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Definition of triphthong – a union of three vowels (letters or sounds) pronounced in one syllable (as in fire). English doesn’t really have triphthongs because no phonemic sequence of three vowel sounds occupies the same syllable in English. As with. There are three triphthongs that are generally agreed upon in American English: / aʊə/ (“ah-oo-uh”), /aɪə/ (“ah-ih-uh”), and /jʊə/ (“ee-oo-uh”). These always.

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Everything to do with phonetics. The idea of triphthongs probably simply survives because of graphic things, even if these are in a phonemic or phonetic notation rather than in conventional orthography.

How do you define syllabicity? When the spectrogram line goes nicely up and down? Do we need to treat diphthongs as being attached to a single mora? Also, for the record, “fire” and “hour” tdiphthongs definitely two syllables for me.

It’s always hard for me to triphthojgs up dnglish all this British tripbthongs. OK, how about this one then: And how could we possibly decide that? Doesn’t it all boil down to the question what a syllable is and if it is definable on a phonetic basis at all? For them CVVC would be a word like chaosdisyllabic.

The former set I would argue can indeed undergo compression without smoothing, but the latter triphfhongs can’t: I suppose therefore, that, inasmuch as one can say that “power” contains a diphthong, “hour” does contain at least in non-rhotic dialects a triphthong, but I am not sure whether that is a particularly helpful analysis.

One final amusing aside: That’s definitely compression with smoothing, to the point where uncompressing and unsmoothing it would sound unnatural! What is the basis for your distinction between “power” and “hour”? Would you distinguish similarly between “flower” and “flour”, which are etymologically identical? The are homophones for me, at least.

You say that “at the phonetic level” we don’t have triphthongs in English. This seems to presuppose a phonetic definition of the syllable.


I am only familiar neglish the syllable as a phonological notion. Could you say a little more about how the syllable can be defined in phonetic terms? I can’t go along with Lipman’s ‘there you go’, Brotwart.

Good old-fashioned ‘there you are’ is what I have to say. And there we all are when it comes to the syllable, as I have already said ad nauseam.

Triphthong – Wikipedia

It is not even definable as a phonological unit, if you are a universalist, but it may be language-specifically, if the structure of the phonotagm model which exhaustively accounts for all possible phonological paradigms and syntagms in that language is such that there is a reasonable amount of reasonable consensus that all instances of it correspond to a phonetic syllable, whatever that may be!

Of course it is also widely accepted that the convention of considering sequences like —iao and —uai to be true triphthongs rather than -jau or -wai etc. John, I have said before that I like your varisyllabic solutions, and to the extent that one can talk about syllabicity in these cases at all, I think what you say here is effulgent common sense.

But I think you are too dismissive of the claim that pairs like hire and higher the examples you gave re Cowell are even potentially distinct. I gave an explanation of that re Cowellfollowed by an apologia for the claim that pairs like hire and higher are potentially distinct. See if you don’t think what I say there is a valid argument for ‘brier’ being a false analogy.


I got somewhat used to “there you go” after I had written “therr you gaw” to a friend once, when he ironically explained an English word as originating in Hebrew.

He understood after this short video excerpt. Turned into a running gag. Well of course the old man’s etymology for kimono failed to take account of the fact that the Japanese are the entire complement of the Lost Tribes of Israel, Hebrew and all. Clearly I can’t answer vp’s question addressed to James D: On the other hand, hearing in my mind’s ear the two words as they would be pronounced by a native speaker of RP, I hear no difference at all apart from the initial “p”.

John Wells’s phonetic blog: triphthongs, anyone?

Oh I did so hope it was, but sadly it seems engpish not in any dictionary! Jones, on the other hand, argues in paragraphs of his Outline of English Phonetics ,that although “The English word [wires], usually transcribed [“wai z], is often ponounced in a manner indistinguishable from the French word [Oise wa: They employ in this case a clearly disyllabic pronunciation which may be symbolized phonetically by [ai- ].

These speakers distinguish [higher “hai- ] from [hire “hai ], [dyer “dai- ] from [dire “dai ], etc I can’t even paste text into this box. It took me a while to realize that, too. Did he only do this for metrical purposes, or is there a tendency for function words to be smoothed and compressed more often than content words? The trouble with English triphthongs is that they not only comprise two or more phonemes, they can also span morpheme boundaries e.

Would anyone admit a triphthong across a word boundary, e. I don’t think this problem is necessarily distinctive of triphthongs. Many non-rhotic speakers may have teiphthongs like “see a” vs.

Btw I can say with complete confidence that my mother-in-law has two separate syllables in words like power.

Here in Australia, the first set in particular is generally pronounced as a distinct two syllables by some speakers [ni:. Unless they make a difference in phonetics, I don’t see why a morpheme or word boundary should be relevant. It depends on what you’re analysing. They are bisillabic for most BBC speakers and for most British people. Margaret Thatcher would always pronounce these words as monophthongs, but tripbthongs was the minority amongst RP speakers.

Ed, I think you’re wrong. Listen to people talking about “science and technology” or “firepower”. For me, in familiar words the default is certainly smoothing: Lipman, were you perhaps intending to type plurophthongs? But I quite like the idea of ‘polyphthongs’ for some of the Eliza Doolittle classics.

Here it is again: My intuition which may not be reliable: Those with an obvious morpheme boundary like “higher” are generally two, but others, like “hire”, are often one. The existence of one-syllable forms of words like “science” and “quiet” seems to me to be parallel to the process which leads to the NEAR vowel appearing in words like “theatre” and “vehicle” which I perceive as tripthhongs syllables. It seems to move forward and then back triphtohngs.

I do over-specify my pronouncements, but to cut one long story short, I meant that they are potentially two. Thank you for that fantastic tip. I have been mostly dragging text into it, whereupon it tends to become as uneditable as if you type straight into the box. No, it wasn’t a reaction to what you said. Apart from the bit at the end about “Gower”, everything I said was about my intuition about my own speech, and that is that “hire” is normally one syllable with what I think of as a triphthong and “higher” is normally two.

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The process doesn’t seem to be regular: Sorry, I must have triphthkngs very tired: So I agree with you, after all. The monosyllabic pronunciation of “our s ” is extremely common, to the point where I’d consider it a word-specific case. For example, I grew up in suburban Massachusetts using the monosyllabic pronunciation of “our s ” without any other trace of smoothing in my speech. I suppose I ought to say something in response to the criticism of my unsatisfactory writing about triphthongs in my elementary textbook aimed at beginners in English phonetics.

Of course, for the English accent described there is a well-established set of diphthongal syllabic nuclei that is a subset of all possible diphthongs, and these are presented in the tripythongs. A small number out of all possible triphthongs is also presented as being present in English, since I believe it is important to make learners of English phonetics aware that a small number of underlying three-vowel sequences may be pronounced practically as monophthongs.

In talking of triphthongs, I make no claim that these have some special status as vocalic units in English phonology. I state quite clearly that they are sequences of certain diphthongs and a following schwa.

I have a phonetic definition for “syllable” “I know it when I hear it”, and I still don’t understand how anyone who’s non-rhotic can interpret fire or h our as a single syllable. It’s not possible to even sing them as such, try as I might. Or is this my German background showing? Even in dialects like Viennese, which turn all diphthongs into monophthongs, these words retain two syllables.

I have no problem with the Standard Triphthongss triphthongs. I think the reason is that they don’t go “forwards and backwards” — they are smooth curves on the vowel chart, without any strong bends, so that for some of them whether they are di- or triphthongs depends on the speed of speech.

So, I really doubt the “indistinguishable” part. But someone should measure this properly, if it hasn’t already been done.

Wow what a blog, i really liked the comparison made between diphthongs and triphthongs, this was very informative and useful for me triphtohngs taking new knowledge. Mio Navman Spirit S If we where more careful in the way we speak i believe it would be easier to recognize the triphthongs that are present in the language.

My pupils made me to cut off triphthongs from the compound vowels sail on the vowel boat model mast. It led to corroboration of a and o.

So diminuendo triphthongs were just an illusion, created by the effect of the final R. I’d better had clung to the true prophet JCW. Humbly Valdas Banaitis from Lithuania.

Can you guys give me a list of ennglish words that contain thiphtongs? And i will also need words that use the sound “j” from “garage”. I will really appreciate it. Would any of you consider “why” a triphthong?