Wednesday, 8 September 2010


credit: Petr Kratochvil
In yesterday's blog I wrote that <th> in brothel is a digraph but not in hothead. Why? A sequence of two letters is called a digraph if these two letters represent a single sound (or alternatives of single sounds). Otherwise the two letters are just a sequence of two letters expressing two sounds.
The term digraph comes from Greek δι (= twice) and γραφή (= writing). English has a lot of digraphs, eg. <ui> as in fruit, <oo> as in food or <sh> as in fish. There are trigraphs such as <tch> as in catch and even tetragraphs: <augh> or <ough> as in caught and bought. Pentagraphs ...? Maybe, if you accept the proper name Nietzsche in its English pronunciation. Heptagraphs ...? Can YOU find one in English?
Now that we know what a digraph in the linguistic sense of the term is, we can return to the problem of the ambiguous letter-to-sound relation of <th>, which I shall do in my next blog.


  1. Hello!

    Just found out about your blog. I can't think of any heptagraphs yet, but I just thought I would comment on "Nietzsche". That is not a pentagraph for me. The ending of "Nietzsche" is not the same as that of "teacher" in my pron. I reckon I have /t/ + /ʃ/ (a sequence) rather than /tʃ/ an affricate. The phonetic difference is that the /ʃ/ is lonɡer in the sequence. Cf. "white shoes" and "why choose".

  2. Thanks for commenting on the topic, John!
    I bow to your intuition and pronunciation of . If your /ʃ/ is longer than in an affricate, then it is what it is. However, I guess there are people out there who do use an affricate.

  3. I'm /ʃʃʃʃʃʃʃʃʃʊə/ there are!