W is a vowel?

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Anonymous:
I was recently thinking to myself, though I cant remember why, about the letter 'w' and its sound both alone and in conjunstion with other letters. It was then that I came to the conclusion that w is infact a vowel, or at least a semi-vowel or sub-vowel (and I do notmean in refference to the word 'cwm'). A vowel is defined as any sound produed with an open vocal tract, and when pronouncing lower case 'w' I could concience of no other sound being created than a "oo-uh" A combination of two vowels.

I then moved on to thinking about words containing 'w':

Why - oo-ie

When - oo-eh-n

well- oo-e-ll

(the oo as created by a 'w' is a fast sound and is not held as would be expected by looking at the phoenetic words.)

Hence I concluded that 'w' is not infact a conssonant but is a vowel along with AEIO and U. I have similar thought on the letter 'y'.

Tell me what you think

Chris Ovenden
The problem with any category is that once you have established it you will always find something that doesn't quite fit. The Letters W and Y both have something of a vowel and something of a consonant about them. Fittingly they are known as semi-vowels.
Regular Member518
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Well, I have heard that Y is a vowel. I'm not so sure about W. Like other consonants, W can't produce a sound on its own; it needs to be next to a vowel in order to be pronounced. Of course, there are exceptions, like S and Z. But all vowels can be pronounced without any consonants. W clearly cannot.

The W sound isn't actually the "oo" sound, though. It's the sound that's created when you transition from an "oo" sound to another vowel, by moving the lips a certain way (similar to B, P, and M, but without placing the lips together). Try it. Even in words without a W, like Spanish agua, there's a W sound that occurs between the U and the A. If pronounced quickly, the U can sound like a W, making the word sound like it could be spelled agwa. So the W and the U or "oo" sound are very closely related.

To me, W is a special consonant that can only be created when preceded and followed by a vowel (like the short, almost silent "oo" in the word what), unlike other consonants that can occur with either a preceding or a following vowel.
Junior Member58
I don't know why this is in the controversial section!

Categories are man-made (OK, letters are too!); as soon as we set them up we find things that don't fit. The letters W and Y have characteristics of both vowels and consonants; that's why they are sometimes known as semi-vowels.
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Sorry about the repetition above, the first time it didn't seem to have been posted.
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Agreed. I didn't see your post until after I posted mine. But yeah, there isn't much to debate about here.
Anonymous:
W: I am addressing the nature of the consonance/vowel controversy in the teaching of poetry. In most cases, assonance has a tendency to slow a line down. Try to say Poe's ". . . weary, way-worn wanderer . . ." fast. So often, assonance holds the tone and holds the sound. Consonnance and alliteration tend to kick the sound away and move quickly to the next.

In this context, w works much more as a vowel. Sometimes h does too. That's why the three letters in why all seem equal candidates for the same job.

Also, there is a quiet in vowels as if they want to be absent and leave space open in words (except maybe i: it seems complicit in the speed of, say, itty bitty; I'm still working on i).

Anyway, thanks for the exposition.

ER
>> Well, I have heard that Y is a vowel. <<

The reason you have heard that "y" is a vowel, is because it sometimes functions completely as a vowel: for example in the word easy /izi/ , it is simply pronounced /i/. In words such as "yet", it functions as a semivowel: /jEt/. "w" (except for perhaps words of Welsh origin) always functions as a semivowel.
Regular Member638
There is a lot of confusion here.

First, we can say that when writing the symbol <y> may function as a vowel, as in words such as 'my'. <w> does not have this function in writing in English, although it does in Welsh.

When the sounds /j/ (the IPA symbol for the sound of <y> in yam) and /w/ are analysed phonetically (that is the way they are formed) it is difficult to think of them as other than short /i/ and /u/ respectively - they are formed without any obstruction of the vocal tract - which is the essence of a vowel.

When /j/ and /w/ are analysed phonologically (that is as part of continuous speech) they function as consonants, if we allow a rather loose definition of a consonant as a sound that only occurs in speech with a vowel.

So 'w' and 'y' are a bit tricky and that is why they are sometimes referred to as "semi-vowels", though it would be just as valid to call them "semi-consonants".
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