What is a Vowel?
Jul 13, 2021
Before I read Speech to Print or took LETRS training for the first time, I thought there were exactly three things to know about vowels:
- vowels are the letters A E I O and U
- there are 5 of them
- they can be either long or short
Wrong, wrong, and boy was I wrong!
Since that time, I’ve learned soooooo much about vowels. I suspect there is still more to learn. The study of the English language never ends!
I’m going to share a list of what I now think about vowels, and ask you to revise and extend my list.
Here goes…in no particular order:
- vowels are phonemes/sounds that are not consonants
- vowel phonemes can be represented by a variety of letter, well beyond A E I O and U
- every syllable has a vowel phoneme
- vowel phonemes can be categorized as tense or lax
- the syllable type can indicate the pronunciation of the vowel
- vowel phonemes can be reduced to schwa in unstressed syllables
- vowels can change sound when they precede a nasal consonant phoneme such as /n/ or /m/
- vowels change the sounds of nearby consonants, for example, the pronunciation of the letter C as /k/ or /s/ depending on the vowel that follows it
- vowels are always voiced phonemes
- vowels are often what give children the most difficulty when they are reading and spelling
- variant vowels are similar to but not the same thing as diphthongs
- tense or “long” vowels are diphthongs, except the long E
- it is essential and sometimes challenging to come up with a good keyword for vowel phonemes (i.e., using echo instead of elephant or egg)
- “the great vowel shift” occurred over 300 years and caused long, stressed vowels to change their place of articulation
- languages other than English have different vowel sounds – some more, some less
- vowel pronunciation changes with dialect
- speakers of African American English dialect sometimes change the sound of voiced and unvoiced /th/ after a vowel to /t/, and change the voiced sound of /th/ before a vowel to /d/
- a rime is the vowel and the sounds that follow it in the syllable
- vowel phonemes are continuants
- there are 18 vowel phonemes
- the vowel is the nucleus of the syllable
- vowel sounds are made with an open mouth – no teeth, tongue or lips touching
- the pronunciation of and inventory of vowels varies across the versions of English spoken in the U.S, England, and Australia
What did I miss? What did I not get quite right? What do you teach to your students and when?