Classical Arabic has two diphthongs: /aj/~/ai/ and /aw/~/au/. In most modern Arabic dialects, the diphthongs are realised as the long vowels /eː/ and /oː/, respectively. The monophothongized mid vowels developed further into /iː/ and /uː/, respectively, in Urban North African dialects.

Some notable exceptions to this monophthongization are some rural Lebanese dialects, which partially preserves the original pronunciations of these diphthongs. Other Urban Lebanese dialects (such as Beiruti) uses the mid vowels /eː/ and /oː/. Another exception is the Sfax dialect of Tunisian Arabic, which is known mostly for its conservation of the Classical Arabic diphthongs /aj/ and /aw/.


Some English sounds that may be perceived by native speakers as single vowels are in fact diphthongs; an example is the vowel sound in pay, pronounced /ˈpeɪ/. However, in some dialects (e.g. Scottish English) /eɪ/ is a monophthong [e].

Some dialects of English make monophthongs from former diphthongs. For instance, Southern American English tends to realize the diphthong /aɪ/ as in eye as a long monophthong [äː]. Monophthongization is also one of the most widely used and distinguishing feature of African American Vernacular English.[1]


In Received Pronunciation, when a diphthong is followed by schwa (or possibly by an unstressed /ɪ/), a series of simplifying changes may take place, sometimes referred to as smoothing.

To begin with, the diphthong may change to a monophthong by the dropping of the second element and slight lengthening of the first element: /aɪ/→[aː], /aʊ/→[ɑː], /eɪ/→[eː], /əʊ/→[ɜː]. The vowels /iː/ and /uː/, whose usual forms are in fact slightly diphthongal (close to [ɪi], [ʊu]), may undergo the same change and become [iː], [uː].

Next, the following schwa may become non-syllabic, forming a diphthong with (what is now) the preceding monophthong. In certain cases, this diphthong can itself be monophthongized. Thus the original sequences /aʊ/+/ə/ and /aɪ/+/ə/ can end up as simply [ɑː] and [aː].

For example, the citation form of the word our is /ˈaʊə/, but in speech, it is often pronounced as [ɑə] (two syllables or a diphthong), or as a monophthong [ɑː]. Similarly, fire /ˈfaɪə/ can reduce to [faə] or [faː].[2]

Old English


In Hindi, the pure vowels /ɛː/ and /ɔː/ are written with the letters for the diphthongs ai and au in Devanagari and related alphabets. The vowel sequences /aːɪ/ and /aːʊ/ exist in Hindi, but are written as āi and āu, with long initial vowels.


The so-called early frühneuhochdeutsche Monophthongierung (monophthongization in the earliest stages of New High German,) is particularly important in today's Standard German[3]. It changed the diphthongs ie [iə], uo [uə] and üe [yə] to respectively ie [iː], u [uː] and ü [yː]:

before 11th century --> nowadays

liebe [iə] --> liebe [iː]

guote [uə] --> gute [uː]

brüeder [yə] --> Brüder [yː]

It is interesting to note that the diagram "ie" has kept its spelling despite monophthongization.

The New High German monophthongization started in the 11th century from the middle of the German-speaking area. Bavarian and Alemannic dialects in the south did not undergo the monophthongization changes and thus these dialects remain in an older language state.


Greek underwent monophthongization at many points during its history. For instance, the diphthongs /ei ou/ monophthongized to /eː oː/ around the 5th century BC, and the diphthong /ai/ monophthongized to /eː/ in the Koine Greek period. For more information, see Ancient Greek phonology § Monophthongization and Koine Greek phonology.


French underwent monophthongization and so the digraph ai, which formerly represented a diphthong, represents the sound /ɛ/ or /e/ in Modern French.

See also


  1. Garcarz, Michał (2013). African American Hip Hop Slang: A Sociolinguistic Study Of Street Speech. Wrocłąw: Oficyna Wydawnicza ATUT. pp. 82–83. ISBN 978-83-7432-938-5.
  2. Wells, J.C., Accents of English, CUP 1982, pp. 238ff.
  3. Waterman, J.T., A history of the German language, 1966.
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