128: The pronunciations of i-consonant-e

i-consonant-e in 1-, 2-, and 3-syllable words for English as a Second Language Learners.


Hi again, and welcome back to Seattle Learning Academy's American English pronunciation podcast. My name is Mandy, and this is our 128th episode.

In podcast episode 126, which was the second part of the unstressed syllables podcasts, I mentioned that an unstressed letter e is often pronounced as a quick short i sound. Today I want to focus a little more on the letter i by highlighting the i-consonant-e spelling pattern while taking syllable stress patterns into account. This is a rather complex podcast, and is meant for an advanced level student. At a minimum, you will want to watch podcast episode 49, which is the video introducing the long i and short i sounds.

Also, since there are a lot of topics covered in this episode, you may want to follow along with the transcripts, which you can find by going to www.pronuncian.com/podcast.

I know I've said this many times before, but some of you might be new to this podcast, so I'll say it again. Long vowels are not just short vowels that take more time. "Long" and "short" are just names of sounds. Long vowels and short vowels are sometimes similar in spelling, but they are not pronounced the same.

To review, the short i sounds like (short i), and is the vowel sound of the word sit. My tongue is mid-high in my mouth, and more relaxed than the long e, which sounds like (long e).

A general spelling rule for short vowel sounds is that they occur when the vowel letter is between two consonants and there is no silent e at the end of the word. I call this the consonant-vowel-consonant pattern. The words kit, rip, bit, fin, and quit are all pronounced with a short i due to the consonant-vowel-consonant pattern.

Long vowels all sound like their letter name, so the long i sounds like the letter (long i); it's the vowel sound in the word bike. The long i is a two-sound vowel. Two-sound vowels include a sound similar to a w sound or y sound in their pronunciation. The long i ends in a sound similar to a y sound (long i).

The long i begins with the tip of the tongue in a neutral position in the mouth. The back of the tongue is low and touches the back teeth. Then the body of the tongue moves upward until it's near the tooth ridge, similar to the position of a y sound. The sound is pronounced (long i).

One of the standard spelling rules for long vowel sounds is that they have a "silent e" at the end of a word. I call this the vowel-consonant-e spelling pattern. I can add an e to the five examples I gave for short vowels, and their pronunciation changes to a long i sound. This gives us the words kite, ripe, bite, fine, and quite.

However, the vowel-consonant-e pattern depends on one additional characteristic. All the examples I just gave you were single-syllable words. If I have a multi-syllable word, the consonant-vowel-e spelling pattern relies on occurring on a stressed syllable. Let's listen to some two-syllable words that are stressed on the second syllable and are pronounced with a long i:


What happens if the syllable is not stressed? Hopefully you remember that unstressed syllables are often pronounced with a reduced vowel sound. This is true even if the spelling is vowel-consonant-e.

Here some two-syllable words that have the i-consonant-e spelling on an unstressed syllable, causing the vowel sound to be reduced to (short i). Listen closely:


If we move on to three-syllable words, things get trickier because we introduce the possibility of secondarily-stressed syllable. A secondary stress occurs two syllables away from a main stress. This is easier to understand with an example. Listen to the word recognize; I'm saying the word spelled r-e-c-o-g-n-i-z-e. The first syllable of recognize is stressed, it sounds like rec. The syllable after that is reduced to schwa, and it sounds like og. The third syllable has a secondary stress. It's not said as loudly as the first syllable, but the vowel sound is not reduced and remains pronounced as a long i, just like we expect by the -ize spelling: recongize.

In fact, almost all words that end in -ize are going to be pronounced with a long i because that suffix causes those words to be stressed three syllables from the end of the word. This causes the final syllable to be given a secondary stress. Here are more examples of the pattern:


Now, if we look at the -ive suffix, we see a different stress pattern: words that end in -ive are stressed one syllable before the suffix. This means that the final syllable is likely to be reduced because it's next to a stressed syllable. This give us the (-ive) pronunciation--using a short i--in the following words:


Let's quickly compare some words from the first list with words from the second:

digitize, creative
civilize, effective
criticize, expensive
apologize, compulsive

You can see how quickly the different patterns of English layer on top of one another. Initially, spelling is important, but syllable stress also plays a crucial role. There are patterns for syllable stress based on suffixes, but they can take a while to learn. Obviously, once you become aware of which features to give the most attention to while listening, the more quickly you can learn to correct your own speech.

It's because I know how important listening practice is for improving your own pronunciation that I am continuing to tell you that you can download a free Audible.com audiobook by using our special promotion code www.audiblepodcast.com/pronuncian. You just need to sign up for a free two week trial, pick your book, download it, and then you can immediately cancel your subscription if you want. You get to keep your book to listen to again and again, and again if you want.

That's all for today everyone. This has been a Seattle Learning Academy digital publication. SLA is where the world comes to learn.

Thanks for listening.