5

I am not an English student, by discipline I am physicist, so am asking this question in innocence.

I searched Google for the longest word without a vowel sound and I got these results:

The longest common word without any of the five vowels is RHYTHMS, but there are longer rare words: SYMPHYSY, NYMPHLY, GYPSYRY, GYPSYFY

However, English students don't agree: they say there is an \i-sound\ and \schwa\ in the word RHYTHM.

I am confused: what should I believe, the internet or my English university students?

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    It is more logical to allow y as an English vowel when it does the same job as the traditional 5 - thus in sky, but not in yell. In the odd loan-word from Welsh, w is a seventh vowel (eg cwm). There is not always one syllable for every vowel in a word, but it is extremely rare for there to be a syllable without a corresponding vowel; I'd say rhythm is a very strange word. Dec 29, 2012 at 17:30
  • 1
    Hmmmmmmmmmm... I wonder what that word might be ;-)
    – Gnubie
    Jul 18, 2016 at 10:43
  • By the way, while internet is a common noun, the Internet is a proper noun, so it should be capitalised. The same is true for the Web.
    – Carl Smith
    Apr 12, 2017 at 14:33
  • The English word "rng" (which means a ring without identity) contains no vowels. See en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rng_(algebra).
    – Zuriel
    Sep 8, 2019 at 12:12

3 Answers 3

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All the words you mention have vowel sounds. I can think of no English word that doesn't have vowel sounds, except something like Mmm.

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    So for the longest such word, just repeatedly add an m :)
    – Hugo
    Nov 15, 2011 at 8:39
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    @Barrie England: Mmm hmm. ;-) Nov 15, 2011 at 8:59
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    My dictionary has the word: phpht
    – GEdgar
    Nov 15, 2011 at 16:48
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    @GEdgar: Oh. Wiktionary. Yeah, I'm gonna start entering 'words' there myself.
    – Mitch
    Dec 8, 2012 at 18:03
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    @GEdgar: I think they spelled it wrong.
    – Mitch
    Dec 8, 2012 at 18:54
13

Debatable but there is a list on Wikipedia which seems to classify these based on dialect

Rhotic dialects, such as in Canada and the United States, have many words such as bird, learn, girl, church, worst, which some phoneticians analyze as having no vowels, only a syllabic consonant, [ɹ̩]. However, others analyze these words instead as having a rhotic vowel, [ɝ]. The difference may be partially one of dialect.

There are a few such words which are disyllabic, like cursor, curtain, and turtle: [ˈkɹ̩sɹ̩], [ˈkɹ̩tn̩] and [ˈtɹ̩tl̩] (or [ˈkɝːsɚ], [ˈkɝːtən], and [ˈtɝːtəl]), and even a few which are trisyllabic, such as purpler [ˈpɹ̩.pl̩.ɹ̩], hurdler [ˈhɹ̩.dl̩.ɹ̩], burglar [ˈbɹ̩.ɡl̩.ɹ̩], gurgler [ˈɡɹ̩.ɡl̩.ɹ̩], certainer [ˈsɹ̩.tn̩.ɹ̩], and Ur-turtle [ˈɹ̩.tɹ̩.tl̩]. The words wyrm and myrrh contain neither a vowel letter nor a vowel sound in these dialects: [ˈwɹ̩m], [ˈmɹ̩] (or [ˈwɝːm], [ˈmɝː]).

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    Why was this downvoted? It's exactly answering this question. If you disagree with the "some phoneticians", take it up with them. :-) Nov 15, 2011 at 9:12
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    I think certain pronunciations of Worcestershire would fall into this category.
    – Andrew Vit
    Nov 15, 2011 at 9:48
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    This is useful, although I find it exceedingly silly to say that "y" is not a "vowel letter" in wyrm and myrrh.
    – herisson
    Jun 15, 2017 at 17:39
  • @AndrewVit In Worcestershire they say ['wʊstəʃə]. Is the FOOT vowel to be deemed not a vowel? So is "cookbooks" vowelless?
    – Rosie F
    Nov 20, 2019 at 9:54
0

It is true that almost all English words have at least one vowel sound. The only exception (other than Hmmm, zzz, etc.) that I know is rng. A rng is an algebraic structure satisfying the same properties as a ring, without assuming the existence of a multiplicative identity. In short, a rng is like a ring without i (the identity element); which hopefully explains its vowelless spelling.

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    The best pronunciation I can come up with for "rng" is [ɹəŋ]. English phonology requires an utterance to consist of syllables, a syllable to have a nucleus, and that nucleus to be some sort of vowel. Any exception must cheat in some way, e.g. by the supposed word being not a word but some paralinguistic representation of some noise (e.g. Barrie's Mmm), or by its pronunciation being deemed vowelless by some analysis where the NURSE vowel and/or the COMMA vowel are not deemed to be vowels (as in Wikipedia's examples quoted by shinynewbike).
    – Rosie F
    Nov 20, 2019 at 9:50

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