LINGUIST List 9.443

Mon Mar 23 1998

Disc: Short Diphthongs

Editor for this issue: Martin Jacobsen <>


  1. Joaquim Brandao de Carvalho, Disc.: Short Diphthongs
  2. Waruno Mahdi, Re: 9.355, Disc: Short Diphthongs
  3. Dr James M Scobbie, short diphthong in Scots

Message 1: Disc.: Short Diphthongs

Date: Fri, 20 Mar 1998 23:50:06 +0000
From: Joaquim Brandao de Carvalho <>
Subject: Disc.: Short Diphthongs

John Rennison [LINGUIST List 9.423 : Message 1: short diphthongs]
wrote :

Perhaps the problem with a moraic analysis lies with moras. I have no
trouble analyzing diphthongs with alternating length in Government
Phonology: there is a single contour melody which is attached to one
vs. two skeletal points. There is also a third possibility: two
(monophthongal) melodies and two skeletal points. The fourth logical
possibility (2 melodies, 1 x) is impossible as the representation of a
diphthong -- it would have to be a monophthong.

I'm afraid I don't know where the problem lies.


There is no problem at all, indeed, if :
(a) 'single contours' are viewed as primitive ;
(b) moras and nucleic points are seen as different objects.

Assuming (a), the contour, like any segmental prime, can be attached
to one (or two) skeletal positions. On the other hand, it may be
descriptively interesting to distinguish between one contour
associated to two skeletal points, and 'two monophthongal melodies'
attached to two points (e.g., 'true' diphthongs versus V+C

However, it can be discussed whether it is adequate for a theory of
phonological primitives to accept diphthongs as basic melodies. In my
opinion, it is like if 'E', 'O' and 'Y' were accepted as primitives,
with the same status as I, A, U, instead of the current analysis of /e
o y/ as I+A, U+A, I+U. Thus, a diphthong like /ey/ should be obtained
from I and A only, in such a way that the 'contour' *results* from the
linking of elements to the skeleton. Now, this clearly implies two
positions for diphthongs, regardless of their length. Hence a first
point where the problem lies : if short diphthongs count as two
positions, long diphthongs must count as three.

Regarding (b), in the analysis of diphthongs proposed by John Rennison
moraic quantity is ruled out. If length and moraic quantity could be
shown to be distinct properties, as is suggested by Scots
(cf. LINGUIST List 9.371 and 9.411), then moraic quantity ought to be
assigned to a specific moraic tier. My point in my previous message
(9.355) (I'm afraid I didn't make it very explicit) was that we should
avoid such a dissociation between skeletal positions and moras, for
the same reason as the one that disallows primitive diphthongs :
simplicity. (Though I'm aware that this simplicity entails a lot of
complex problems).

Joaquim Brandao de Carvalho
1, rue Henri Poincare
75020 Paris
Tel./fax : 01 43 64 34 18
(If calling from outside France,
please replace the prefix '01' with '331'.)

Departement de linguistique
Faculte des Sciences Humaines et Sociales - Sorbonne
Universite Rene Descartes - Paris V
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Message 2: Re: 9.355, Disc: Short Diphthongs

Date: Mon, 23 Mar 1998 16:06:26 +0100
From: Waruno Mahdi <mahdiFHI-Berlin.MPG.DE>
Subject: Re: 9.355, Disc: Short Diphthongs

Sorry to be so slow to respond.

Vietnamese has a very interesting vocalism, involving diphthongs and
triphthings of various structure and length, further complicated by
highly variegated reflection in the dialects. The following is based
on the Northern standard dialect (BEWARE: it does NOT apply to other

The syllable maximally consists of four positions: KwVQ

K = an optional initial non-glide consonant (stop, fricative, or
w = an optional medial non-syllabic _o_ or _u_ (these are spelling
	variants in complementary distribution),
V = an obligatory syllabic vowel, being either a monophthong or
 a diphthong,
Q = an optional final consonant, either K or w or y (symbolizing
 non-syllabic _o_/_u_ and non-syllabic _i_ respectively).

Thus, diphthongs occur when "V" is a syllabic vowel cluster (basic
diphthong), or when a monophthongal "V" is combined with a preceding
medial "w" (rising diphthong) or with a final "w" or "y" (falling
diphthong). Triphthongs occur when a diphthongal "V" combines with
either medial "w" or final "w" or "y", or when a monophthongal "V"
combines woth both medial and final non-syllabic high vowel (NOTE: I'm
only using the symbols "w" and "y" for convenience, not because the
phonemes they are to depict are consonants; they symbolize
non-syllabic high vowels here).

Spelling and phonemic transcription of the monophthongs:

 _a_ -- /aa/ (long /a/)
 _a^_ (an "a" with circumflex accent) -- //(mid central unrounded,
 IPA turned-around "e")
 _a~_ (an "a" with tilde for brevity
 mark of standard spelling) -- /A/ (mid-low central unrounded,
 IPA turned-around "v")
 _e^_ (an "e" with circumflex accent) -- /e/ (mid front unrounded)
 _e_ -- /E/ (low front unrounded,
 IPA "epsilon")
 _i_ -- /i/
 _y_ -- /i/ (variant spelling of same)
 _o^_ (an "o" with circumflex accent) -- /o/ (mid back rounded)
 _o_ -- /9/ (low back rounded,
 IPA turned-around "c")
 _o+_ (an "o" with comma on upper
 right) -- /00/ (mid back unrounded, long)
 _u_ -- /u/
 _u+_ (a "u" with comma on upper
 right) -- /W/ (high back unrounded,
 IPA turned-around
"m") NOTE: gemination of the vowel transcription indicates single long

Four of the monophthongs form pairs with long-short contrast, although
the place of articulation within each pair is not quite identical (the
other monophthongs have intermediate length):
 _a~_ /A/ -- _a_ /aa/
 _a^_ // -- _o+_ /00/

This leads to contrast of long and short falling diphthongs (for
rising diphthongs such pairs are not attested) and triphthongs in
combinations with non-syllabic vowel final and medial:
 _ay_ /Ay/ -- _ai_ /aay/
 _a^y_ /y/ -- _o+i_ /00y/
 _uay_ /wAy/ -- _oai_ /waay/
 _uau_ /wAw/ -- _oao_, _uao_ /waaw/

The spelling in the latter is _uao_ after initial _q_ /k/, and _oao_
Note that the /A/--/aa/ contrast in three of he pairs is indicated in
the spelling not by a diacritic over the _a_ spelling the vowel on the
left, but by writing the following nonsyllabic high front vowel with _y_
and _i_ respectively, or nonsyllabic high back vowel either as _u_ or
as _o_.

There also is a pair with rising/falling contast, in which the two
components of the diphthong show complementary long/short contrast
(syllabic/nonsyllabic contrast):
 _uy_ /wi/ -- _ui_ /uy/

There are three basic diphthongs (i.e. diphthongal "V"), each of which
has a closed (when followed by a final "Q") and an open (when not)
variant (allophone). The variants are contrased by length of the
first vowel in the cluster. Albeit, they are in complementary
In the following, /H/ represents a non-syllabic //:

 closed open
 _ie^_ /ie/ -- _ia_ /iiH/
 _uo^_ /uo/ -- _ua_ /uuH/
 _u+o+_ /W0/ -- _u+a_ /WWH/

In combination with the medial non-syllabic rounded back vowel, the
former gives a triphthongue with the same closed/open variants:
 _uye^_ /wie/ -- _uya_ /wiiH/

The two others combine a final "w"/"y", and, thus being not in open
position, give triphthongs without open/closed alternation:
 _uo^u_ /uow/, _uo^i_ /uoy/, and _u+o+u_ /W0w/

There are two different _ua_ in open syllables, the one being the open
allophone of closed _uo^_, the other a spelling variant of _oa_ /waa/
when the initial consonant is _q_ /k/:

 _cua_ /kuuH/ -- _qua_ /kwaa/

The latter diphthong, of course, also occurs in closed syllables
(_quan_, _quang_, _quat_, etc...)

Vietnamese (Northern) thus provides diverse types of long/short
oppositions. The above does not include other di-/triphthongs occuring
in the dialect, which are not relevant to the subject of long/short
contrast. Finally, my apologies for the not quite canonic use of
slashes in transcriptions which are not quite 100% "phonemic".

Regards to all, Waruno

- ---------------------------------------------------------------------
Waruno Mahdi tel: +49 30 8413-5404
Faradayweg 4-6 fax: +49 30 8413-3155
14195 Berlin email:
Germany WWW:
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Message 3: short diphthong in Scots

Date: Mon, 23 Mar 1998 12:31:06 -0000
From: Dr James M Scobbie <>
Subject: short diphthong in Scots

I'll summarise the correspondence I've had more fully later,
but here's some more on Scots.

To clarify on Norval Smith's message in

Paul Johnson ( ) was referrring to the pronunciation in Scots of 'pay'
not with /e:/ at all, but with what I'd transcribe in ascii as /^i/. A
real minimal pair. There's also 'gey' (very) vs. 'guy', 'stay' (not
/ste:/ but /st^i/) vs. 'sty'. Aitken (1981) discusses the splits
historically which lead to /e:/ in 'day' but /^i/ in 'pay'. /^i/ also
appears in the SVLR short allophonic environment, and as a historical
development of some cases of /Oi/ in words like 'join'.

I had thought that the long /ae/ never occurred in a short SVLR
environment, but this depends on what you call a 'short' environment.

As far as I am aware, there is not much discussion of polysyllabic
monomorphemic words. It's pretty clear that idol is long and idle is
short. Either, like in scottish standard english, there's a real vowel
target in idol but just /idl/ in 'idle', meaning there's a contextual
difference and we're in allophonic territory, or Scots just has a
vowel difference. This'd imply either that 'open' syllables within a
word are a long environment too (which seems to agree with scottish
standard english). I'm not sure how 'open' these syllables are,
however. Is it ok to suppose that syllabic /l/ is syllabic enough to
take an onset?

- ---


Other cases of /Oi/ are split I think,

into 2 syllables: 'boy' is /bo.i/. (I'm not sure about that last
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