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I'm learning IPA and am surprised that some standard American English sounds which seem subtly different to me are all recorded as [aɪ].

Consider the phrase "I like the night", which I understand would be rendered as [aɪ laɪk ðə naɪt].

But to my ear the vowel sound in "I" is pretty different from the sound in "night", which is closer to the sound in a word like "yikes".

Am I hearing a difference that isn't there? Am I hearing a difference that is there, but is represented by diacritic markings I haven't yet learned? Or something else?

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    What do you think of the vowels in "right" and "ride"?
    – user6726
    May 6 at 15:12
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    In very clear speech, the three ‘ayes’ in that sentence will be (roughly) identical, except that the one in night is subject to pre-fortis clipping, so it’s a little shorter than the others. In natural speech, however, the word I will usually be reduced to just [a̠], a monophthong realised somewhere in between a front /a/ (as in cat) and a back /ɑ/ (as in father). May 6 at 17:03
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    And the nucleus of the /ay/ diphthongs in night and like will be [ə] instead of [a]. That's normal American; Canadian raising does the same thing for the /aw/ diphthong. it's a case of analogy producing regularity. Most USAns can't hear that the /ay/'s in hide and height don't sound the same, but they can hear that the /aw/'s in Canadians' loud and lout are different.
    – jlawler
    May 6 at 20:39
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    This "Canadian Raising" thing also exists in some dialects in the US. One test of the status of that is whether "rider" and "writer" are pronounced the same. I have a little difference in "write" and "ride", but no difference in "writer" and "rider"; I know some folks from the East coast who sound normal to me, but they actually distinguish "writer" and "rider". I have competing hypotheses about your situation. One is that you have a Canadian Raising-type dialect with phonological raising. The second is that you are more acutely sensitive to the subtle difference as in my dialect.
    – user6726
    May 7 at 4:56
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    IMO it is not a good idea to refer to matters of pronunciation by reference to "as in the English word X", instead, we need multi-token recordings, so that we can hear how you actually say it.
    – user6726
    May 7 at 4:57

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