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11.6: Digraph Spellings of Long < i >

Difficulty Level: At Grade Created by: CK-12

Digraph Spellings of Long <\mathrm{i}>

1. When two letters work together to spell a single sound, we call them a digraph. Long <\mathrm{i}> is spelled by several different digraphs. Underline the letters that spell long <\mathrm{i}> in each of the following words. Do not underline the <gh> in words like height:

& \text{f\underline{ie}ry} && \text{b\underline{ay}ou} && \text{st\underline{ei}n} && \text{g\underline{uy}} \\& \text{\underline{ei}ther} && \text{g\underline{ey}ser} && \text{sl\underline{ei}ght} && \text{f\underline{ei}sty} \\& \text{h\underline{ei}ght} && \text{b\underline{uy}er} && \text{n\underline{ei}ther} && \text{s\underline{ei}simic} \\& \text{\underline{ai}sle} && \text{\underline{ey}e} && \text{polterg\underline{ei}st} && \text{kal\underline{ei}doscope}

2. You should have found six different  [\bar{\mathrm{i}}] in these words. One digraph occurs in nine of the words. That digraph is <ei>. Write the nine words below:

& either && stein && feisty && kaleidoscope && poltergeist \\& height && sleight && neither && seismic

3. Two digraphs each occur in two of the words. Those digraphs are <ey> and <uy>. Write the two words with the first of these digraphs in the boxes below:

& geyser && eye

Write the two words with the second of these two digraphs below:

& buyer && guy

5. Three digraphs occur in only one word each. Those three digraphs are <ie> ,<ai> , and <ay>. The word with the first of these digraphs is fiery. Theword with the second digraph is aisle. The word with the third is bayou.

6. The <ie> spelling of [\bar{\mathrm{i}}] often occurs at the boundary between a stem and suffix.Analyze each of the following words into its stem and suffix to show how the <ie> spelling of [\bar{\mathrm{i}}] comes about:

Word = Stem + Suffix
tied = ti\cancel{e} + ed
skies = sk\cancel{y} + i + es
dried = dr\cancel{y} + i + ed
supplies = suppl\cancel{y} + i + es
allies = all\cancel{y} + i + es
testified = testif\cancel{f} + i + ed
qualified = qualif\cancel{y} + i + ed
trial = tr\cancel{y} + i + al
occupies = occup\cancel{y} + i + es
multiplied = multiply\cancel{y} + i + ed

7. The most common spelling of [\bar{\mathrm{i}}] is the letter \underline{<i>} . The second most common spelling of [\bar{\mathrm{i}}] is the letter <y>. Six other less common spellings of [\bar{\mathrm{i}}] are the digraphs <ei>, <ey>, <uy>, <ie> , <ai> , and <ay> .

Teaching Notes.

Digraph spellings, especially of the long vowel sounds, are just plain difficult. But there is considerable consolation to be found in the fact that the digraph spellings of [\bar{\mathrm{i}}] occur in very, very few words: In Hanna and Hanna’s sample of about 14,000 high frequency words, there was a total of 1,482 instances of [\bar{\mathrm{i}}], of which only 51 were spelled with digraphs. The other 1,431 were spelled either <\mathrm{i}> or <y>. That is only about 3\% digraph spellings, about 97\% with <\mathrm{i}> or <y>.

Item 1. Why fiery is not *firy (*fir\cancel{\mathrm{e}} + y) is something of a mystery. In the 13^{\mathrm{th}} through 17^{\mathrm{th}} centuries it was spelled several different ways: furie, fury, fuyre, fuyri, fuyry, fyre fyrie, fyry, firie, firy, firye, fery, fierie, fyeri, firy, firey, fiery. Up into the 19^{\mathrm{th}}. century it was sometimes still spelled <firy>. One suggestion is that the <e> in fiery is spelling a schwa glide from the [\bar{\mathrm{i}}] to the [r]:[fi^ər\bar{\mathrm{e}}], a pronunciation still given in modern dictionaries. This suggestion, seems plausible, but then we have a new question: Why isn’t fire spelled <fier>, especially since dictionaries give [fi^ər] as a pronunciation of fire? Fire , too, since the 11^{\mathrm{th}} century has suffered its own surplus of variations: f\acute{y}r, fur, fure,fuyr, fuyre,fuir,fuire, feure, fer,fere, ver, vere, feer, fier, fiere, feir, fyr, fyre, fyyr,fyer, fyere, feyer, fyar, fieare, fir, fire. The spelling fire appeared first in the 13^{\mathrm{th}} century; the spelling fiery not until the 16^{\mathrm{th}}. The mystery remains, but for more, see AES, pp. 319-20.

Some students may say that they hear a [y] in the middle of words like bayou and buyer. The presence of the sound [y] seems all the more convincing because of the presence of the letter <y>. Point out to them that they have a good ear, but the sound they hear is not a separate [y] sound. It is more a by-product: As you move from the sound [\bar{\mathrm{i}}] to the the sound [\bar{\mathrm{u}}] in bayou or from the [\bar{\mathrm{i}}] to the [ər] in buyer, the result is a type of what linguists call a glide, a natural and inevitable result of moving from one sound to another. Glides are not treated as separate sounds, which is why most dictionaries do not show a [y] in words like bayou and buyer .

Sleight stands at the middle of a little knot in English spelling: On one hand, it has some near homographs weight, weigh, even sleigh, all with <eigh> and [\bar{\mathrm{a}}]. On the other hand, sleight “skill, dexterity, as in ‘sleight of hand”' has the homophone slight meaning “small in degree or amount; to treat as unimportant.” About all we can say about this is that sleight experienced huge indecision about its spelling (and pronunciation): the OED lists 40 different spellings! Such indecision about spelling and pronunciation early on can give us unusual modern spellings. (A somewhat similar situation exists with height , which also had dozens of earlier spellings and which the OED calls “a compromise,” “retaining the spelling height (which has been by far the most frequent written form since 1500), with the pronunciation of hight” (at height). The modern pronunciation [h\bar{\mathrm{i}}t] rather than [h\bar{\mathrm{a}}t] is probably due to a felt analogy with high.)

The story of aisle is told in the teaching notes to Book 5, Lesson 38. Concerning the <ei> and <ie> digraphs, the story of <\mathrm{i}> -before-<e> is told later in this book, in lessons 31-34.

The silent final <e> in eye can be treated as a result of Short World Rule: English tends to avoid nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs of less than three letters. To meet this restraint, sometimes an extra consonant is added, as in egg or the noun inn (contrasted with the preposition in), sometimes a silent final <e> is added, as in tee, dye, and eye. For more on the Short Word Rule see AES,pp. 87-89.

One other very minor digraph spelling of [\bar{\mathrm{i}}] is <oy>, apparently only in coyote and its more rare diminutive coyotillo.

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