I am looking for any recent studies dealing substantially with "broken vowels," or vocoid elements which have a noticeably nonstable formant trajectory, yet for which there are no good phonological arguments that they are diphthongs. "Broken vowels" might alternately be referred to as vowels with an "offglide" or "onglide".

To give an example, in the dialect of Vietnamese spoken around Cần Thơ, open syllables whose vowel is represented by an orthographic i or y are pronounced approximately with a vowel sounding like [ɨi], so mì 'wheat noodles' is pronounced approximately [mɨi]. Orthographic o, on the other hand, is pronounced more or less like [ɑ], so mỏ 'snout' is pronounced [mɑ]. It is difficult to argue that [ɨi] is really a combination of [ɨ] and [i], because there are no open-syllable words having nuclear vowel [ɨ], and none having [i]; there is also no difference in vowel length between mì and mỏ. Anyways, let's try not to quibble over the this specific example more than necessary...

  • 3
    It might be relevant that we have these in English too. The FACE and GOAT vowels are pronounced as [eɪ] and [oʊ] (or [əʊ]) for many speakers, but there's no good reason to treat them as sequences of two phonemes. (In fact, your argument against treating Vietnamese [ɨi] as a diphthong works just as well for Standard American English [eɪ] -- SAE has no open syllables with just [ɪ] as the nucleus, and no syllables at all with just [e] as the nucleus.) Commented Feb 29, 2012 at 23:35
  • So-called southern drawl is an instance of breaking. William Labov quotes Feagin on this in his Atlas.
    – RainDoctor
    Commented Mar 16, 2012 at 21:23

1 Answer 1


The paper "Diphthongisation of /e/ in NZE: a change that went nowhere?" (1998) by Margaret A. Maclagan, deals with the raising or diphthongisation, by different NZ English speakers, of /e/, concluding that the choice between the two is correlated with the age of the speaker.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.