3

While reading the answers and comments of When is "Y" a vowel? I thought of a few other words that seem to have "w" as a vowel but am not sure. In addition to "cwm" there is also "crwth" and "hwyl." My question is specifically about "hwyl." Is the "y" or the "w" in "hwyl" the vowel or both?

  • 3
    A word must generally contain a vowel sound, in order to be pronounceable, but there's no reason why that must be identified with a specific character. – Hot Licks Oct 26 '15 at 3:09
  • 1
    Well, if you listen to the pronunciation, it's something like "who-ill". That seems like two vowel sounds to me. But "colonel" is pronounced "kernel", so does that mean that it contains only two vowels? – Hot Licks Oct 26 '15 at 3:17
  • 3
    I hadn't realised 'cwm', 'crwth' or 'hwyl' had made it into English, but I can assure you that 'w' and 'y' are always vowels in Welsh...but that information doesn't belong on this site, really. – Phil M Jones Oct 26 '15 at 15:31
  • 1
    @Araucaria You're welcome. Being a Welsh rugby fan, 'hwyl' is a word I use quite often, so it was nice to see a question about it. – Phil M Jones Oct 26 '15 at 15:38
  • 2
    @RegDwigнt That's not true for obvious reasons. While it's true that written language is a mirror of spoken language and that English spelling is no guide to pronunciation it's very obviously true that letters are representations of sound in English. It's just that there's a very irregular correspondence – Araucaria Oct 27 '15 at 23:40
3

The linked-to post asks about when Y should be considered a vowel. The top answer there looks at words like why, where it arguably is, and words like yes, where it isn't. The very reasonable stance taken in that post is that letters represent sounds, and we can establish in a given word whether a particular sound should be considered a vowel or a consonant. This is true. Well, kind of.

Phonetically, vowels are sounds that do not contain friction or turbulence in the air flow. There is also no obstruction in the mouth restricting or diverting this airflow as it passes through the vocal tract. However, whether we consider such a sound a vowel or a consonant depends more on its position in the syllable structure than on its phonetic quality. It's primarily a matter of phonology (you can think of phonology as a kind of sound-grammar in a language), not sound quality.

English syllables are split into two parts. There's the Onset and the Rhyme. The rhyme is obligatory, but the onset is an optional feature. The onset is usually a consonant or group of consonants at the beginning of the word before the vowel, the rhyme is everything else. So in the word cat /kæt/, the onset is /k/ and the rhyme is /æt/.

Now the rhyme is further split into two parts. It has the most sonorous musical and vowellish part, the Nucleus, which is obligatory. It can also have a Coda, which involves the syllable getting both quieter and less sonorant. Codas are usually consonants or consonant clusters. So in /kæt/ the nucleus is /æ/ and the coda is /t/. So the syllable itself represents a peak in sonority. If it has an onset and a coda, then these will represent the dips in sonority at either end of the syllable.

Notice that I said that nucleuses are usually vowels. This is because we can, in special circumstances, have a syllabic consonant. This is when the nucleus of a syllable is a consonant. For example, in the word criticism /krɪtɪsɪzm/, the last syllable just consists of an /m/ sound. The consonants /r, l/ and /n/ also frequently occur as syllabic consonants in English.

I also said that onsets and codas are usually consonants. In actual fact we can get sounds that are phonemically vowels such as /w/, found at the beginning of the word wok, which occur in onsets. Generally, when we get a sound like this which only occurs in onsets, we regard it as a consonant, at least in terms of the phonology. This is despite the fact that phonetically, in terms of the quality of the sound, it's technically a vowel.

Now the letter Y can represent several different sounds. It can be a /j/, which is the sound at the beginning of yes /jes/, or it can be an /ɪ/, which is the sound in crypt /krɪpt/; it can be an /i:/ as in silly /sɪli/; it can be an /aɪ/ as in my /maɪ/. In the word yes /j/ occurs in the onset of the syllable and so would therefore be regarded as a consonant (at least in terms of the phonology). In the other words these sounds occur in the nucleus, so we would regard Y as representing a vowel in those words.

The word hwyl represents an interesting case. It can be pronounced with two syllables: hu: ɪl or hu: əl. But it can also be pronounced with a single vowel, a diphthong (a single vowel that changes quality), like this: huɪl. In the first instance the nucleus of the first syllable would be /u:/; the nucleus of the second would be /ɪ/. So there in the orthography we'd want to say that W represented one vowel and Y another. But in the pronunciation with one syllable, we might be inclined to say there was one vowel /uɪ/. So in this case we might consider WY to be a single vowel.

[Different scholars may have different views on whether a diphthong is a single vowel or not. If they think it isn't they might not put both vowels in the nucleus here.]

  • 1
    Whyl? Is that supposed to be "while" or just "why" :) Oh, it's an actual word. I swore it looked like a typo for Why I(s)... No, it's a typo. I give up! EDIT: It's Hwyl, of course, a very recognizable English word. Not. – Mari-Lou A Oct 26 '15 at 15:31
  • 1
    @Mari-LouA I accidentally inserted a typo in OP's title. Erm ..oops! It's hwyl not whyl! – Araucaria Oct 26 '15 at 15:37
  • @Mari-LouA No, I wondered if it would count, but it's in all the dictionaries I've checked so ... EDIT: It's nice to see some loan words going from Welsh to English instead of the other way round :) – Araucaria Oct 26 '15 at 15:38
  • Any advice on the downvote? – Araucaria Sep 26 '17 at 13:33
  • 1
    ? Sorry, no. It's been a long time since I last saw this. Lemme have a better look later tonight. – Mari-Lou A Sep 26 '17 at 14:56
0

Actually letters Y and W are semi vowels but remember /a/ /e/ /i/ /o/ /u/ sounds are matter for adding the article "an" like the word university: It starts with U but we never say "an university" its wrong although it starts with /y/ sound .

  • 2
    This is confused and confusing. Wikipedia explains the term 'semivowel': "In phonetics and phonology, a semivowel or glide is a sound that is phonetically similar to a vowel sound but functions as the syllable boundary rather than as the nucleus of a syllable. In English, the consonants y and w in yes and west are semivowels.' [bolding mine] Read the answers at the previous thread. – Edwin Ashworth Oct 26 '15 at 8:14

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.