The vowels /i/ and /I/ are not contrastive before /r/ in American English, and the
phonetics literature is equivocal about which symbol to use for the nucleus in words such as beer.
Similarly /e/ and /ε/ are not contrastive before /r/, and the literature contains
varied references to one or the other in words such as bear. The purpose of this study was to investigate
these vowels by acoustic measurements, discriminant analyses, and listening tests. Eleven men and ten women residing
in southern Michigan recorded /r/-final monosyllables (beer, bear, hear,
hair), as well as words containing /i, I e, ε with other finals, such as beet,
bit, bait, bet. Acoustic measurements included the first three formants at steady state.
The high front vowel in /r/-final syllables (beer, hear) showed formant values intermediate
between /i/ and /I/, but closer to /i/, and the mid front vowel (in bear and
hair) was intermediate between /e/ and /ε/, but closer to /e/. Discriminant
analysis using the first three formants and listening tests using 60 ms vowel excerpts yielded results consistent
with the idea that the pre-/r/ vowels are acoustically intermediate between their tense and lax neighbors
but resemble /i/ and /e/ more closely than /I/ and /ε/.