what you mean and I am also interested in the answer. Are you referring to the staircase intonation mentioned in Ann Cook's AAT?
My mother tongue is a tonal langauge (a different tone stands for a different word) and there's no difficulty for me to notice the change of tone (or pitch) in the long vowels in English. I read from another book that English is an intonation language (the pitch of the voice is used syntactically) and the pattern of intonation is very flexible. My guess is that the tone change in the long vowels is so smooth and flexible that it blends into the intonation of the whole sentence and that's why it may be difficult for a native speaker of English to understand what you mean. Or perhaps, the staircase intonation mentioned by Ann Cook is only used by some Americans or only under certain situations. I don't know.
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