Vowels and consonants

The word is the most basic element of our language, the atomic unit of language that has some meaning. Words are composed of only two sub-elements: vowels and consonants.

What are vowels? The simple definition is a, e, i, o, and u. Here is a more precise definition from Wikipedia.org:

A vowel is a sound in spoken language, pronounced with an open vocal tract so that there is no build-up of air pressure at any point above the glottis. This contrasts with consonants, where there is a constriction or closure at some point along the vocal tract.

Vowels are the key building blocks of most English words. There are only 127 words in The Official Scrabble® Players Dictionary that have no vowels; 107 of these include y. Conversely, there are only five words that are all vowels (aa, ae, ai, oe, and eau).

What are consonants? The simple definition is all the non-vowels. The more technical definition is a speech sound produced by occluding, with or without releasing (p, b, t, d, k, g), diverting (m, n), or obstructing (f, v, s, z, etc.), the flow of air from the lungs. Here is Wikipedia’s definition of consonants:

In articulatory phonetics, a consonant is a speech sound that is articulated with complete or partial closure of the upper vocal tract, the upper vocal tract being defined as that part of the vocal tract that lies above the larynx.Consonants contrast with vowels.

Good grief! Can you imagine the geniuses way back when coming up with those definitions and selling them to academic authorities who blessed them as the standards?


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One Response to “Vowels and consonants”

  1. I happened to be in the throes of a terrible Scrabble binge, playing promiscuously with friends and strangers online. Once a fever catches you in Scrabble, it’s hard to shake.

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