Vowel - Written Vowels

Written Vowels

The name "vowel" is often used for the symbols that represent vowel sounds in a language's writing system, particularly if the language uses an alphabet. In writing systems based on the Latin alphabet, the letters A, E, I, O, U, and sometimes Y are all used to represent vowels. However, not all of these letters represent vowels in all languages, or even consistently within one language (some of them, especially W and Y, are also used to represent approximants). Moreover, a vowel might be represented by a letter usually reserved for consonants, or a combination of letters, particularly where one letter represents several sounds at once, or vice versa; examples from English include igh in "thigh" and x in "x-ray". In addition, extensions of the Latin alphabet have such independent vowel letters as Ä, Ö, Ü, Å, Æ, and Ø.

The phonetic values vary considerably by language, and some languages use I and Y for the consonant, e.g., initial I in Romanian and initial Y in English. In the original Latin alphabet, there was no written distinction between V and U, and the letter represented the approximant and the vowels and . In Modern Welsh, the letter W represents these same sounds. Similarly, in Creek, the letter V stands for . There is not necessarily a direct one-to-one correspondence between the vowel sounds of a language and the vowel letters. Many languages that use a form of the Latin alphabet have more vowel sounds than can be represented by the standard set of five vowel letters. In English spelling, the five letters A E I O and U can represent a variety of vowel sounds, while the letter Y frequently represents vowels (as in e.g., "gym", "happy", or the diphthongs in "cry", "thyme"); W is used in representing some diphthongs (as in "cow") and to represent a monophthong in the borrowed words "cwm" (nearly always spelled combe, coomb, or comb in English) and "crwth" (sometimes cruth).

Other languages cope with the limitation in the number of Latin vowel letters in similar ways. Many languages make extensive use of combinations of letters to represent various sounds. Other languages use vowel letters with modifications, such as Ä in Scandinavian and Nordic languages, or add diacritical marks, like umlauts, to vowels to represent the variety of possible vowel sounds. Some languages have also constructed additional vowel letters by modifying the standard Latin vowels in other ways, such as æ or ø that are found in some of the Scandinavian languages. The International Phonetic Alphabet has a set of 28 symbols to represent the range of basic vowel qualities, and a further set of diacritics to denote variations from the basic vowel.

The alphabets used to write the Semitic languages, such as the Hebrew alphabet and the Arabic alphabet, do not ordinarily mark all the vowels, since they are frequently unnecessary in identifying a word. These alphabets are technically called abjads. Although it is possible to construct simple English sentences that can be understood without written vowels (cn y rd ths?), extended passages of English lacking written vowels can be difficult to understand (consider dd, which could be any of dad, dada, dado, dead, deed, did, died, diode, dodo, dud, or dude).

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