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Related to this question: Nasal /i/ in French exists?

I noticed at times, the phoneme /i:/ in French is pronounced with more "constriction", like it happens in Swedish (https://youtu.be/wIlOPJLhks4?t=37 at 0:37 on "latin")

Same as Juan in the related question, I also thought at first that it was due to some kind of interaction with the preceding phoneme, but I came across a sample of a native speaker doing this on the word "si" with the vowel somewhat elongated: https://www.youtube.com/live/OWp1LZNU7k0?t=911 (at 15:11)

It's especially clear when you compare it to something like the Spanish "sí" or "si"

Here is another example given by Juan, along with his thoughts

Here's a link to a video of a female French native speaker: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5-_EZDKFv7U

I think she realizes that same phoneme when uttering certain words such as "aujourd'hui" (0:37 in the video)--which could be some sort of a diphthong pattern where /i:/ is somehow affected by the preceding phoneme /ɥ/--and then again at 1:02 when she says "traduire" (same mechanics involved as the example above).

I definitely hear more constriction in the realization of that /i:/. It may only occur in the phonetic diphthong pattern /ɥi/ that is phonemically realized as /ɥɪ̝ʝ/ (if that even exists, of course); I don't have any other examples at the moment, but I'll share them with you in case I come across any in the future.

Is this part of a dialectal variation? Where can I find more information about this?

I couldn't find any sources regarding this, but I'm not sure what I would even search for.

Edit: additional example: https://youtu.be/A_EkF94Zg0k?t=173 (Ici, cabinet, Tel-Aviv)

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  • I think the long "si" of Elisa is more due to hesitation, like she's not sure what she'll say next
    – Axel B
    Jul 25, 2023 at 9:16

2 Answers 2

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There are no dialectal variations in these videos.

Elisa chose to pronounce /'si: vu.za.'ve/ but she could just as easily have said /si.vu.za.'ve/. What lengthens the i and I believe causes what you call a constriction effect is the pause before vous.

In the second video, a similar optional pause follows aujourd'hui, before nous allons parler. At the end of traduire, Elisabeth makes a pause that is not expected in regular speech. She slows down her speech to make it easier for learners to understand. This is certainly what Elisa also does in Si vous avez.

You are less likely to find these /i:/ in everyday speech, except for example by someone who is hesitating.

That said, an i used in a stressed syllable is often longer than an i located elsewhere.

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  • I also hear it without any elongation or pause, like here on "cabinet" and "Tel-Aviv": youtu.be/A_EkF94Zg0k?t=173 Jul 25, 2023 at 16:33
  • @LiberaVeritas It's difficult for me to hear any specific constriction in that last sample. These i sound regular to my hear. Maybe should you put in parallel an i that doesn't exhibit the characteristic you are looking for.
    – jlliagre
    Jul 25, 2023 at 21:30
  • @jlliangre Here is one side by side: youtu.be/MnhhOrtTqIc?t=137 "parti" from two different speakers (the speakers have different dialects in this video, but it doesn't affect the sample for comparison) It's a little more subtle here than with other instances in the video, but it makes a nice side-by-side comparison Jul 25, 2023 at 22:30
  • @LiberaVeritas Thanks, I have to admit that I don't perceive any fundamental difference, apart from the pitch. I'm afraid this goes beyond my level of e̶x̶p̶e̶r̶t̶i̶s̶e̶ amateurism...
    – jlliagre
    Jul 26, 2023 at 9:29
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The pronunciation of i in all the examples you provide is not nasalized.

  • [i] si, aujourd'hui, traduire,

  • [ĩ] imparfait, lin, pincer, mince, (nasalized)

There is more constriction in the pronunciation of the i in "traduire", which means that she pronunces it very nearly as cardinal i (voyelles cardinales); one of the reasons for that is that she places a high pitched intonation on this syllable (dui). This is not the usual way to pronounce i (most of the time there is less constriction), but in main stream French it is perfectly acceptable to fluctuate between the more usual pronunciation of i and this high pitched i. It becomes apparent that there is such variation when one considers the pronunciation of "oui" for which at one extreme there is even a new spelling that reflects better this limit pronunciation (ouais, \wɛ). This variablity in the constriction (/wi, wɪ, we, wɛ) is not typical of the pronunciation of i in all cases: it is only true for "oui", but it shows that at times an [i] might be realized as an allophone quite near to [ɪ].

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  • Did you mean [ɛ̃] for the the nasal vowel in imparfait, lin, pincer ? /mɛ̃s/. Not getting into the brin-brun but it's largely realized as [ɛ̃], some [œ̃]. No nasal [i].
    – livresque
    Jul 25, 2023 at 0:45
  • @livresque The transcription you mention is right today, but it is said that initially that was a nasalization of i : "Au xiii e siècle, uniquement en syllabe fermée, [i] suivi d'une consonne nasale se nasalise en [ĩ] puis s'ouvre en [ę̃] au xiv e siècle". (1/2)
    – LPH
    Jul 25, 2023 at 7:41
  • @livresque (google.com/… (2/2)
    – LPH
    Jul 25, 2023 at 7:41
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    It’s also quite common for oui to go the opposite direction and be pronounced with a very constricted /i/, something like [wi͡ʝ] (as noted in the quote in the question), or even with devoicing, rendering it something like [wiç]. This is very similar to what frequently happens with /iː/ in Swedish (except for the devoicing, that doesn’t usually happen in Swedish), and it is significantly more constricted than the cardinal vowel [i]. Jul 25, 2023 at 11:10

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