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I found a few similar questions, but none of them gave me the answer to this.

I'm a native Serbian, so I have problems understanding diphtongs, because Serbian has none of them. Serbian has only five vowels (/a/, /e/, /i/, /o/ and /u/), so it's much simpler than English to pronounce (at least considering vowels).

What bugs me, is that I hear diphthongs /eɪ/ (play), /aɪ/ (time), /ɔɪ/ (choice) as /ej/, /aj/ and /oj/ ; to be more specific, I hear them as monophtongs followed by semivowel /j/. Other diphthongs make make sense, and I both hear and pronounce as they are ( /oʊ/, /aʊ/ ...).

When I try to pronounce those as gliding vowels, it sounds really unnatural to my ears.

My question here is, should I continue to pronounce them as /ej/, /aj/ and /oj/ or should I practice to pronounce them correctly?

  • You might as well keep pronouncing them as monophthong surrounded by the semivowel /j/. French does this too (oreille, taille), and they sound close enough to English diphthongs to me (oray tie) that you should be understood easily. So don't bother trying to pronounce them correctly unless you want to rid yourself of all trace of an accent. – Peter Shor Apr 21 '15 at 15:38
  • This is complicated by the fact that there are three phonemic diphthongs in English, which are simple vowels followed by offglides: /ay/ 'I', /oy/ 'boy', /aw/ 'ouch'. Then there are four more phonetic tense vowels, all of which are diphthongized whenever they're stressed: /i/ [iy] 'free', /e/ [ey] 'fray', /o/ [ow] (in American English) 'blow', /u/ [uw] 'blue'. Phonetically, they're diphthongs, but since there are no undiphthongized tense vowels for them to contrast with, they're simply called "tense" and treated (in the US) as single phonemes, not as diphthongs. – John Lawler Apr 21 '15 at 16:06
  • For the phonemic chart, see this handout, using Kenyon and Knott's phonemic notation. – John Lawler Apr 21 '15 at 16:09
  • Thank you for answers. My French pronunciation is pretty good, and I must say that /j/ in ille is much "harder" than my /j/, so I guess it's even closer to original English. – Belgradensis Apr 21 '15 at 16:12
  • This paper might be helpful, although it uses British RP rather than US English; I'm currently looking through it to get information for an answer: languagebits.com/files/ma-paper/… – sumelic Apr 21 '15 at 17:07
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Sure, you should practice pronouncing the diphthongs (and trifthongs as well) correctly. Try phonetics practice exercises.

American English Diphthongs by Rachel's English

Listening to your own speech when you repeat after a native speaker record and try to repeat as close to the native speech as possible is very helpful.

Actually, many people who hesitated whether or not they should improve their pronunciation, decided to improve after listening to their own speech recorded.

Just imagine 3 people from different parts of the world speaking and pronouncing the same words each in their own way, and a poor native English speaker trying to make them out.

Everyone should try to bring their English as close to standard as possible, otherwise the internationally used English will be something totally different from native.

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I'm not clear about what phonetic difference you think there is between vowel+glide and diphthong (I don't think there is such a difference), but I have a guess. C.-J. Bailey described a distinction in his and other Southern dialects between Maya, the Indian people of central America, and Maya, the name of the poet Maya Angelou. According to Bailey, it's a difference of syllable structure. The Indians are Ma.ya, while the poet is May.a.

I get that. I don't have that distinction, but I think I understand it. The y of May.a is in syllable offset, like the word "my". The y of Ma.ya is in syllable onset, like in "Yahoo". When you ask whether you must pronounce the glide as part of a diphthong, as in May.a, do you think you might be asking about that?

Articulatorily, in my opinion, this difference is one of place of articulation. The syllable offset y, as in "my" or poet May.a is a palatal. The syllable onset y, as in the Ma.ya Indians, is a palato-alveolar, pronounced at the same place as sh and ch in English.

Also, there is a difference in strength of articulation, syllable onset y being fortis as compared with lenis syllable offset y, but that difference is shared by all other consonants that can occur both in syllable onset and in syllable offset.

So, I think they're both glides, just slightly different glides.

Whether you refer to the offset glide as part of a diphthong is merely a stylistic matter. If you want to master the phonetics of English in this particular regard, maybe these notes about the phonetics of onset and offset y will be helpful.

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