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In phonetics and phonology, a semivowel (or glide) is a sound, such as English /w/ or /j/ ("y"), that is phonetically similar to a vowel sound but functions as the syllable boundary rather than as the nucleus of a syllable.[1]



Semivowels form a subclass of approximants.[2][3] Although "semivowel" and "approximant" are sometimes treated as synonymous,[4] most authors agree that not all approximants are semivowels, although the exact details may vary from author to author. For example, Ladefoged & Maddieson (1996) don't consider the labiodental approximant [ʋ] to be a semivowel,[5] while Martínez-Celdrán (:2004) proposes that it should be considered one.[6]

Types of semivowel

Martínez-Celdrán lists four semivowels according to what he calls "the established classification": they correspond to the four close cardinal vowel sounds:[7]

In addition, some authors[5][6] consider the rhotic approximants [ɹ], [ɻ] to be semivowels corresponding to R-colored vowels such as [ɚ]. As mentioned above, the labiodental approximant [ʋ] is considered a semivowel in some treatments, but not others. Central semivowels, such as Korean [ȷ̈], are uncommon.

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