The AIR vowel
The AIR /ɛɹ/ vowel is in the words chair, bear, and airplane. AIR. I just described the AIR sound as a vowel. You may be thinking - there’s an R in that vowel - isn’t the R sound a consonant? Well...the R sound is both a consonant and vowel, depending on where it occurs in the word. I discussed this concept in a previous video called An Introduction to R-colored Vowels, and if you want more background information about the R-colored vowels, I recommend that you watch that video first.
You should feel movement in your articulators as you say AIR. AAIIIIRRR. Because the AIR vowel is made up of two sounds: the EH /ɛ/ vowel plus the R /ɹ/ sound. AIR. AAAIIIRRR. AIR.
Let’s take a closer look at the AIR vowel by itself and in the word chair.
How to make the AIR vowel
First you’ll see AIR by itself. To make the AIR vowel, the mouth starts in an open position. The tongue is forward, with the tip down, and the middle part of the tongue arches up towards the roof of the mouth. The back of the tongue stretches into a wide shape. Then when you progress to the R sound, the lips come forward and flare out a bit. The tongue pulls up and back, and the sides of the tongue push against the inside of the upper back teeth or along the upper gum line.
Now you’ll see the vowel in the word chair. Notice how the jaw opens and the tongue is forward at the beginning of the vowel. Then as you progress to the R sound, the lips come forward and flare out, and the tongue pulls up and back.
Stressed AIR vs. unstressed AIR
When AIR is in a stressed syllable, the pitch of the voice glides up and then down. The vowel is also said louder and for a longer duration. AIR. Chair. But in an unstressed syllable, the AIR vowel is said faster and at a lower pitch and volume. AIR. This is typical in American English. Unstressed syllables are said faster than stressed syllables - that is what helps to give American English is rhythm - the balance between stressed and unstressed syllables.
The AIR vowel is unstressed in a word like solitaire.
The top pictures show the stressed AIR vowel in the word chair, and the bottom pictures show the unstressed AIR vowel in the word solitaire. Notice the difference in jaw opening. The stressed AIR has more jaw opening at the beginning and end of the vowel. This is common in American English. Unstressed vowels are said faster than stressed vowels, so there isn’t as much time to give them the full mouth position.
Stressed AIR. Chair. AIR. Unstressed AIR. Solitaire. AIR.
Practice words and sentences with the AIR vowel
Here are some practice words and sentences.
Dairy. AIR. Dairy.
I’m allergic to dairy.
Unfair. AIR. Unfair.
The rules are very unfair.
Downstairs. AIR. Downstairs.
The basement is downstairs.
Bears. AIR. Bears.
I’m deathly afraid of bears.
Repair. AIR. Repair.
I need to repair the broken window.
Shorthair. AIR. Shorthair.
I have a shorthair cat.
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