Complex vowel articulations

In pronouncing long and short English vowels, our speech organs usually do not change their position and they are therefore called plain vowels or monophthongs. In addition to these, there are 8 vowel sequences consisting of two sounds. These sounds are called gliding vowels or diphthongs, because they start with a monophthong and the quality of the sound then changes towards, but never quite reaches, another monophthong through a gliding movement of the tongue.

Diphthongs can be divided into 3 groups:

  • Centring diphthongs (3) move towards schwa: /eə/ (air), /ɪə/ (ear), /ʊə/ (tour)

  • Closing diphthongs (5) move towards a closer vowel: 3 move towards /ɪ/: /eɪ/ (face), /aɪ/ (mind), /ɔɪ/ (voice); 2 move towards /ʊ/: /əʊ/ (nose), /aʊ/ (mouth)

  • Opening diphthongs move towards a more open vowel, but there are none in English

A diphthong is conventionally analysed as one vowel phoneme, so that a word such as “face” consists and would be transcribed with three phonemes: /feɪs/

Monophthongs and diphthongs combined, we have 20 vowel sounds in English.

Triphthongs are vowel sequences that consist of three sounds. There are 5 of them in English:

”player” /eɪə/

“fire” /aɪə/

“royal” /ɔɪə/

“lower” /əʊə/

“flour” /aʊə/