2 letters, 1 sound: Digraphs ~ The Linguistics Zone

Thursday, February 21, 2008

2 letters, 1 sound: Digraphs

Two letters (in written form) can represent a single sound. These are known as digraphs. You probably know them as ch, sh, th, and the like.

English doesn't have a single letter to represent the initial sound ("ch") of the word child, so it must use two letters. Recognizing a digraph is one of the many difficulties in learning a language. For example, take the "ch" sound as mentioned above. One CANNOT simply read it as "a 'c' sound followed by an 'h' sound" - it is a completely different sound altogether.

Here's how the some of the digraphs are represented in phonetic transcription (e.g. using IPA):
Most of the time, only one symbol is used because it represents just a single sound, even though it takes two letters in the written form.

The "sh" sound (as in shell) is represented by [ʃ].
The "ch" sound (as in church) is represented by [tʃ]. Two symbols are used but it is still a single sound. It is actually a combination of the "t" and "sh" sounds. Try making a "t" sound and a "sh" sound simultaneously and the result will be a "ch" sound.

In some dictionaries and texts, [š] and [č], are used to denote the "sh" and "ch" sounds, respectively.

There are many more digraphs, and they also exist in languages other than English.

685 comments:

david deangelo said...

English is indeed a hard language. However, it at least have written language which can be pronounced. Think of languages that just has symbols like Chinese. It must be so hard to learn these kind of languages.

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meg said...

I always look forward to your new posts, I learn more compared to school. Always looking forward. Thank you.

Sarasota said...

English is a funky language.Sometimes I confused with many things(words).

expat said...

Your post is very informative. i didn't know about this "Digraph" before. Actually i don't know grammar very well. But I think English letters are very few. Thats why many word in other language are very hard to pronounced.

Anonymous said...

Do I remember correctly from linguist classes in my college days that the "wh" sound is one of the hardest to deal with when, say, teaching from a phonics point of view?

teresa said...

digraphs....so that's what they're called. thanks for the info

Chris Stormer said...

I am very fond of these type of articles based on linguistics. I enjoy reading it as it involves the working of mind is sometimes mind tickling also.

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"Digraphs" sounds cool.This type of thing always confuses.

job said...

Every language is the same,not to say that English is a hard language. Practice makes perfect.

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Szczepan said...

In polish there is far more "digraps". For example we have: sz, rz, ż, ch, dz, ź, etc, etc :) Nevertheless its very interesting subject.

Anonymous said...

Though, English did have the interchangeable Þþ and Ðð replaced by "Th". I say we go back. :)

job said...

'Digraphs" sounds cool to me =)

Dave Jenkins said...

Very interesting post. I agree with David, languages with just symbols like Chinese must be a real challenge.

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dave said...

Can you name the three words in the english language that begin with the digraph "dw"?

Have a think before looking!

Answer (reversed): eldniwd, frawd and llewd :)

Andrew said...

I think this post prooves that a cheap dictionary is worthless. Because you have showed it to be incorrect.

Regards Andrew

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s type of sounds are always confusing.Maximum times it confuses me.

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That is really confusing to me. I get out of mind when try to think about the sound.

Samanta said...

David Deangelo said that the English is a hard language... David looks like you had never heard about the Russian language :)

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I always look forward to your new posts, I learn more compared to school. I am very fond of these type of articles based on linguistics.

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Ya I do agree with meg that English is a funky language.Sometimes I confused with many things(words).

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Is it too much necessary to know the grammar so deeply...? I am confused more after knowing some new rules about language.

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I enjoy reading it as it involves the working of mind is sometimes mind tickling also.

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A little bit of confusing but cool.Thanks for the post.

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I've seen the symbols [š] and [č] before in the dictionary, but just ignored them. I just didn't take the pronunciations seriously especially for common words.

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I get out of mind when try to think about the sound.

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It is good but I tried to learn french and there are huge example of having more then 2 letters but no sound.LOL.

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It must be so hard to learn these kind of languages.

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I think English letters are very few. Thats why many word in other language are very hard to pronounced.

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This type things are always confusing.I have a friend whose pronunciation is like this.

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I think if this system were not available then some words from other language would not be possible to spell well.

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Why should we need to know this in detail. we can do, talk and exchange feeling without knowing the matter well.

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Practice makes perfect.

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I always hate this.Because I'll tell something the the other person will hear the another thing.

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It is very true that the grammar of english is not hard but it is talked so many times for the non english people to get it easily. No other language has this much articles on grammar.

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I was talking about this thing with one of my friend yesterday.We both agreed that this thing is very much confusing.

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These letters really help to spell some foreign language better. They are really necessary.

Redox said...

I think these facts should be revised again. The old rules should be changed. English is not for some country now.

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I was talking about this with one of my friends yesterday.This is really very confusing and my friend agrees with me.

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I learn more compared to school. Always looking forward. Thank you.

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"English doesn't have a single letter to represent the initial sound ("ch") of the word child, so it must use two letters. "

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All we know and use this in normal life. Good to know the exact term for it.Thx

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Dave said...

thanks for the post, it really helps as for us (continental ;-) Europeans it's a bit like Chinese to spell these double letter things

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English is just tough!

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.This is really very confusing and my friend agrees with me.

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I just want to say that it is very interesting post. Thanks

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Although French has nasalized vowels, making them difficult to pronounce for many English speakers, French is a very musical language. This is because words tend to flow from one word to the next with no pause in between them. In situations where there would be a pause, French requires that sounds be added or words changed. This is known as liaison.

Nicole Weeverink said...

English doesn't have a single letter to represent the initial sound ("ch") of the word child, so it must use two letters. Recognizing a digraph is one of the many difficulties in learning a language. For example, take the "ch" sound as mentioned above. One CANNOT simply read it as "a 'c' sound followed by an 'h' sound" - it is a completely different sound altogether.

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I think English letters are very few. Thats why many word in other language are very hard to pronounced.

Caro Prangenberg said...

Although French has nasalized vowels, making them difficult to pronounce for many English speakers, French is a very musical language. This is because words tend to flow from one word to the next with no pause in between them. In situations where there would be a pause, French requires that sounds be added or words changed. This is known as liaison.

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Digraphs are also very common in Portuguese, as "ch" and "x", that have the same sound as "sh" in English, or "ss" and "ç", a letter not used in English and quite frequent in Portuguese, but sound the same as "ss".
For us, in Brazil, this is one of the major cause of mispelling.

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And I can say by personal experience that the sound for TH is not an easy one and requires lots of practice to make it sound natural.

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Have you ever tried to explain to a kid why some of the English language works the way it does? When my kids first started school they often asked questions about why some words were spelled differently, but sounded the same and why some letters sounded like other letters in certain words. My usual answer was "I don't know why, it's just the way it is."

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English doesn't have a single letter to represent the initial sound ("ch") of the word child, so it must use two letters. Recognizing a digraph is one of the many difficulties in learning a language.

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When digraphs do not represent a special sound, they may be relics from an earlier period of the language when they did have a different pronunciation,or represent a distinction which is made only in certain dialects, like wh in English. They may also be used for purely etymological reasons, like rh in English .Some letter pairs should not be interpreted as digraphs, but appear due to compounding, like in hogshead and cooperate. This is often not marked in any way but some authors indicate it either by breaking up the digraph with a hyphen, as in hogs-head, co-operate, or with a diaeresis mark, as in coöperate, though usage of a diaeresis is extremely rare in English.

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A digraph is a pair of characters used to write one phoneme or a sequence of phonemes that does not correspond to the normal values of the two characters combined. The sound is often, but not necessarily, one which cannot be expressed using a single character in the orthography used by the language. Usually, the term "digraph" is reserved for graphemes whose pronunciation is always or nearly always the same.When digraphs do not represent a special sound, they may be relics from an earlier period of the language when they did have a different pronunciation, or represent a distinction which is made only in certain dialects, like 'wh' in English.

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SEO Optimizer said...

never seen and know bout these symbols before [š] and [č].
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Penis Size said...

Your article is really interesting and I think a lot of people must know about sh and ch pronunciation, I have heard a lot of mistakes here, there a lot of people learning english who says for example Su"chi" instead of Sushi and sounds terrible... so if they could take a look to this interesting lessons...

guia telefonica said...

I think that the language mas melodious is the French.

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Adjetey said...

I believe it is quite uncanny and immature to just give any elder or a teacher the designation of God. It is time that we would understand that just being a senior in age or status does NOT cause their every word to be true, as is supposed to be. Barring some intelligent and responsible seniors (not excluding teachers) it gives to the most, a lawful right to overlook their scope of improvement and administrate their students (or juniors).

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Jonny Kaine  said...

English doesn't have a single letter to represent the initial sound ("ch") of the word child, so it must use two letters. Recognizing a digraph is one of the many difficulties in learning a language. For example, take the "ch" sound as mentioned above. One CANNOT simply read it as "a 'c' sound followed by an 'h' sound" - it is a completely different sound altogether.

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Th is very common letter in my language (albanian) wich is amazing language all letters and sounds u will find in this ancient language.

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Digraphs....I never knew they were called that. Learn something new every day. Yhanks.

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oil trading basics said...

Yeah, digraphs are extremely common in German (the language I'm most familiar with outside of English)--they even have a symbol (can't find it on the keyboard) for a "double s" digraph that they have in a lot of their words.

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In portugueses, my original lenguage, we use a lot of digraphs, they are the base of our language!

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siirt said...

English is a funky language.Sometimes I confused with many things(words).

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James said...

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Rachel Ford said...

Although French has nasalized vowels, making them difficult to pronounce for many English speakers, French is a very musical language. This is because words tend to flow from one word to the next with no pause in between them. In situations where there would be a pause, French requires that sounds be added or words changed. This is known as liaison.

Nicole Weeverink said...

The process in which we produce sound by using our vocal tract is much like that of a wind instrument. Each sound differs from another sound by a unique combination of features: the way you shape your mouth and tongue and move parts of the vocal apparatus when you make the sound. Air coming from the lungs passes through the vocal tract, which shapes it into different sounds.

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Camitta D. said...

It's like who's figured out the English language. I feel sorry for those who are trying to learn. Even us Americans have a hard time understanding it. :)

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Emo said...

English is a very popular language well it is the international languages. It is very important to learn English language for we can use it when we go abroad to communicate with others. Some may say that they cannot speak in English but for sure they could understand it even a little.

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Jason said...

This is due to the fact that most words end in a vowel. Not only does this make it a very suitable language for opera, it also means that once you are familiar with its rhythms, it is a comparatively easy language to pronounce. Unlike English, Italian has predictable pronunciation. Every letter has a specific sound, and there is not much difference between Italian spelling and pronunciation.

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