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Canadian raising is a vowel shift in many dialects of North American English that changes the pronunciation of diphthongs with open-vowel starting points. Most commonly, the shift affects i// or i//, or both, when they are pronounced before voiceless consonants (therefore, in words like price and clout, respectively, but not in prize and cloud). In North American English, /aɪ/ and /aʊ/ usually begin in an open vowel, something like the vowel in alm [a] ( listen), but through raising they shift to a sound similar to the vowel in um: [ɐ] ( listen), [ʌ] ( listen), or sometimes even [ɜ] ( listen) or [ə] ( listen). Canadian English often has raising in both the PRICE word set (including words like height, life, psych, type, etc.) and MOUTH word set (clout, house, south, scout, etc.), but most dialects in the United States have raising only in the PRICE word set.
Americans popularly mock the raised Canadian pronunciation of about [əˈbɐʊt~əˈbəʊt], jokingly pronouncing it as a boot, though American a boat [əˈboʊt] is actually closer phonetically. Neither are completely accurate though.
Similarly, the raising of // in North American English changes the first vowel in writer and causes it to be pronounced differently from the first vowel in rider. Since t and d in these words are pronounced the same through intervocalic alveolar flapping, these words are a minimal pair and are not complete homophones.
Examples of Canadian raising in American English
[ɹaɪɾɚ] without raising,
[ɹɐɪɾɚ] with it
[ˈhɐɪ.skuɫ] "secondary school" with raising,
[ˈhaɪˌskuɫ] "school that is high up" without it
[ˈbaʊd] without raising,
[ˈbəʊt] with it
[əˈbɐʊt] with raising,
compared with oo in [əˈbut]
and oh in [əˈbɤʊt]
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This rule, however, is not completely accurate. A study of three speakers in Meaford, Ontario shows that pronunciation of the diphthong // falls on a continuum between raised and unraised. Raising is influenced by voicing of the following consonant, but it also appears to be influenced by the sound before the diphthong. Frequently the diphthong is raised when it is preceded by a coronal: in gigantic, dinosaur, and Siberia. Raising before /r/, as in wire, iris, and fire, has been noted in some American accents.
Raising can apply to compound words. Hence, high school [ˈhʌɪskul] as a term meaning "a secondary school for students approximately 14–18 years old" the vowel in high may be raised, whereas high school [ˌhaɪ ˈskul] with the literal meaning of "a school that is high (e.g. in elevation)" is unaffected. (The two terms are also distinguished by the position of the stress accent, as shown).
Intervocalic alveolar flapping occurs in most dialects of North American English. Through this change, /t/ and /d/ between vowels are both pronounced as an alveolar flap [ɾ]. Alveolar flapping occurs after Canadian raising, so writer [ˈɹʌɪɾɚ] has a raised vowel and rider [ˈɹaɪɾɚ] does not, and these words are distinguished by their vowels, even though they both have a flapped [ɾ]. In British English, such as Received Pronunciation, neither flapping nor raising occur, so these words would have different consonants and identical vowels, except for a slight difference in length: [ˈɹaɪtə] and [ˈɹaɪdə].
The raised variant of // typically becomes [ʌɪ], while the raised variant of // varies by dialect, with [ʌʊ] more common in Western Canada and a fronted variant [ɛʉ] commonly heard in Central Canada. In any case, the [a] component of the diphthong changes from a low vowel to a mid-low vowel ([ʌ], [ɐ] or [ɛ]).
Despite its name, Canadian raising is not restricted to Canada.
Raising of both // and // is common in eastern New England, for example in Boston, as well as in the Upper Midwest. South Atlantic English and the accents of England's Fens feature it as well.[clarification needed]
Raising of just // is found throughout the United States, and so may be considered an increasingly common General American characteristic, with the only major exception in the U.S. being in the South. There is considerable variation in this one type of Canadian raising's application and phonetic effects in the U.S., where it is believed to have spread from the North, and so most prominently includes the English of Northern U.S. regions like New England, the Inland North, Philadelphia, and New York City. It also appears in Western American (including California) English. Even some speakers in the South undergo this form of Canadian raising, though, more commonly, Southern American English (as well as African American Vernacular and Afro-Bahamian English) demonstrates a distinct but related phenomenon that splits // by retaining the glide before voiceless consonants and weakening the glide elsewhere. The raising of // is also present in Ulster English, spoken in the northern region of the island of Ireland, in which // is split between the sound [ä(ː)e] (before voiced consonants or in final position) and the sound [ɛɪ~ɜɪ] (before voiceless consonants but also sometimes in any position); phonologist Raymond Hickey has described this Ulster raising as "embryonically the situation" for Canadian raising.
The most common understanding of the Great Vowel Shift is that the Middle English vowels [iː, uː] passed through a stage [əɪ, əʊ] on the way to their modern pronunciations [aɪ, aʊ]. Given its prevalence in areas of North America first settled by native English speakers, it is possible this is not an innovation of "raising" from an underlying vowel quality to another in the least, but, rather, of the preservation of an older vowel quality in a restricted environment.
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