Monophthongization

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Sound change and alternation
Fortition
Dissimilation

Monophthongization is a sound change by which a diphthong becomes a monophthong, a type of vowel shift. In languages that have undergone monophthongization, digraphs that formerly represented diphthongs now represent monophthongs. The opposite of monophthongization is vowel breaking.

English[edit]

Some English sounds that may be perceived by native speakers as single vowels are in fact diphthongs; the vowel sound in pay — pronounced /ˈpeɪ/ — is an example of this. However, in some dialects (e.g. Scottish English) /eɪ/ is a monophthong [e].

Some dialects of English make monophthongs out of former diphthongs. For instance, Southern American English tends to realize the diphthong /aɪ/ as in eye as a long monophthong [äː].

Smoothing[edit]

In Received Pronunciation, when a diphthong is followed by schwa (or possibly by an unstressed /ɪ/), a series of simplifying changes may take place, sometimes referred to as smoothing.

To begin with, the diphthong may change to a monophthong, by dropping of the second element and slight lengthening of the first element: /aɪ/→[aː], /aʊ/→[ɑː], /eɪ/→[eː], /əʊ/→[ɜː]. The vowels /iː/ and /uː/, whose usual forms are in fact slightly diphthongal (close to [ɪi], [ʊu]), may undergo the same change and become [ɪː], [ʊː].

Next, the following schwa may become non-syllabic, forming a diphthong with (what is now) the preceding monophthong. In certain cases, this diphthong can itself be monophthongized. Thus the original sequences /aʊ/+/ə/ and /aɪ/+/ə/ can end up as simply [ɑː] and [aː].

For example, the citation form of the word our is /ˈaʊə/, but in speech it is often pronounced as [ɑə] (two syllables or a diphthong), or as a monophthong [ɑː]. Similarly, fire /ˈfaɪə/ can reduce to [faə] or [faː].[1]

Sanskrit[edit]

In Sanskrit, the sounds pronounced as /e/ and /o/ are written as ai and au in Devanagari and related alphabets. The sounds /ai/ and /au/ exist in Sanskrit but are written as if they were āi and āu, with long initial vowels.

Greek[edit]

Greek underwent monophthongization at many points during its history. For instance, the diphthongs /ei ou/ monophthongized to /eː oː/ around the 5th century BC, and the diphthong /ai/ monophthongized to /eː/ in the Koine Greek period. For more information, see Ancient Greek phonology § Monophthongization and Koine Greek phonology.

French[edit]

French underwent monophthongization. Hence the digraph ai, which formerly represented a diphthong, represents the sound /ɛ/ or /e/ in Modern French.

Arabic[edit]

Classical Arabic has two diphthongs, /ai/ and /au/. In the majority of modern Arabic dialects, these diphthongs are realised as the long vowels /eː/ and /oː/, respectively. One notable exception is the Lebanese dialect, which preserves the original pronunciations.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Wells, J.C., Accents of English, CUP 1982, pp. 238ff.