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|Manners of articulation|
|See also: Place of articulation|
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Semivowels (also called semiconsonants or glides, though these are now dispreferred) are non-syllabic vowels that form diphthongs with syllabic vowels. They may be contrasted with approximants, which are similar to but closer than vowels or semivowels, and behave as consonants. They are normally written by adding the IPA non-syllabic mark " ̯" to a vowel symbol, but often for simplicity the vowel alone is written.
For example, the English word wow may be transcribed as [waʊ̯] (or abbreviated to [waʊ]). Even though the [w] and the [ʊ̯] are both similar to the vowel [u], this transcription indicates that the former is considered to be a consonant, while the latter forms a diphthong with the preceding vowel. The approximant [w] is more constricted and therefore more consonant-like than the semivowel [ʊ̯]. (Using [aʊ̯] for the diphthong rather than the [æu̯] that one might expect is a minor phonetic point. See diphthong for details.)
Because they are so similar, the terms semivowel and approximant are often used interchangeably. In such usage, semivowels are defined as those approximants that correspond phonetically to specific close vowels. These are [j] corresponding to [i], [w] for [u], [ɥ] for [y], and [ɰ] for [ɯ]. (See approximant for details.) However, languages such as Nepali and Samoan have additional semivowels that correspond to mid vowels such as [e̯] and [o̯], which other than being non-syllabic are not at all consonant like.
- English eye [ɑɪ̯]
- English cow [kaʊ̯]
- Dutch ui "onion" [œʏ̯]
- Samoan ’ai "probably" [ʔai̯]
- Samoan ’ae "but" [ʔae̯]
- Samoan ’auro "gold" [ʔau̯ɾo]
- Samoan ao "a cloud" [ao̯]
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