In response to the answers I've received for the question I asked, I want to know one more thing:

[A letter which is not pronounced is called silent, such as 'l' in "talk". Two vowels occurring together are called a diphthong, such as 'ea' in "break". What do we call a letter on which the word ends its sound, such as 'k' in "break"?]

What do we call a letter on which we stop our sound and that is in the middle of the word, as in "b" or "m" in NUMBER.

  • The L in calm is definitely not silent, at least in most English dialects.
    – TypeIA
    Commented Feb 14, 2020 at 9:28
  • 2
    I don't know about "most" English dialects, @TypeIA, but certainly there is no /l/ in any that I encounter in Britain.
    – Colin Fine
    Commented Feb 14, 2020 at 9:54
  • @TypeIA: I am more than surprised at that statement. In British English (and that of most of the Commonwealth) the "L" in calm (/kɑːm/) is silent as it is in balm (/bɑːm/) talk (tɔːk/)and walk (wɔːk/). The "L" serves only to modify and lengthen the vowel sound.
    – user81561
    Commented Feb 14, 2020 at 9:56
  • 1
    @Smock: there is no /l/ sound in "talk", in any variety of English that I am aware. The "l" does function as an orthographic device to signal that the "a" has a different sound from how you would read it if there were no "l"; but, as I said to xeesid in my answer, writing and spelling have not much connection with phonology.
    – Colin Fine
    Commented Feb 14, 2020 at 9:56
  • 1
    What answers? What question did you ask? Was it titled "phonology 1"? Why do I need to look at your user account to find this information? Please add the relevant links IN the question.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Feb 14, 2020 at 9:58

1 Answer 1



You need to distinguish between sounds and letters. For English especially, they are very very different. Writing is a technology that has been developed to represent language, but writing systems vary hugely in how they go about representing a language, and how successful they are at doing so.

A silent letter has nothing to do with phonology: it is a part of spelling. Often it is a way of signalling the particular sounds to the reader (eg "silent E" in English), but sometimes it has no effect on reading and is simply a historical accident (eg the K in "knife": it is not sounded, and does not distinguish the word from any other word).

A diphthong is a vowel sound which changes during the course of its utterance. It happens that the word "break" is pronounced with a diphthong /ɛɪ/ in many varieties of English (not all) but that has no relation to how it is spelt: "make" has the same sound. A letter pair like "ea" is a digraph. (It is true that some people refer to it as a diphthong; but in a discussion about phonology it is important to distinguish between sounds and writing). "ou" in "cough" is a digraph which represents a simple vowel, not a diphthing (in all varieties of English, as far as I know). Edit: and "ea" itself represents a simple vowel sound in "bread".

/k/, /m/ and /b/ (the sounds) are called "consonants". /m/ and /b/ are nearly always written with the letters "m" and "b" respectively, and you can call those "consonant letters". /k/ is more complicated: the sound can be written "c" (as in "cat"); "ck" ("back"); "ch" ("Christian"); "qu" ("opaque"); and while the letter "k" is usually pronounced /k/, it is sometimes silent.

I don't think there is a special name for letters that aren't silent in English spelling.

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