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While reading about diphthongs in a different question today, I noticed that while the word "diphthong" doesn't seem to contain any actual diphthongs, it does contain 3 sets of consonant groupings.

When I was younger, I used to think consonant groupings actually were called diphthongs. I know now that I was mistaken, but I do wonder - is there a single word that describes consonant groupings?

After doing some searching on Google, Wikipedia and this site, I'm unable to find a definitive answer besides "consonant cluster" or "consecutive consonant". Those terms may be the only accurate ones available, but I would be mildly disappointed.

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They are also known as blends, which would satisfy your single word criteria, but consonant cluster seems like the term for them... –  Kel196 Aug 28 '12 at 17:37
Are you talking about sounds, or letters? Do you mean things like affricates and coarticulated consonants? –  tchrist Aug 28 '12 at 17:58
Just to echo @tchrist, your question is ambiguous. Your comment about 'diphthong' suggests you're interested in digraphs, your comparison to diphthongs suggests you're interested in either coarticulated consonants, or phonemes which consist of a sequence of two consonantal targets (affricates and a few other odds and ends). Answering would be easier if you told us which it is. –  Gaston Ümlaut Aug 29 '12 at 7:05
@Gaston; choster read my intentions well, as did you. I was looking for "digraphs". However, the list you just put in your comments made for some very interesting reading. Linguistics is interesting to me but I have a lot to learn about it. –  Marcus_33 Aug 29 '12 at 12:13
OK well, in addition to digraphs there are trigraphs and tetragraphs: groups of 3 or 4 letters used to represent a single phoneme. –  Gaston Ümlaut Aug 29 '12 at 15:28
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2 Answers

up vote 12 down vote accepted

The directly analogous term is indeed consonant cluster, a combination of consonant sounds that appear together.

It is possible that you are thinking of a digraph, which however is two characters representing a single sound, rather than a blending of adjacent sounds as with a dipthong or consonant cluster. For example, the ch in church or the sh in hashish are digraphs.

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The technical term is simply "consonant cluster" or "consonant blend". As spoken, they are part of the general class of "phonemes" (especially "digraphs", groups that indicate a non-transitive mouth position, such as "th").

Many phonetic alphabets have specific characters for phonemes that we use consonant clusters for; for instance, the Greek "theta" is a single character that Romanizes to "th". Norse runic lanuages had the "thorn" character, with much the same purpose. The Russian character ш is pronounced similarly to "sh" as in "show". By contrast, the Japanese alphabet is made up primarily of consonant-vowel pairs, and the only "consonant clusters" seen in Romanized spellings involve "n", which is the only consonant sound that exists unpaired in gana/kana (it also exists paired).

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No, things like th require only one IPA character. They are not two different consonant sounds. –  tchrist Aug 28 '12 at 17:54
Where exactly did I say different? Please remove the downvote. –  KeithS Aug 28 '12 at 18:01
In English, 'th' is a digraph and not a consonant cluster. In English, 'th' is phonemically a single consonant, even though we spell it with two letters. I believe 'ts' in Japanese is a better example for the single phoneme–consonant cluster dichotomy. –  Peter Shor Aug 28 '12 at 18:07
Actually the only occurrence of the sound "ts" is in the single character "tsu"; neither "t" nor "s" sounds exist by themselves. Where you might hear "ts" (or other consonants) pronounced without a trailing vowel is in an unstressed syllable at the end of a word ending in "u"; the "u" of such a syllable is whispered or simply dropped. –  KeithS Aug 28 '12 at 18:20
I think your answer might not have received a downvote if you had done a better job of clarifying when you mean consonant sound versus consonant letter. –  nohat Aug 28 '12 at 18:56
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