Thursday, June 30, 2016

Pronunciation Musements

Pronunciations of some English words can be unobvious or inconsistent, particularly when encountering the printed form for the first time. My article is primarily about consonant combinations ("consonant blends" and "consonant digraphs"), but also includes related information farther down. "Teaching Blends and Digraphs" differentiates the two combinations.
  • consonant blend—"two or more consonants are blended together, but each sound may be heard in the blend"
    Examples include bl, br, cl, cr, …
  • consonant digraph—"two consonants stand together to represent a single sound"
    Examples include sh, ch, th, …
Some Consonant Digraphs with Multiple Pronunciations
Three consonant digraphs that can be confusing for determining pronunciations are "ch", "th", and "gh". The examples I list are simple, but I'm sure less familiar words can cause pause.
Numerous words contain "gh", which most frequently don't seem to serve any phonetic purposes. "Laugh" sounds like three letters could take care of the spelling—"laf". Arthur Laffer of Laffer curve fame is a good example of using "laffer" phonetic spelling instead of "laugher".

No "gh" in Laffer Genealogy
My Google lookup session of Arthur Laffer meandered over his genealogy, which goes as far back as the 1600s (Joseph Laufer). His most recent ancestor that was a Laffer was Bartholomew (Bartol) Laffer. Bartholomew's father's surname was Lauffer (Christian Lauffer Sr.). Slogging through text, I encountered a piece of amusement—Peter Piper, not a picker of pickled peppers, apparently. Anyway, "gh" was never part of the surnames.

The site "words with the -gh- letter pattern" provides detailed guidelines and grouped examples about this consonant pair. Another site, with more historical background, is "Pronunciation: How did "gh" at the end of some words become an "eff" sound?"

"ph" Consonant Digraph
Closely related to "gh" digraph for "f" pronunciation is "ph" (examples: photo, phone). "Spelling the /f/ sound with ph" states "The /f/ sound is usually spelled with just f (or ff after a short vowel … but words from ancient Greek use ph." This site provides good lists of "ph" examples and contexts.

Aural Disconnect with Three Consonant Combinations
Two consonant blends and one consonant digraph have always struck me as sounding differently than graphically alleged—"tr", "dr", and "ch". As a native speaker of English, I always felt those combinations sounded like "tchr", "jr", and "tch", respectively. Try pronouncing "trap", "draw", and "choke", and consider if they sound like "tchrap", "jraw", and "tchoke". "How to pronounce the 'ch' sound" provides linguistic details about "ch".)

More Pronunciation Items
Some additional thoughts WRT pronunciations are a few words I've run across that sound differently than I thought they would.
  • cupboard—I was surprised it's pronounced "kub-…ôrd" instead of "cup-board".
  • drawer—jroor (C'mon. If you pronounce it as draw-er, it sounds like a non-English speaker pronunciation.)
  • iron—eye-yern (Does anyone pronounce it as "eye-ron"?)
More mystery of consonants and their pronunciations in words, depending on nearby letters—
  • g: g or j (gang, general)
  • c: s or k (ceiling, cake)
  • s: s or z (seek, bees)
  • f: f or v (off, of)
  • h: h or silent (honey, honest)
For a related article about "h", visit "Pronunciations Heck with Hermione and Homage".

Diphthongs and two-consonant digraphs have a similarity: two characters and formation of a single sound. "The Difference Between Digraphs and Diphtongs" states "digraphs are letters and diphthongs are sounds". More specifically, "a digraph is two letters that spell one sound.… A diphthong is one vowel sound formed by the combination of two vowel sounds."

Coincidentally, "diphthong" is a good example word having a pair of consonant digraphs. (BTW, interesting to see the "ng" sound represented by a hybrid symbol. View that symbol and rest of Merriam-Webster's pronunciation key.)

Short and Long oo
While perusing consonant digraphs, I ran across the expressions "short oo" and "long oo". I had not heard of long and short "oo" designations (typical for normal vowels) in my younger years. "Long Sounds of 'oo', Short vs. Long 'oo' Vowel Digraphs" provides word and sentence examples for contrast. For explanations of "oo" and other "o" sounds, visit the site.


Bessel Dekker said...

A diphthong may be written as one or more characters ("tIme", "rEAl", "bEAUty"), but they all have in common that they represent a sound gliding from one vowel towards another. A diphthong has nothing to do with writing: it is a specific kind of sound.

A digraph, by contrast, is a combination of two letters which represent one sound: the word "digraph" itself, where the -ph- stand for an [f] sound, is an example. The word "the" has a digraph -th-, representing only one sound. The word "sing" has a digraph -ng-, representing one nasal sound.

A word may contain digraphs in the spelling and diphthongs in the sound at the same time: both phenomena are, to a modern reader, unrelated. An example would be "thy": -th- is two letters for one sound, hence a digraph, while -y- represents a glide from [a] to [i] and therefore stands for a diphthong.

whilldtkwriter said...

Thanks for your elaboration.

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