There are words where one letter refers to two different sounds, e.g. eighth, where T exists itself and also makes a /θ/ sound, or threshold, which is sometimes pronounced with a /h/ sound, especially in AmE. H in this word also forms a /ʃ/ sound.

So my question is: what are such words or this phenomenon called?

  • This is just a dental affricate. How many "sounds" do you feel that <ch> "makes" in each of cache, catch, rich, or <g> in carriage bridge, or <ng> in singer and finger? – tchrist Jul 5 '19 at 21:57
  • @tchrist: dental affricate? Thank you so much! The answer doesn't really help, but your comment does. He talks about the term for two or more letters forming one sound, but I needed the opposite — one letter forming two sounds. I think yours (dental affricate) is good. :) – Artyom Lugovoy Jul 6 '19 at 7:58
  • In your examples I think it's one sound for <ch> (/ʃ/ and /tʃ/), one for <g> (/ʤ/) and two for <ng> in these cases (/ŋg/). Though I still don't know the term for such words or such phenomenon (I suppose it hasn't been invented), at least, I know now what this combination of sounds is called. – Artyom Lugovoy Jul 6 '19 at 9:15

If the individual sounds are phonemes, as represented in the question, then the individual letters used to represent them are referred to in linguistics as graphemes. I have heard combinations of graphemes which represent a single phoneme, which is the phenomenon you're asking about, as multigraphs - I don't know if that is common current use.

As you are no doubt aware, there is no one-to-one relationship in English between phonemes and either graphemes or multigraphs. 'Eighth' is a particularly interesting example, where the first four graphemes represent - depending on accent - either a single vowel sound or a diphthong, and the remaining two appear to simultaneously represent two different sounds, as you can't assign the /t/ sound to the <t> grapheme without breaking up the <th> multigraph, so while 'multigraph' covers one part of what you're asking about, it doesn't cover the specific situation you referred to.

  • I wonder why it’s a multigraph not a multiletter, as any true Romanᵗⁱᶜ might well expect. Go right ahead and call me palaeoanthropic if you want, but me, I'm more used to digraphs, trigraphs, tetragraphs, pentagraphs, hexagraphs, heptagraphs and such, what with ‑graph being Greek and all, and I’d be glad to prove this via the polygraph of your choice. :) – tchrist Jul 6 '19 at 0:00

The letters R and L have 2 pronunciations at the beginning and end of the words ‘rider’ and ‘label’ for example. (Note tongue placement when you say the words). The first sound in each example is called ‘clear’ and the second ‘dark’.

  • Curious, I've not heard those terms in this context before, could you link references to support your claim? – A Rogue Ant. Apr 9 '20 at 19:33
  • This doesn't answer my question. And, by the way, the second R in 'rider' isn't pronounced in British English. – Artyom Lugovoy Apr 9 '20 at 19:35
  • It was the British Rs that got me interested years ago. I still don’t understand why they dislike the final R so much. I have read that the alveolar R is difficult, one of the last sounds American children learn and that it is distinctively American. An hour ago I saw this video which is why I responded. youtu.be/2yzMUs3badc – Theresa Hemminger Apr 9 '20 at 19:49

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