Differences between semivowels and diphthongs

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Runkkarius
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Differences between semivowels and diphthongs

Post by Runkkarius » 12 Oct 2013 04:38

I'm not putting this in the linguistics section because I think it's only a problem a beginner would have, but what is the difference between, say, /aj/ and /ai/?(I can seem to post the actual symbol that goes under the /i/, but you know what I mean). And more importantly, can a language contrast, say, /aj.a/ with /ai.a/, or even /ij.a/ with /i.a/ without getting things too complicated? This has been bothering me a while as I try to conlang.

I would appreciate help very much guys. [:D]

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Re: Differences between semivowels and diphthongs

Post by kanejam » 13 Oct 2013 01:22

I'm trying to think of an answer that will actually explain it. The best I can come up with is that a diphthong generally is 'moving' the whole time, whereas /aj/ will stick on the a for nearly the whole time and then quickly tack a semivowel onto the end of it. But there's all sorts of grey area and in between stuff. /aj.a/ would tend to become /a.ja/ although not necessarily (just as a general linguistics thing, open syllables are favoured.)

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Re: Differences between semivowels and diphthongs

Post by Runkkarius » 13 Oct 2013 02:47

So realistically, a language wouldn't distinguish between the two?

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kanejam
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Re: Differences between semivowels and diphthongs

Post by kanejam » 13 Oct 2013 05:43

They could do. There's probably a language out there somewhere that distinguishes all of /aj.a/, /a.ja/, /aj.ja/, /ai.ja and /ai.a/. But I don't think it's likely.

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Re: Differences between semivowels and diphthongs

Post by Ambrisio » 13 Oct 2013 06:00

The first two are real Estonian words:

aia 'garden' (gen.)
aja 'time' (gen.)

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Re: Differences between semivowels and diphthongs

Post by Salmoneus » 13 Oct 2013 12:26

These sorts of distinctions are extremely common. The details will often depend on the language and how it categorises things. For instance, /ai/ may be two morae while /aj/ may only be one.

[And of course /j/ is a lot more close than /i/, so that alone can be enough to distinguish.]

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Re: Differences between semivowels and diphthongs

Post by gach » 13 Oct 2013 15:07

You can even contrast /i/ with a more closed version of it, a syllabic /j/ if you will, in the syllable nucleus. The same applies for /u/ vs. /w/. This is rare but it's well documented for Kirikiri (Clouse & Clouse, 1993; PDF, see Sect. 3).
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Re: Differences between semivowels and diphthongs

Post by Xing » 13 Oct 2013 15:39

Runkkarius wrote:I'm not putting this in the linguistics section because I think it's only a problem a beginner would have, but what is the difference between, say, /aj/ and /ai/?
Whether one should analyse something as /ai̯/ or /aj/ may depend on many things - it can be both general, phonetic considerations, and languages-specific phonological considerations. Sometimes it might be claimed that the only difference between /j/ and /i/ is that the latter is syllabic, but the former isn't. Sometimes, it may be claimed that there are phonetic differences. In that case, /j/ is typically used to denote a sound that is tenser, and possibly also shorter, than /i/ - often a sound with a somewhat fricative-ish quality - something closer to [ʝ], or maybe something between [j] and [ʝ].

One complication is that sounds in different languages, that are conventionally represented by the same phonetic notation, might have slightly different qualities. For example, Swedish [iː] is typically - at least in my dialect - more tense/close, often with a somewhat fricative-like quality, than English [iː]. It may well be possible for a language to contrast [i̞] with [i̝]

My conlang Wakeu can contrast syllables ending in a diphthong, with those ending in a semivowel. In this case, the distinction is more due to internal, language-specific phonological factors. Wakeu can contrast words like /ai.a/ and /aː.ja/. If a word ends in /u/, that sound is dropped in many circumstances. It is therefor possible to contrast two word-final syllables /ai/ and /aːj/ (<-ai> vs <-ayu>) The audible difference is that the preceding vowel is longer when the word ends in a semivowel. One *could* in a sense claim, that /aːj/ is really an over-long vowel. But there would be no advantage is such an analysis. There is no reason to posit over-long vowels in this case, if there are no such vowels elsewhere in the language. Besides, /aːj/ parallels well with other consonant-final words/syllables - [aːl, aːk, aːm] etc, all of which are the result of a dropped, word-final /u/.

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Re: Differences between semivowels and diphthongs

Post by Salmoneus » 13 Oct 2013 15:57

One thing it's always worth remembering, along those lines: most linguistic terms, including phoneme notation, doesn't directly refer to objectively defined universal concepts, but instead provides, as it were, a box of labels to attach to things - and then each time you describe a language, you reach in to the box, and try to find the label that you think fits best. But this means that the use of the labels depends on what things the language has that need labelling. Specifically, each label is used not just to tell you what something is, but to distinguish it from the things that it isn't - the use of the label depends on what distinctions the language has to make. First you have the distinctions, and then you bend the available terminology to fit those distinctions.

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Re: Differences between semivowels and diphthongs

Post by Ear of the Sphinx » 13 Oct 2013 18:10

Runkkarius wrote:I'm not putting this in the linguistics section because I think it's only a problem a beginner would have, but what is the difference between, say, /aj/ and /ai/?(I can seem to post the actual symbol that goes under the /i/, but you know what I mean). And more importantly, can a language contrast, say, /aj.a/ with /ai.a/, or even /ij.a/ with /i.a/ without getting things too complicated?
Hmm. Polish seems to have /i/ vs /ji/ vs /ij/ and /u/ vs /wu/ vs /uw/ distinct.
However, /V.ji/ and /V.i/ are merged, at least orthographically.

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Re: Differences between semivowels and diphthongs

Post by kanejam » 14 Oct 2013 20:18

Is there a difference between /ai̯/ and /a͡i/ other than notation?

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Re: Differences between semivowels and diphthongs

Post by Znex » 15 Oct 2013 00:18

kanejam wrote:Is there a difference between /ai̯/ and /a͡i/ other than notation?
I don't think I've ever seen the second used with diphthongs. I know it is definitely used with affricates, so I suppose one could use it with diphthongs.
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Re: Differences between semivowels and diphthongs

Post by Runkkarius » 16 Oct 2013 10:10

Not that I don't appreciate your comments, guys, but this only serves to confuse a linguistics noob like me even more than I already was.

Fortunately, I have decided upon the phonology of my language, and I've decided against using hiatus, instead /j/ and /w/ are inserted between the two vowels depending on whether the first vowel in a sequence is a back or a front vowel, and /a/ never occurs at the beginning of a sequence. Out of the two glides, only /w/ occurs phonemically in other positions.

Changing the subject slightly, how realistic does this system sound?

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Re: Differences between semivowels and diphthongs

Post by Melend » 16 Oct 2013 16:32

There is a difference, sure - j is notably less distinct than i. In rapid speech, when people start cutting corners and fine distinctions are blurred together, there wouldn't be much difference.

I'm sure language can make the distinction, I suspect it's not worth the time of a conlang to do so - unless the conlanger is happy with making speakers take pains with certain sounds, that's a perfectly valid goal.

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Re: Differences between semivowels and diphthongs

Post by MrKrov » 21 Oct 2013 03:58

Runkkarius wrote:Changing the subject slightly, how realistic does this system sound?
Peachy.

Gach, I love that thing on Kirikiri.

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Re: Differences between semivowels and diphthongs

Post by Omzinesý » 24 Oct 2013 17:29

My conlang Vtain has two diphthongs ie̯ <ie> and i̯e <je> that are distinguished be means of stressing during the diphthong.
Furthermore, it has a two-vowel sequence je (<je> too) that is distinguished by means of phonotaxis. There are no consonant clusters ending in /j/ but a consonant may precede a consonant. They also behave differently in some phonological processes. But this analysis is not the best one and I have to think it again. Maybe they still aren’t distinguished.

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Re: Differences between semivowels and diphthongs

Post by Click » 24 Oct 2013 19:49


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Re: Differences between semivowels and diphthongs

Post by Xing » 24 Oct 2013 20:38

kanejam wrote:Is there a difference between /ai̯/ and /a͡i/ other than notation?
The inverted breve technically means "non-syllablic" (or possibly "extra short"), and is used to indicate that the is the less prominent part of the syllable. The upper bar means technically means that two sounds belong to the same segment (and used mostly with affricates, I think), but says nothing about which sound is the most prominent (whether the diphthong is falling or rising).

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Re: Differences between semivowels and diphthongs

Post by hadad » 31 Oct 2013 15:38

To be, i and j have always sounded about as similar as u and w. They sound different if you pay close attention. Plus, the shape of the mouth is a little different. It's a minute difference, but it is there. It's just not frequently differentiated in the IE languages from what I know.
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