Tuesday, February 21, 2006

A consonant avowal

Probably prompted by the post below, I have been thinking about vowels & consonants. Strikes me their existence is some kind of linguistic freemasonry, little information on why they are, what they're on about.

What they are we know, strictly defined though sometimes changed. When does y become a vowel?

A vowel, the OED tells me, is one of the more open sounds uttered in speaking, a sound capable of forming a syllable. The same source tells me a consonant is an alphabetical element other than a vowel, a sound that in forming a syllable is combined with a vowel.

Consonant comes from the Latin consonantem litteram, which derives from consonantia from whence comes consonance, the sounding of two notes in harmony.

Vowel ultimately derives from vocalis littera, a vocal letter, via the Old French word vouel, a word that is full of vowels. I discover that a vowel mutation is an umlaut, which makes sense when you consider how the diacritic changes the pronunciation of the o in Gödel. But I also know that sign as a dierisis, something that is not a diacritic but a separator, indicating that two vowels together should be pronounced separately, as in coöperate.

I also discover a new word, ablaut, a vowel gradation that arises out of differences in accent & stress, as in drive, drove, driven.

No doubt I could learn more if I Googled the terms, but I get distracted by the thought that if I inserted a dierisis that term would then become Goögle = go ogle, which is essentially what googling is all about.

So I go no further in my quest, remain no wiser.

I am a man of consonant sorrow.

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