re: Is it true "W" can be used as a vowel? September 11, 1987

I am a bit late to the game here as this article was published quite some time ago (came across it via the “random”, which is an awesome feature). I remember a linguists professor in college stating that, contrary to popular belief, “R” is actually a vowel! Think about it. If you pronounce “er”, you are making one sound. If you try stretching it out.(I’ll spell it “eeeeer”), it is one long sound created wholly by the shape of one’s mouth filtering the sound of vibrating vocal cords. There is not a different sound at the “end”. Fascinating!

P.S. Maybe I should have speller the long version as “rrrrrrr”, (“eeeeer” could be interpreted as a long “ear”) Try saying “waterrrrrrr”…

R and L are vowels in some Slavic languages and in Sanskrit. South-west English and some American accents use it as a spoken vowel as well. N has been a vowel at some distant time in the past and may be in some language somewhere. The Georgian languages of the Caucusus appear to be full of words with no obvious vowels at all. For the original question, W is a common vowel in Welsh, standing for what might be expected, a doubled-U in words like Cwm, English Coombe meaning Valley.

Forgot the link:

R, L, and N can all represent vowel sounds in standard English.

R examples have already been discussed. The “L sound” in “battle” is a vowel. And so is the “N sound” in “button” (in Standard English. Your dialect may vary.).

L, M, N, and R are all vowels in a certain sense. However, they are not normally used as vowels in English spelling, except, arguably, in certain words ending in “-le” and “-re”.

For whatever it’s worth, when quoted in the artificial language Loglan, the English words “bottle”, “bottom”, “button”, and “butter” are phonetically spelled “batl”, “batm”, “bytn”, and “bytr”.

The word “cwm”, thus spelt, can be found in large English dictionaries. Like many other words, it has entered English twice, though “coombe” has been an English word much longer than “cwm” has, and is far more common. (“Royal”, “regal”, and “real” show a word that came in three times.)

My mother was taught “A, E, I, O, U, and sometimes Y and W” in Brooklyn in the 20s.

Or -m, as in “rhythm” or “chasm”. Which doesn’t stop some ill-informed prescriptivists from trying to claim those are one-syllable words.

Yes. Note that both of those derive their spellings from the original Greek ρυθμός and χάσμα.

I once missed a test question in 3rd grade because of this. The question asked how many syllables are in the word “snarl,” and my answer was 2. The “correct” answer was 1. I’m still bitter about it after all these years.

I had to show this to my sister, Gail, who always insisted that her name had two syllables. Her teachers did not agree.

Depends where you are I guess but I would pronounce Gail as Geyull. Some would go for Gehl.

If you were in the South it’d be two syllables, maybe three.

I had always thought that w was considered a vowel because it can form the last part of the diphthong in words like snow. Still, the example of one word (cwm) hardly seems enough, as those words above (like rhythm) show.

Also, the only way snarl only has one syllable is if iron, drawer, and layer all are one syllable, as they have the same short shwa before the “consonant” sound. They would at least be triphthongs, otherwise.

“Layer” and “iron” are two syllables unless you live in Hazzard County.

“Drawer” has one syllable unless you’re talking about someone who serves beer at a bar.

“Snarl” has one syllable.

A diphthong is not two syllables, by definition. If you have two vowels together that make two syllables (as in “trio”), then that is not a diphthong.

A diphthong consists of a sound that begins with one vowel and ends with another. There is a glide between the two. It all takes place within one syllable. Notice how your lips change shape when you slowly say cow or how. That is an example of the “w” used as a vowel.

“Snarl” may be said correctly as one syllable or two according to Noah’s dick. Your teacher was wrong! That was a silly question to be asking third graders or college students either. Teachers are terrible human beings who deserve to be despised for eternity.

I still hold a grudge against my third grade teacher also and she is still alive! I’m 66 years old! It isn’t fair! It isn’t fair!

Hmm. I’ve never heard anyone pronounce layer and lair differently. But I cannot figure out any way to make that back /l/ in snarl not take up its own syllable. I’ve even listened to pronunciations online.

And I know what diphthong is. Do you think I’d know how to spell it if I didn’t? :stuck_out_tongue: I was saying that the only way I could understand snarl as having one syllable in a rhotic dialect (which Ponch8 seems to have) is if you count /arl/ as a triphthong. (I’m already counting /ar/ as a diphthong between the /a/ and the r-colored schwa.) This allows the short /l/ to notcount as its own syllable. I find that explanation a bit torturous, but it’s the only way I can allow for what is apparently the accepted syllabification.

Of course, there’s also the fact that there is sometimes a difference between written and spoken syllabification. For example, I know no one who can pronounce fire as one syllable.

w is the vowel in the verb to pwn (pwned, pwnage, etc.).

Only for some. To me, p is the vowel in those words. Or maybe it’s more accurate to say pw is the same diphtong as ow, I’m not a phoneticist.

Czech is (in)famous for this - entire sentences can be construed without a, e, i, o, u, or y. Strč prst skrz krk, for instance, means ‘stick a finger through your throat’. In all these words, ‘r’ is preceded by a sjwa-sound (‘uh’). This is also possible for l, such as in the word ‘zblbl’ (he went stupid).

What?! You mean “diphthong” doesn’t mean “camel toe”? :wink: