I wondered about the difference between those vowels. Is there a rule that decides what articulation fits the syllabe in each word and what is that rule. I tried phonogical analysis on those vowels in english to find out in which environmt does any of them fittingly come? Are they just another realisation of the same vowles, meaning, are they just allophones that can be used interchangeably or is any of them the phoneme? I will be very thankful of you help me for I m very confused between them.

  • 2
    "Five" doesn't contain a letter A.
    – Draconis
    Apr 29, 2020 at 18:24
  • 1
    Do you understand the difference between "letter" and "sound"; is your question "why do letters and sounds in English match so poorly"?
    – user6726
    Apr 29, 2020 at 19:25
  • It has more to do with the word's etymology than anything else. Apr 29, 2020 at 20:52

1 Answer 1


In Old and Middle English, the two sounds commonly written with 'a' were much more similar, being short and long versions of the same vowel: to a considerable degree they alternated depending on whether they were in an open or closed syllable.

During the Great vowel shift, the long vowels in most dialects of English went waltzing round the mouth to end up somewhere quite different, while the short vowels stayed more or less where they started.

So in a word like cane (where until Middle English the 'e' was pronounced as a separate syllable, so the 'a' was in an open syllable and pronounced long) the vowel became a diphthong /ɛɪ/; but can didn't make that journey, and the vowel stayed at /a/ (as it still is in Yorkshire) and in many places subsequently made the shorter journey to /æ/.

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    “Went waltzing around the mouth” – I like it! Apr 30, 2020 at 5:24
  • "Cane" would have been pronounced /ca:nə/ before the GVS, right?
    – wjandrea
    Apr 30, 2020 at 13:37
  • Something like that, @wjandrea. I was a bit naughty using that example, because it was a borrowing from Old French into Middle English, not an Old English word. But the phonetics work AFAIK.
    – Colin Fine
    Apr 30, 2020 at 14:55
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    @Colin Yes, Wiktionary says /ˈkaːn(ə)/ in Middle English. (I just realized I used <c> instead of <k> by accident)
    – wjandrea
    Apr 30, 2020 at 15:00

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