The letters y and w, and the digraph wh represent sounds that can be considered semivowels, that is, vowels with a bit of constriction.
Normally, in vowels the air is simply released by the mouth. Semivowels are vowels with a small amount of constriction and consonants in form, which do not occupy the centres of syllables.
The semivowels are:
- y: yes, you, young;
- w: weather, window;
- wh: what, wheel, why.
Y is a palatal letter, so is pronounced with the middle part of the tongue raised against the hard palate (which is the middle part of the roof of the mouth).
- y: voiced, vocal cords vibrate during the articulation of the semivowel;
W and wh arelabialized velar letters, which need to be pronounced when the back part of the tongue is raised toward the soft palate while rounding the lips.
- w: voiced, vocal cords vibrate during the articulation of the semivowel;
- wh: voiceless, vocal cords do not vibrate during the articulation of the diagraph.
External link to Semivowels exercises (1152).