This is a follow-up of my earlier post, The Possibility of Rhyming ‘Clod’ and ‘God’, in which I claimed there was a split between the words “clod” and “god” in NZ English, as many other Englishes pronounce them with the same vowel length. Since then I have had replies ranging from “That’s not how I say it,” so that I have learnt of NZE speakers who do not differentiate between vowel length in the two words, to “That’s how I say it too,” so that I have found at least one speaker of Australian English (Adelaide) who makes the same distinction. I’m sure that’s reasonably widespread and would be interested in seeing some hard data.
Moreover, I just met the Otago University linguist, Dr. Simon Overall, in the tearoom and asked him for his opinion. He first of all affirmed that he could hear the distinction in NZE, and second of all informed me of another distinction that he had noticed, that between add and Dad, where add takes the short and Dad the longer vowel in NZE. Other rhyming words I can think of also take the short vowel, such as clad and had, and yet others the longer, such as sad, mad, and bad!
This means that the role that the following consonant plays is diminished, whereas in my earlier post I had assumed that words that shared the same consonant endings generally had the same vowel length. Other factors are at work. Dr. Overall suggested that the trend may have something to do with frequency of usage. More frequently used words are more likely to experience an elongated pronunciation. Looking at some of the words on RhymeZone, I’m wondering if in this case it has something to do with word class. Of the words I recognise, I tend to pronounce nouns and adjectives with a longer vowel than verbs. One exception may be ad, though I can’t seem to figure out if I pronounce it with a long or short vowel, or either, context dependent. Some words change in different forms too. I pronounce grad with a long vowel but graduate (noun) and graduate (verb) both with a short vowel in the first syllable, albeit with different final syllables. However, I pronounce mad with a long vowel, as well as its repetition in constructions and words like madman and Mad Hatter.