Semivowels are vowel-like consonants: that is, the air-flow is not stopped or impeded so as to cause a friction-sound, but the aperture through which the air passes is smaller than the aperture of any vowel. Also, in forming words, semivowels appear in positions where consonants normally appear. Present-Day English has two semivowels, both of which are voiced (vocal cords vibrating during the articulation of the nasal). (The semivowels, the lateral /l/, the retroflex /r/, and the nasals are sometimes called the resonants.)
1. /w/ (the phoneme spelled w in wet): (voiced) bilabial velar semivowel. (This phoneme is bilabial because it requires rounding of both lips; it is velar because the back of the tongue rises toward the velum when the phoneme is articulated.)
2. /j/ (the phoneme spelled y in yard): (voiced) alveopalatal semivowel.
[Return to "Consonants"]
[Return to "Phonology"]