This may be an extremely simple question. I know pretty much what do we do when we see any vowel but I am curious why were these two classes created in the first place.

I beg pardon for another question : Why were only these letters chosen as vowels :

a , e , i , o , u ?

  • 1
    1) Not all alphabets have vowels. No, that’s incorrect: an alphabet by its very definition has vowels and consonants. Better, not all writing systems are alphabets and have vowels. Pure abjads like early Phoenician or the Pahlavi script have no vowels. A lot harder to read when you have to guess where the vowels should go and what they should be. 2) Not only those letters “were chosen” as vowels. Y, w, v, r, n, m, l, æ, ə, ɔ, and many others are used to represent vowel sounds in various languages too; y even quite commonly in English. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Nov 3 '18 at 3:16

Vowels and consonants describe sounds. The sounds came first and the letters we call vowels and consonants came later as attempts to record them in writing. So the question should really be about why human speech has some sounds which come uninterrupted from the vocal cords (vowels), and why others are modified in the mouth (consonants). That is an interesting question, but not one that can be dealt with adequately in a few words. A short answer might be that human speech makes the best use of the bodily apparatus available.

English adopted the Roman alphabet and had to use its limited number of vowel letters to represent the English vowel sounds, of which there are around 20. A, E, I, O and U (and sometimes Y) have to be used both separately and in combination to cover the entire range.

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    This The sounds came first and the letters we call vowels and consonants came later as attempts to record them in writing and this why human speech has some sounds which come uninterrupted from the vocal cords (vowels), and why others are modified in the mouth (consonants) are very good short description in fact – 0decimal0 Aug 23 '13 at 6:51
  • We've also officially nicked the w in cwm from the Cymry. – Edwin Ashworth Aug 23 '13 at 7:37
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    You could also say that we’ve nicked é in café from French. – Barrie England Aug 23 '13 at 7:42
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    'The question should really be about...' You may be right, but if so it should be on Linguistics.SE not here. – TimLymington Aug 23 '13 at 10:28

It is almost always a good idea to search Wikipedia before posting a question. The answer to your first one is here

As for your second, there are many vowels in spoken English, considerably more than the 5 or 6 (with y) that we have symbols for; and the assignment of sounds to symbols is an arbitrary accident of history. It is also not consistent hence the existence of homonyms in English (among other thins).

How would you say:

  • ate
  • eight
  • 8?

Three symbolic representations of exactly the same sound. It is because of this imprecision that linguists use phonetic alphabets to accurately record what words sound like.

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    English has between eleven and twenty vowel phonemes, depending on how you count. – Jon Purdy Aug 23 '13 at 6:41
  • Anyone can come to this place by searching on google and find several people's answers based on different prospects, this is what makes this site amazing :) . Why it is bad to see here first than wikipedia for that matter? – 0decimal0 Aug 23 '13 at 7:06
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    Because it would show a minimum of research. From the help files Have you thoroughly searched for an answer before asking your question? Sharing your research helps everyone. Tell us what you found and why it didn’t meet your needs. This demonstrates that you’ve taken the time to try to help yourself, it saves us from reiterating obvious answers, and above all, it helps you get a more specific and relevant answer! – mplungjan Aug 23 '13 at 7:27
  • @mplungjan I know about that "help FAQ" theory . But sometimes its necessary to have simple questions on a site like this ( it ain't be a duplicate of course ) . I don't see any harm if people prefer SE even before looking in google or wikipedia that's good for community itself. Its not even that simple a question like what is an apple? .Besides ,IMHO these questions deserve a place here, regards :) . Also I have always found better answers than anywhere on SO even to a very simple question. – 0decimal0 Aug 23 '13 at 14:04
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    @PHI : A bank's a good place to get money from, but you're expected to obey a few rules. – Edwin Ashworth Aug 23 '13 at 23:01

Vowels are used to break down a word so that it's easier to pronounce. This makes it easier to chunk words out. And yes they do describe sounds.

  • This isn't correct. Vowels (and consonants) were created to enable words to be written [approximately] phonetically. The words already existed, and people already knew how to pronounce them. Please read the other answers to a question before posting your own, and consider how your post will add to the quality of our site: note that an answer is expected to be authoritative, detailed, and explain why it is correct. You might like to read How to Answer, and take the Tour :-) – Chappo Nov 3 '18 at 2:48
  • Please also avoid adding a "thank you" or other unnecessary conversational/editorial content. I've deleted these elements from your post. We just want good answers on our site - no need for them to include personal messages :-) – Chappo Nov 3 '18 at 2:52

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