How Many Vowels Are There In The English Language?

Discussion in 'Evolution of Language' started by Ken Anderson, Oct 3, 2017.

  1. Ken Anderson

    Ken Anderson Greeter
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    A discussion (complaint, actually) on another thread led me to examine the use of vowels in the English language, and particularly the fact that American English seems to use fewer of them than are seen in British English.

    In my response, I said that the use of vowels in written English is not an accent, and I still hold that this is true, but the spelling is the representation of a vowel so there might be something to it.

    A few years ago, Slate published an article on the use of vowels in the English language that is interesting, although it doesn't precisely cover the subject that I was looking for. The point made in the Slate article is that there are more vowels than AEIOU and sometimes Y, at least in the spoken word.

    As for the spelling, if you've ever looked through documents from the American Colonial period on up, you'll see an evolution of spelling. Since they were largely British, it should be no surprise that Americans used just as many vowels as the British do at first but, over the years they seem to have invented their own way of spelling things, whether from laziness, education or other reasons.
     
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  2. Holly Saunders

    Holly Saunders Veteran Member
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    ..it's something we learned a lot about in school...the difference between British English language and the American...and also to some extent, the Canadian and Australian...the different spellings of course, and the different pronunciations of the same or similar words..


    for example taken from the article...

    Depending on your dialect, you might also have vowels in some of BOUGHT, BAUD, BUTTE, BOUY (like BOOEY but as a single syllable), BART, BORE, BEAR, or BALM that are different from any of the first fourteen vowels


    The word Bouy in British English has in fact less vowels than the American English in the pronunciation ...as well as the obvious written form.
    We pronounce it BOY, so with a single syllable .... so even in sound, it has at most 2 Vowels, if we're to include the Y...but just one if not... whereas... the American version orally and visually with the inclusion of the Y has a minimum of 4... and depending on the dialect could sound as though it had even more... ''Booeey''


    With constant changing and evolution of language it will always remain a fascinating subject...
     
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  3. Patsy Faye

    Patsy Faye Veteran Member
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    Prefer the US spelling that's for sure
    How foreigners learn our language is a mystery to me, so confusing
    I was always top of the class for spelling, but when I got out - went me own way :rolleyes:
     
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  4. Ted Richards

    Ted Richards Well-Known Member
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    When we immigrated to Canada we found we had to write, and sometimes pronounce, a lot more vowels. It's closer to British English and then there is the French influence.........

    Phrases are different too. Americans called it a vent window or a wind wing in the car. Canadians call it a no draft or that little window. Fortunately modern cars no longer have that little window.
     
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  5. Jeff Tracy

    Jeff Tracy Well-Known Member
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    Doncha just love 'em ............. aeiouaeiouaeiou
    .
    [​IMG]
     
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  6. Patsy Faye

    Patsy Faye Veteran Member
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    I vowel not to get upset in the future - :p
     
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  7. Jeff Tracy

    Jeff Tracy Well-Known Member
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    [​IMG]
     
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  8. Jeff Tracy

    Jeff Tracy Well-Known Member
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    [​IMG]
     
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  9. Ted Richards

    Ted Richards Well-Known Member
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    Things we learned while teaching our kids to read:

    -OUGH has 5 distinct sounds in American English; off as in cough, uff as in rough, o as in dough, you as in through, oww as in bough. Not sure if the sounds are different in British English.
     
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  10. Shirley Martin

    Shirley Martin Veteran Member
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    It's probably those Englishters' fault. :D
     
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  11. Ted Richards

    Ted Richards Well-Known Member
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    We will have to ask our British members to enlighten us as to how we come to have so many vowels in British English. I suspect we will ultimately blame it on the French. At various times they occupied Britain and French was the language of the court and nobles. At other times the English occupied lands in France. At any rate the two languages became intertwined early on and now there are many words in English adopted from French.
     
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  12. Jeff Tracy

    Jeff Tracy Well-Known Member
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    We have a as in father; ā as in fate; ă as in fat. Then there's ē as in meet; ĕ as in met. We even have a sound called the schwa (ə) in the final vowel of soda. Some in linguistics believe (and I am one) that there is also a stressed schwa (^) as in under. Then there's ī as in might; and i as in mitt. We have ó (a long o, for lack of symbols on my keyboard) as in pope; and ò (a short o) as in pop. And there's ū as in use; and ù (a short u) as in us. Not to forget the long oo as in food, and the short oo as in good.
    But in English we don't rely on accent marks (called diacritics), we rely on the use of a "silent e" to show whether a vowel is long (sit versus site). This "silent e" can also show up alongside another vowel, as in meet versus mete. But sometimes, this "silent e" doesn't even make the vowel long, as in gone.
    Foreign learners of English complain about the spelling of English, and they're right. We'd be better off using diacritics, like they do in Danish.
     
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  13. Patsy Faye

    Patsy Faye Veteran Member
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    Yep, its nothing to do with the amount of vowels, which is 5 :rolleyes:
    Its the spelling that causes problems, which is why I prefer the US for spelling, or of course the Cockney way
    ...... :cool: :p
     
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  14. Hal Pollner

    Hal Pollner Very Well-Known Member
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    In grammar school, we learned that there were five vowels: A E I O U, (and sometimes Y, in months with an R)

    I'd like to buy a Vowel.
    Hal
     
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  15. Patsy Faye

    Patsy Faye Veteran Member
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    I've got a few you can have :p
     
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  16. Hal Pollner

    Hal Pollner Very Well-Known Member
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    Har Har, that's a good 'un, Patsy! ;)

    Hal
     
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  17. Yvonne Smith

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    Here is a great little video that explains about all of the different sounds with vowels, and just how the English language might be pronounced if all of the vowel sounds were actually consistent. By the end of the video, you will have to listen hard (and read along) to understand the sentences.

     
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  18. Tom Galty

    Tom Galty Well-Known Member
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    OK in my younger days I could never figure these two words that ment the same about a prison

    JAIL.

    You have the Anglo Saxon spelling.

    Gaol.

    You have the old French Normandy spelling not used in print for the last forty years but was used in my younger days

    How would you pronounce each of them?
     
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  19. Holly Saunders

    Holly Saunders Veteran Member
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    Of course I would pronounce both Jail... because I know that's how you're supposed to pronounce them

    This piece from the Spectator...






    Those who love the spelling gaol, which combines characteristics of being very English yet outlandish, might be surprised to find that the Oxford English Dictionary prefers jail. There is a logical explanation.




    Both spellings derive indirectly from the Latin cavus, ‘a hollow’, from which came Latin cavea, ‘a dungeon or cage’, and thence French cage and Italian gaggia (like the coffee machine). The changing of cavea into cage is paralleled by the Latin salvia developing into sage, or the late Latin rabia into rage. So far, so good.


    But from the Latin diminutive caveola came two different forms in Old French: gaiole or gayole in Northern French and jaiole in Parisian French. So by the Middle Ages, English possessed two forms of the word: gayol, or the striking variant gayhole; and jaiole or jaile. It should be realised that the form gayol was pronounced with a hard g. In the spoken language, the form with a soft g triumphed. Nevertheless, in writing, thanks to legal language and official conservatism, the spelling gaol was preserved, even though everyone said ‘jail’ when they read the word aloud. In America, official documents favoured jail, which is why it still seems to us American, although the pronunciation, derived from Parisian French, was identical on both sides of the Atlantic.


    Whatever the OED said, the Oxford University Press style remained gaol. The Guardian long persisted with gaol too but changed to jail in the 1980s, like the other English papers. The Economist Style Guide lists its preference for jail under the letter S, for ‘spellings’.


    What we can never know is how documents from the 16th, 17th and 18th century expected readers to pronounce the spelling goal (in the sense of prison). Was it just a mix-up (like Jhon, a common medieval English spelling of John) or did it reflect a pronunciation parallel to the French geôle? Only some rhyming poetry or explicit discussion from those times can unlock that little mystery.

    https://www.spectator.co.uk/2014/04/why-did-we-ever-spell-jail-gaol/
     
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  20. Tom Galty

    Tom Galty Well-Known Member
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    Yes but for years I pronounced them differently in my mind as I read the words.
     
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  21. Holly Saunders

    Holly Saunders Veteran Member
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    ah yes I know what you mean....
     
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  22. Tom Galty

    Tom Galty Well-Known Member
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    An interesting fact about me.

    I am English but in my childhood was brought in RHYL north Wales
    The Y is pronounced as an I but also in certain other words can be a W

    A double L in a lot of place names is pronounced as Clan but with a more L for the C toung on top of the mouth and like clearing the back of your throat.

    Just watched a Welsh program titled Keeping Faith on BBC which is in English

    But they also had repeats of the Welsh language version with subtitles which I watched and understood about 1 word in 10 but could follow JUST and brought memories of the Welsh language. they tried to teach me in my youth

    As stated the English was titled Keeping Faith.

    The Welsh title was...Un Bore Mercher which translates to One Morning Wednesday instead of one Wednesday morning

    I still at times pronounce ONE as UN.
     
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  23. Hal Pollner

    Hal Pollner Very Well-Known Member
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    I always won the Spelling Bees in grammar school, but never did well on the Spelling Wasps or the Spelling Hornets.

    Hal
     
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  24. Don Alaska

    Don Alaska Very Well-Known Member
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    When I lived in the Eastern U.S., we sometimes pronounced it as "boy", but here in the West, we always use the "booey" pronunciation.
     
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