Given two vowel phonemes that contrast by length alone, will their phonetic realizations typically have different vowel qualities?

For example, if a language has two vowel phonemes, /ɑ:/ and /ɑ/, would they be realized as [vowel sound 1] and [vowel sound 2]-- in other words, as vowel sounds that differ by features in addition to length?

If so, what are some common long vs. short phonetic realizations in languages that have phonemic long vs. short vowels?

  • 4
    Generally one can count on many layers of multiple redundancy in allophony. The statement that they don't contrast in any other way but length is the theoretician's responsibility. It usually means that the theoretician only needs one contrast to get a parsimonious analysis, and length is available. In other words, it's an artifact of analysis, not data. There are always other cues that work in concert and can be used as backup.
    – jlawler
    Commented Jul 14, 2013 at 14:12
  • Just to add to @jlawler's comment (+1), their realizations might not even have different durations! It's the same as for the feature [voiced] on consonants. There may be contexts in which the contrast between [+voiced] and [-voiced] does not manifest itself as one of presence or absence of vocal fold vibration, but as a difference in the closure duration or in the duration of the preceding vowel (quite common in English). The feature names are just mnemonic labels; in some contexts [voiced] may have nothing to do with vocal fold vibration and [long] may have nothing to do with duration! Commented Jul 15, 2013 at 20:03
  • Please see this response on consonant voicing and the last couple of paragraphs in this response on vowel length (though I'm guessing you have already read the latter) for related discussion. Commented Jul 15, 2013 at 20:07


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