A triphthong is a vowel sound that consists of three distinct sounds, or “elements,” that are blended together. Triphthongs are less common in English than diphthongs, but they do occur in some words.
In English, there are two common triphthongs:
/aɪə/ – as in “fire” or “tire”
/aʊə/ – as in “hour” or “flower”
These triphthongs consist of three vowel sounds that are pronounced in sequence. For example, the triphthong /aɪə/ consists of the sounds /aɪ/, /ə/, and /r/, which are pronounced in sequence. The first sound, /aɪ/, is a diphthongal sound that consists of the sounds /a/ and /ɪ/. The second sound, /ə/, is a neutral or “schwa” sound, and the third sound, /r/, is a consonant sound.
Similarly, the triphthong /aʊə/ consists of the sounds /aʊ/, /ə/, and /r/. The first sound, /aʊ/, is a diphthongal sound that consists of the sounds /a/ and /ʊ/. The second sound, /ə/, is a neutral or “schwa” sound, and the third sound, /r/, is a consonant sound.
These triphthongs can be challenging for non-native speakers to pronounce accurately, as they require precise coordination of the tongue, lips, and vocal cords.
It is important to note that some words in English may contain sequences of three vowel sounds that are not considered true triphthongs. For example, the word “cooperate” contains the sequence /oʊ/, /ə/, and /p/, but these sounds are pronounced separately rather than blended together as a single triphthong.
Overall, triphthongs are relatively rare in English, but they do occur in some words and can add complexity and nuance to the pronunciation of those words. By understanding the two common triphthongs in English and how they are produced, linguists can gain a deeper appreciation for the intricacies of the language.