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Introduction to English Linguistics
prof. Hugo Bowles
Lesson 9 Diphthongs
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fear
go
house I
pain
pear
tour
toy
here
know
how
my
play
there
pour
voice
beer
home
down
either
cave
where
hear
bone
loud
eye
reign
air
clear
sew
sigh
made
heir
dear
crow
thai
maid
wear
Don’t
tie
obey
foam
choice
pay
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foe
TRIPHTHONGS
/ei/ +
schwa
/ai /+
schwa
/au/ +
schwa
/oi/ +
schwa
schwa + /u/
+ schwa
player
fire
hour
royal
lower
liar
power
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Minimal pairs
Beware of heard
a dreadful word that
looks like beard and
sounds like bird
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While the position of the tongue is
more or less stable for a pure
vowel…
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… a diphthong is characterised by a
graceful movement from one point
to another, for this reason they are
also sometimes known as glides.
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English diphthongs may cause
Italian speakers difficulty for two
main reasons:


Italian has four diphthongs while
English has eight. All the Italian
diphthongs have equivalents in
English which are not the same but
which are reasonably similar
Nowhere is the English spelling
system more bizarre than in its
representation of diphthongs
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If one has a clear idea of where pure
vowels are articulated on the
quadrilateral then interpreting the
diphthong symbols is not difficult.
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Technically, English diphthongs are
divided into two groups:


Closing diphthongs – which tend to
move from an open to a close
position, these roughly correspond
to Italian sounds
Centring diphthongs – which tend
towards a central position
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First we will look at the closing
group…
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… the ‘pay’, ‘ made’, ‘maid’, ‘reign’,
‘obey’, sound:
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Then we have the ‘I’, ‘my’, ‘tie’,
‘sigh’, ‘either’, ‘eye’, ‘Thai’, sound:
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Then there is ‘boy’, ‘choice’:
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Then ‘down’, ‘loud’:
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To end the closing group, the most
common diphthong in English, that of
‘no’, ‘know’,‘bone’, ‘foam’, ‘sew’, ‘though’,
‘don’t’, ‘foe’, ‘crow’:
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To start with the centring group, we have
the most common, that of ‘clear’, ‘deer’,
‘here’, ‘wier’:
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Then ‘air’, ‘where’, wear’, ‘care’,
‘heir’:
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Finally, there is a diphthong which is
quite rare - ‘tour’, ‘poor’:
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Pronunciation change



Poor used to be pronounced like puer in
Latin (and still is in some regions, e.g.
Scotland).
Now it tends to be pronounced as a long
vowel (like “door” and “more”)
Is there a difference between the
pronunciation of “poor” and “paw”
(zampa) ?
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Finally:

Diphthongs are the element in a
language which are most liable to
change. The majority of the
characteristics of a given accent
are usually to be found in this area,
so understanding of the underlying
mechanics is vital if one wants to
understand accents and accent
change.
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