What is a diphthong?

Discussion in 'General Education Archives' started by becky, Jun 8, 2007.

  1. TeacherGroupie

    TeacherGroupie Moderator

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    Aug 15, 2007

    Backing up:

    A monophthong (mono 'one', phthong 'sound') is a single pure vowel - for example, the vowel sound in standard English pronunciations of the word bit.

    A diphthong is, if you will, a moving vowel, as in standard English pronunciations of the word house. And yes, there can be triphthongs: the standard British and Australian pronunciations of the word fire would qualify, since the pronunciation passes through vowels like those in cot, bit, and but. I can't use phonetic transcription here, but each of those sounds has its own phonetic symbol.

    The terms monophthong and diphthong are strictly and solely about sounds - about pronunciations. So the word fear in British and Australian English (and in New England English) consists of a consonant /f/ plus a diphthong consisting of the vowel sounds in bit and but. In American English, however, fear is better analyzed as consisting of three phonemes: /f/, /I/, and /r/.

    The term digraph, in contrast, has to do with spelling - how sounds in English have come to be represented graphically. In the American English version of fear, <ea> is a digraph that represents the pure vowel /I/. In British and Australian English, in contrast, <ear> in fear is a trigraph (three letters) that represents a diphthong.

    All of which suggests that the term digraph is one that you as teacher need to know but that it may be less than totally transparent for your students. What about asking them to match the missing spelling, instead of the missing digraph?
     
  2. TeacherGroupie

    TeacherGroupie Moderator

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    Aug 15, 2007

    This is, by the way, getting into some fairly thorny issues of phonetics and phonology. If it's any consolation, American English speakers who try to learn linguistics from British English books have a perfectly terrible time making sense of diphthongs. And since it seems to be the case that linguists and educators don't tend to talk to each other in most of the world, your best bet may be to search the Web sites of the Australian teacher colleges and other reputable Australian sources IN EDUCATION to find lists of diphthongs or digraphs that are accepted as definitive for teaching Australian English.
     
  3. eduk8r

    eduk8r Enthusiast

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    Aug 15, 2007

    Madeline, I just had to answer because your stubborn insistence on calling Teacher Groupie “eduk8r” is making me laugh so hard! Can’t you tell she’s the expert, not me? :)

    Okay, for public school teachers the best places I know where you can find this information is at Pepperdine University’s RICA preparation on their website. And the RICA itself has great information with their released test questions and answers. I put those links on a RICA test question thread but I don’t have them handy right now so you could google it or search eduk8r’s threads for the one RICA thread I posted on. Or TG could get them for you....

    Like TG said, though, it might be a little different for Australians than Americans, your vowel sounds are flatter sounding than ours and you don’t pronounce “r’s” the same way.

    I’ll answer your questions as best as I can, though TG has already done it in a very scholarly way. Public school teachers call –ar, -er, -ir, -or, and –ur “r-controlled vowels” because the r changes the vowel sound in English.

    When you ask about –ai, -ea, and combinations like that, there’s a little phrase “when two vowels go walking, the first one does the talking, the second one makes the first one say its name.” And we teach that the silent "e" is a bossy e that makes the vowel in the middle say its name.

    That does not apply to diphthongs, where the two vowels form a completely different sound as in –oy, and –au. And I'm not positive which are diphthongs and which are not because there seems to be a discrepancy in official definitions there...

    I hope this helps at all? Thanks for making me laugh, it was fun. Have a great night in the land down under. :)
     

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