Re: Why w and y are not vowels? [Was: Re: Latin vowels?]

From: Radovan Garabik (
Date: Tue Sep 10 2002 - 04:01:21 EDT

On Tue, Sep 10, 2002 at 05:11:24AM +0900, Dan Kogai wrote:
> As all English users know (with certain degrees of pain), you can't
> tell how you pronounce a given letter until you see the whole word or
> even the whole sentence. In that sense I doubt how relevant
> to categorize alphabets between vowels and consonants -- unless you are
> playing Wheel of Fortune (I would love to tantalize the TV director by
> saying "It's bogus that I can't buy a 'Y'!" :).

it is similar to asking Chinese "how is this radical pronounced?"
Without context, it is nothing

> And how about an 'e', a letter that most would believe 100% vowel? See
> "Cate" vs. "Cat". That particular 'e' is not a vowel; it is not even
> pronounced! It's a modifier that turns the previous vowel into
> diphthong. And how about an 'h' in "hour"?
> And how about an 'i' for "Linux"? A vowel ? or a diphthong?

certainly a vowel, since "linux" is a swedish word, and swedish
has rather straightforward categorization of graphemes/phonemes
into vowels and consonants :-) .

> I am no linguist but so far as I see, such languages are rather rare
> that a given "letter" in that particular language is definitively and
> unambiguously classified as a vowel or a consonant (one great rarity is
> Korean). For most cases we can only tell 'vowelish' or
> 'consonantish'....

on the contrary, for languages with "good enough" phonematic
writing system, the graphemes are oficially categorized into
vowels/consonants/(semivowels etc...). It might not correspond
always to the linguistic _function_ of phonemes (see syllabic l
and r), but such categorization has its merits.
(notice that one grapheme != one character, e.g. german ch or tsch.
In English orthography, concept of grapheme is rather fuzzy)

| Radovan Garabík |
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