Depending on your dialect, you may pronounce words like pink, sink, ring, and king with a short /ĭ/ or long /ē/. Since dictionaries and most English dialects identify the I in these words as short, we teach and mark them this way. However, this pronunciation varies quite a bit by regional dialect, and some people pronounce the I closer to its third sound, /ē/, in this context. This is not wrong; the pronunciation of lots of sounds, vowels, in particular, varies by dialect, and this is normal.
Exploring Sounds: /ĭ/, /ē/, and everything in between
There are a few factors we need to consider to understand how these words are pronounced and why:
- The sounds short /ĭ/ and long /ē/ are considered high-front vowels because we say them with our tongues raised high in the front of our mouth. Short /ĭ/ is more relaxed and formed slightly lower, and long /ē/ is more tense.
- Nasal sounds such as /ng/ and /nk/ are formed with our tongues back in our mouths and the airflow directed out of the nose.
- Assimilation, or the process in which sounds can change slightly to become similar to the sounds around them, affects the vowel sound as we move our mouths to form the nasal sounds /ng/ or /nk/.
- While English has 44 phonemes, English speakers use far more than 45 sounds in everyday speech; the exact way we pronounce a sound varies according to what other sounds we are saying around it. Linguists call these variations within the pronunciation of a particular phoneme allophones (from Greek: allos different + phone sound).
Tips for Teaching these Words
- Encourage your student to feel how the sounds short /ĭ/ and long /ē/ are pronounced. Have them feel the sound /ng/ and where it is in relation to these vowels.
- Remind students that nasal sounds often distort the sounds of phonograms around them.
- Use say-to-spell and exaggerate the short /ĭ/ to help create an auditory picture of the spelling.
- Discuss dialectal variations and let students know dialectal pronunciations are correct.
- Remind your student that they do not need to change how they say the word in a conversation.
- Give a verbal cue for the correct phonogram during spelling analysis.
When teaching students to read and spell words like sink and pink it is important to consider regional pronunciation and to use spelling analysis to help students understand a word's spelling.