From what I have read, the approximant /j/ (which used to be called a semivowel) in a word starts with something very like the vowel /i/ and quickly glides to the vowel after it. I can understand how this can work in words like "yes". But in "yeast", the vowel after /j/ is already /i/, how can it glide from /i/ to /i/?

I'd like to ask native speakers, do you feel a glide when saying "yeast"? If yes, in what direction is the glide? Thank you very much!

  • 1
    It is very similar to the final phonemes of "As the sun rose in the East". Feb 20 '20 at 10:03
  • @OldBrixtonian Good hint. The glottal stop between the two /i:/'s in your example produces a pretty real /j/ - followed by the second /i:/.
    – Ben A.
    Feb 20 '20 at 10:51
  • @OldBrixtonian Thanks. I'm sure that makes sense to native speakers. For me, you know, I'm still learning how to link words in a native and natural way. But that's a good hint. Maybe I can learn two things at the same time! :)
    – Betty
    Feb 20 '20 at 13:54

Please, have a look at the features of the voiced palatal approximant. The distinction beteween /j/ and /i/ is described there, too.

The glide happens mainly in the vocal tract by narrowing it from the /j/ position to the /i/ position, but also at the front of the tongue by stretching the tongue's tip a bit away from the hard palate (/j/ position) towards the teeth (/i/ position).

  • Thanks for your answer. Actually I had read wiki (and many other materials) before I asked the question. They didn't solve my problem, and so I'm here. The second paragraph of your answer is very helpful. If I understand correctly, would you say from /j/ to /i/, the tongue moves a bit higher and more front?
    – Betty
    Feb 20 '20 at 13:48
  • I would say a bit lower and more front. But as I've already written, it's a secondary thing. I've just tried to say /ji:/ pressing my tongue against my lower teeth in order not to move it at all. It wasn't comfortable but I've kind of succeeded.
    – Ben A.
    Feb 20 '20 at 13:56
  • I see. Thank you!
    – Betty
    Feb 20 '20 at 14:07

It is difficult to explain in written how something really sounds. If you do not believe me, please explain in written how snoring sounds :)

I will try to provide an indirect explanation.

  • "yes" has a 1-unit-lenght /i/;
  • "east" has 2-units-lenghth /i/;
  • "yeast" has 3-units-lenth /i/.

It would be like the difference between "ship" and "sheep", but taken one step further.

I am sure that there is some academic explanation somewhere, I just do not know where to find it.

  • Thanks for your answer. Would you say from /j/ to /i/, the tongue moves a bit higher and more front?
    – Betty
    Feb 20 '20 at 13:55

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