Difference Between Vowels and Diphthongs

Vowels vs Diphthongs
 

The difference between vowel and diphthong has to do with the sounds they produce. In linguistics, there are various elements such as phonemes, vowels, diphthongs, digraphs, monographs, etc. Each element plays a key role in the structural composition of a language. In this article, we will be paying attention to two of these elements. They are vowels and diphthongs. Vowels and diphthongs have to be viewed as two different elements. Simply, a vowel is a speech sound. In the English language, there are five vowel letters. A diphthong, on the other hand, refers to a single syllable, where two different sounds are produced without a syllabic break. This highlights that the key difference between a vowel and a diphthong is that while a vowel produces a single sound, a diphthong produces two vowel sounds. Through this article let us examine this difference further.

What is a Vowel?

In the English language, there are five vowel letters. They are a, e, i, o and u. The letter ‘y’ is sometimes considered as a sixth vowel sound. The rest of the letters in the alphabet are usually referred to as consonants. A vowel is a speech sound. In certain words, the vowel sound can be very prominent but, in others, it can be silent.

A vowel sound is produced freely without any friction. The speaker does not have to control his vocal tracts in the production of vowel sounds. For instance, notice how we adjust our mouth when pronouncing consonants such as preventing the air stream through our mouth. This does not take place in the case of vowel sounds. A diphthong is quite different to a vowel.

Difference Between Vowels and Diphthongs

‘Cap’ contains the short ‘a’ vowel sound

What is a Diphthong?

Unlike a vowel where a single sound is produced, a diphthong is composed of a pair of vowel sounds. To be more specific, it can be viewed as a single syllable, where two different sounds are produced without a syllabic break. This highlights that the individual simply moves from one sound to another within a single vowel. This is why a diphthong is also referred to as a gliding vowel.

The individual moves from one position to another. This act of moving is called as the process of gliding. Let us look at some examples of diphthongs.

Boy

Know

Decide

Afraid

Sight

Cure

Owl

Look at each example and pronounce the words. You will notice that when pronouncing the gliding vowel, you can hear two vowel sounds, even though, there is not syllabic break.

A diphthong is made up of two different parts. They are,

  • Nucleus
  • Off-glide

It is the combination of these two parts that create a diphthong. A nucleus can be understood as the central sound. It is more stressed than the other vowel sounds. The off-glide, unlike the nucleus, is not very stressed and merely flows. This highlights that a vowel and a diphthong are very much different from one another.

 Vowels vs Diphthongs

‘Owl’ contains the diphthong ‘ow’

What is the difference between Vowels and Diphthongs?

• Definitions of Vowels and Diphthongs:

• A vowel is a speech sound. In the English language, there are five vowel letters.

• A diphthong refers to a single syllable, where two different sounds are produced without a syllabic break.

• Number of Sounds:

• A vowel produces a single sound.

• A diphthong produces two vowel sounds.

• Gliding Movement:

• A vowel does not contain a gliding movement.

• A diphthong does contain a gliding movement.

• Connection:

• Within a single diphthong, a pair of vowel sounds can be seen.

• Movement of the Tongue:

• A vowel does not require a movement of the tongue.

• A diphthong requires a movement of the tongue.

 

Images Courtesy:

  1. Baseball cap by Rjcastillo (CC BY-SA 3.0)
  2. Eastern Screech owl by Greg Hume (CC BY-SA 3.0)
  • Chaz Smith

    The Cap photo is a long “A”, not a short “A”. This is a terrible article. The difference is not made very clear here. Of course, the vowel letters are a e i o u and y. Those are the letters that represent vowel sounds. Vowel sounds and how they are represented is what makes the difference between a vowel and a dipthong. A dipthong is a blended vowel sound. It’s one way a vowel sound is made. Basically, it blends two vowel sounds together to represent one vowel sound. For example, the long “A”, this is a dipthong. When you break it down you are sounding two different vowel sounds and blending them to get the long “A” sound. So, you have the short “E” first and then the long “E” second, basically. Say “eh” then “ee” real fast together and you have “A”. Like the vowel letter “I”. Say “awe” (a little more back in the throat) then “ee” together fast. Unless your from West Virginia and then you only say the first half. : )