Does I say Short I or Long E?
Today we received the following question: In any word that ends in -ing, does the "i" have a long e vowel sound? I keep going through this in my mind and physically looking at my mouth when I say long e. Both make the same mouth shape, but I need a second/expert opinion.
This is a great question because it points out the similarities between the short /ĭ/ sound and the long /ē/ sound. If you take a moment to say short /ĭ/ followed by long /ē/ paying careful attention to the shape of your mouth, you will notice that these are related sounds. Linguistically they are known as a tense/lax vowel pair for the mouth is in the same position for both sounds. However with the long /ē/ sound, the lips are pulled back slightly further and the mouth is tenser.
In addition, sounds in a spoken language are not "pure." To illustrate this, begin by saying short /ĭ/ then continue producing sound as you tighten your mouth into the long /ē/. There are an infinite number of sounds between short /ĭ/ and long /ē/. In speech we may say any shade of these sounds depending upon the letters next to the i as well as our particular accent. However, for the sake of simplifying written language, only these two sounds are represented by phonograms.
At Logic of English we teach four sounds of the phonogram i, two of which are short /ĭ/ and long /ē/. This is necessary because in present day English it can clearly be pronounced both ways which is due not only to the relationship of the sounds but also the history of English. In Latin and the Romance languages i represents the long /ē/ sound. However, between 1300 and 1700 English underwent the Great Vowel Shift which changed the pronunciation of several of the vowels, including the i. In present day English i represents three vowel sounds, short /ĭ/, long /ī/, and long /ē/. The short /ĭ/ sound is commonly heard in the middle of the syllable as in pin, lift, hint. The long /ī/ sound is heard at the end of the syllable and with a silent E as in lion and pipe. The long /e/ sound is most prevalent in Latin roots such as radius, phobia, piano...
As for -ing, in my own speech I clearly hear the short /ĭ/ sound in words such as singing, running, following, buying, seeing... However, my coworker hears the sound between short /ĭ/ and long /ē/. To me playing, saying... sound more like a long /ē/. Most students do not notice the difference. However, some highly auditory children do hear these sounds as distinct. My approach is to teach -ing as a short /ĭ/ sound and to not bring up the issue. However, if the question arises, then I teach the child the relationship between short /ĭ/ and long /ē/. I let them feel the difference and experience making the sounds in between. We then talk about the meaning of -ing and how it means a continuing action. This is another example where learning the morphology, or individual morphemes, aids students with spelling and reading. I am also careful to affirm their careful listening skills and to help them see the logic of the language from a deeper perspective.