Vowel-Glide Sequences in Tamil

  • S Srinivas Department of English, SSN College of Engineering, Kalavakkam, Chennai, India
  • U Ganesh Kumar Freelance English Teacher, Tamil Nadu, India
Keywords: Tamil, vowels, glides, phonology, orthography, syllabification


The vocalic sequences [ay], [āy], [ey], [ēy], [oy] and [ōy] are attested in the phonology of Tamil. While a case may be made to treat such sequences of vocoids as diphthongs, this paper argues that they are, in fact, vowel-glide sequences.

Two pieces of evidence are adduced in support of the argument. The first is supplied by the orthography of Tamil, wherein the first vocoid from any of the aforementioned vocalic sequences  and the (onset) consonant preceding it, if any, are denoted by a single (composite) letter, with the second vocoid represented by a separate letter. This suggests that the spelling system of Tamil treats the first and second vocoids of a vocalic sequence as distinct entities.

The second piece of evidence is phonological. For any sequence of vocoids to be considered a unitary vowel, the vocoids must always be part of the same syllable, exhibiting Inseparability, and must not be split across syllables, displaying Integrity. In Tamil, however, the [y] in [ay], [ey] and [oy] undergoes gemination, failing the Integrity Test, and the [y] in [āy], [ēy] and [ōy] serves as the onset of the syllable following the long vocoid, failing the Inseparability Test (Sampath Kumar 55-6). This indicates, adding to the orthographic evidence, that the Tamil vocalic sequences studied in this paper are vowels followed by glides, rather than diphthongs.    

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