In today’s lesson, we are going to practice /w/. Compared to many sounds in English, /w/ has some nice and tidy spelling and pronunciation patterns, which makes life a lot easier for us.
The <wh> Diagraph Explained
The <wh> Diagraph refers to words that are spelt with the spelling pattern ‘wh’ such as: whale, white, wheel, whirl. It also includes the question words: what, when, where, which, whether and why.
When these words are pronounced in Standard English, the letter ‘h’ that is present in the spelling is not pronounced. This is because the pronunciation of this group of words has changed since the spelling was originally set.
The original pronunciation of the <wh> diagraph is /hw/. For example, hwale, hwite, hweel, hwirl. Notice how in the original pronunciation, the /h/ sound is before the /w/. It would have made more sense when the spelling was standardised to spell this diagraph as /hw/ not /wh/!
In some dialects of Irish, Scottish and Southern American, the /hw/ original pronunciation is still present, e.g. ‘Did you see the white whale?’ (Note: in the recording, that’s my Irish accent).
The /hw/ pronunciation also used to be a typical feature of the posh English accent pre-1950’s, e.g. ‘Mr White, what exactly may I do for you?’ (Note: that’s my old-fashioned posh accent in the audio).
beware: beware of the river by the watery weir
word: your word is your wand
way: where there’s a will, there’s a way
Spelt ‘wh’ Pronounced as /w/
whale: Captain Ahab and the White Whale
whine: She’s whining because the wine’s all gone
whisper: When a man with whiskers whispers, it tickles
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