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A monophthong (Greek μονόφθογγος, "monophthongos" = single note) is a "pure" vowel sound, one whose articulation at both beginning and end is relatively fixed, and which does not glide up or down towards a new position of articulation; compare diphthong.

In the English language, there are in practice relatively few monophthongs. The position, beginnings, and endings of vowel articulation are perhaps the chief distinguishing feature among the various dialects of English; the differences between the pronunciations of British English and American English are largely a result of the different realization of vowel sounds. The conversion of monophthongs to diphthongs (diphthongization) or of diphthongs to monophthongs (monophthongization), is a major element of language change and is likely the cause of further changes. Some sounds that may be perceived by native speakers as monophthongs in both these varieties of English are, in fact, diphthongs; the vowel sound in pay — Template:PronEng is an example of this. Some dialects of English make monophthongs out of former diphthongs. The vowel boat is generally realized as a diphthong [əʊ] or [oʊ]. Also, the speech of the southern United States tends to alter the diphthong /aɪ/ as in eye to an [aː] somewhere between /ɑ/ and /æ/. On the other hand, former monophthongs have become diphthongs in American English such as the /ɪ/ in words like pin changing to [ɪə] in some American dialects.

Historically, some languages treat vowel sounds that were formerly diphthongs as monophthongs. Such is the case in Sanskrit, in whose grammar the sounds now realised as /e/ and /o/ are conceptually ai and au, and are written that way in the 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. Similar processes of the creation of new monophthongs from old diphthongs are preserved in the traditional spellings of languages as diverse as French and modern Greek.

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Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary




From Ancient Greek μονόφθογγος (monophthongos), from μόνος (monos), single) + φθόγγος (phthongos), sound).




monophthong (plural monophthongs)

  1. A vowel (in the sense of a sound rather than a letter of the alphabet) that has the same sound throughout its pronunciation, such as the short vowels in "pap", "pep", "pip", "pop" and "pup", as opposed to a diphthong (eg, /aɪ/, the vowel in "pipe") or a triphthong (eg, /aɪə/, the sound in the non-rhotic pronunciation of "pyre").

Derived terms


Simple English

A monophthong (pronounced "Mono-F-thong") is simply a vowel. The word monophthong comes from the old Greek language. Mono means one or single, and the -phthong means sound or tone, from the basic word phthalein, which means to speak, create sound with the voice. The word monophthong shows that a vowel is spoken with exactly one tone and one mouth position. For example, when you say "teeth", then while you are creating the sound of the "ee", nothing changes for that sound.

A monophthong can be a lexeme of a language and as such it can as well be a syllable. There is no shorter syllable than a single monophthong.

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