Denseman on the Rattis

Formerly known as the Widmann Blog



Scrabble Letter Y
Originally uploaded by Leo Reynolds

Perhaps because my native language is Danish, where y is a vowel and (almost) never a consonant, I’ve always regarded the English letter as primarily a vowel that can sometimes act as a consonant.

However, native speakers seem to regard it primarily as a consonant.

When Charlotte moved it with me two years ago, she was six years old and had just started in P2. Back then she hadn’t learnt the names of the letters yet and instead called them (with a Scottish accent) /a, b?, ?k?rle k?, d?, ?, f?, ??, h?, ?, d??, ?k?k?n k?, l?, m?, n?, ?, p?, kw?, r?, s?, t?, ?, v?, w?, ks, j?, z?/.

And the daughter of a friend of Phyllis’s parents is called Yvonne /j??v?n/.

John Wells has also picked up on it twice: In “Yngling”, he spotted he pronunciation /?j??l??/ for yngling (the keelboat), and in “Ylang-Ylang”, he had come across /j??læ? j??læ?/ for ylang-ylang.

I wonder whether yttrium is gradually becoming /?j?tri?m/, too. I guess I’ll find out when Marcel starts chemistry next year.

5 thoughts on “Y

  • Thomas ,.,.
    This one is just tooooo much for my tiny brain !
    I laughed out loud so much at it that Ann thought I had gone over the edge !
    Do explain to me sometime what the hell you are talking about here 🙂

  • Dad’s comment made ME laugh out loud! HAHAHA What’s the y problem dad?

  • Harry Campbell (ex-BilingDicts)

    I’d say most Brits actually have very little concept of what a vowel is. All they “know” is that there are five of them and they are letters: a, e, i, o and u. At a stretch they might concede that y can sometimes make trouble by moonlighting as a vowel but it’s definitely supposed to be a consonant. This is part of the anglophone idee fixe that Welsh is an impossible language. You only have to look at it to see that, since many of their words have no vowels in at all: it’s not physically possible to pronounce a word like cwmwl or byw — this in spite of the paradox that “consonants” like m, n, l and r are often syllabic in English. In the BBC TV reality show “Last Choir Standing”, poor Myleene(?) has been having terrible problems with the word Ysgol (school, y=schwa) in the name of one of the choirs. There’s nothing remotely difficult about it, it contains no sounds or combinations not present in English (“do they mean us, Col?”), but she knows it’s impossible because she’s seen it written down. The programme’s website contains a rather embarrassing attempt at a singing lesson given by one of the judges. She gets her victims to sing “the vowels”, but soon runs up against the problem of how these vowels are supposed to be pronounced: does the one we call /ai/ make the noise [i:], or [ɪ]? /æ/ or /a:/? /ɔ/, /ɔ:/ or /əU/? etc. We prefer not to think about these things too hard, it gets confusing.

  • Would you still love me if I pronounced my name Phjil??? 😉

  • You wouldn’t have been you if you did, would you? 😉


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