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Some more words: union, behavior, Daniel.

And the second i in opinion, familiar, brilliant, California.

I am especially concerned with American English.

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I don't think California counts. –  Mr Lister Jan 15 '13 at 15:02
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@MrLister Depends how you pronounce the last syllable, I think. –  simchona Jan 15 '13 at 15:07
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Hugely relevant: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Consonant –  Andrew Leach Jan 15 '13 at 15:16
    
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2 Answers

up vote 7 down vote accepted

Contrary to what you learned in school, there are more than just vowels and consonants. In words like 'onion', the i serves as a semi-vowel, or glide. This is represented in IPA as /ˈʌn jən/ and the letter i represents the /j/ sound, which is the same sound as at the start of the word "yes".

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In Ireland it would often be something like /ʌnijən/ or /ʌnəjən/ where the I becomes a vowel followed by a glide. –  Jon Hanna Jan 15 '13 at 15:59
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Vowels and consonants are not letters, but sounds that are represented by letters. The second ‘i’ in ‘opinion’ represents the sound /j/, which I have seen described as both a palatal glide consonant, and a palatal semi-vowel.

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