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  1. The Primary and the Secondary Meaning of Letters.

In English one letter can denote a few different sounds (polysemantic letters). That’s why there are the primary and the secondary sound meanings of them. The primary meaning of a letter is the sound which this letter:

  1. denotes in the alphabet: a – [eI], e – [i:]. E.g. bake, be;

  2. doesn’t correspond to the alphabetical letter: a – [æ]. e.g. cat;

  3. approximates the alphabetical letter: f[f], y – [aI].

The secondary meaning of a letter is the one which differs from its primary alphabetical meaning and depends on the consonants preceding or following this letter. E.g. a – [ a:] - staff, [æ ] – wander, [ɔ:] – war.

The sound formation of the English language distinguishes long and short vowels. According to this peculiarity in English each stressed vowel can have two meanings: alphabetical (long) and short.

Reading of vowels in stressed syllables

Letter

Primary meaning

Secondary meaning

long

short

Vowel + r

Vowel +re

a

Kate

cat

car

hare

e

he, Pete

hen, help

her

here

i\y

I, Mike, mine

sit, gym

bird, Byrd

hire, tyre

o

no, stone

not

for

more

u

use

but

turn

cure

  1. The Primary Sound Meanings of Vowels in Different Types of Syllables.

In disyllabic and polysyllabic words the vowel letter has its alphabetical (long) primary meaning if:

  1. it is used in word final position e. g. he, no, my;

  2. it is separated from the following vowel letter or from the combinations –le, -re by only one consonant letter e.g. pilot, idle, fibre;

  3. it is followed by a consonant + r +vowel e.g. library, April;

  4. in some vowel combinations* e.g. diet, going.

The vowel letter has its short primary meaning:

  1. if it is separated from the following vowel or the combination –le by two or more consonants e.g. render, silly, fiddle.

  2. if the vowel letter (apart from “u”) is in the third stressed syllable from the end e.g. family, cylinder; but: funeral;

  3. if the vowel letter is followed by a single letter “v” e.g. river, never; but: uvula [\ju:vju:lə], fever [\fi:və], over [\əυvə];

  4. if the vowel letter is followed by a consonant and one of the combinations, such as –-ic, -ish, -ity e.g. tragic, polish, cavity;

  5. in disyllabic words with the sound [I] and [ju:] in the last unstressed syllable the vowel letter of a stressed syllable has a short meaning: e.g. tribune, facet; but: stupid.

But if the word ends in –y, -ie as in the words ladies, Edie the letters “a”, “e” have their alphabetical (long) meaning.

Reading single vowel letters in stressed non-final syllables

meaning

spelling

examples

exceptions

I. Primary

long

1) vowel + vowel

diet

2) vowel + consonant + vowel vowel + consonant + “r” + vowel

vowel + consonant + “le”

vowel + consonant + “re”

pilot

library

idle

fibre

II. Primary

short

1) vowel + consonant cluster + vowel

vowel + consonant cluster +“le”

Render

fiddle

2) vowel + consonant + “ic”

vowel + consonant + “ish”

vowel + consonant + “ity”

tragic

polish

cavity

3) vowel + “v” + vowel

never

∙fever

∙over

∙uvula

4) vowel + syllable + syllable

fa∙mi∙ly

cases with “u”:

funeral

5) vowel + [ı]-closed syllable

vowel + [(j)u:]-closed syllable

fa∙cet

tri∙bune

stupid

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