In phonology, epenthesis (IPA|/əˈpɛnθəsɪs/, Ancient Greek ἐπένθεσις - epenthesis, from "epi" "on" + "en" "in" + "thesis" "putting") is the addition of one or more sounds to a word, especially to the interior of a word. Epenthesis may be divided into two types: excrescence (if the sound added is a consonant) and anaptyxis (if the sound added is a vowel).

Epenthesis of a consonant, or excrescence

As a historical sound change

*Latin "tremulare" > French "trembler" ("to tremble")
*Old English "thunor" > English "thunder"
*(Reconstructed) Proto-Greek *"anrotos" > Ancient Greek "ambrotos" ("immortal")

As a synchronic rule

In French, /t/ is inserted in inverted interrogative phrases between a verb ending in a vowel and a pronoun beginning with a vowel, such as "il a" ('he has') > "a-t-il" ('has he?'). Here there is no epenthesis from a historical perspective, since the "a-t" is derived from Latin "habet" (he has), and the "t" is therefore the original third person verb inflection. However it is correct to call this epenthesis when viewed synchronically, since the modern basic form of the verb is "a", and the psycholinguistic process is therefore the addition of "t" to the base form.

A similar example is the English indefinite article "a", which becomes "an" before a vowel. In Old English, this was "ane" in all positions, so a diachronic analysis would see the original "n" disappearing except where a following vowel required its retention: "an" > "a". However a synchronic analysis, in keeping with the perception of most native speakers, would (equally correctly) see it as epenthesis: "a" > "an".

As a poetic device

*Latin "reliquias" > poetic "relliquias"

In informal speech

*English "hamster" often pronounced with an added "p" sound as [hæmpstəɹ]
*English "warmth" often pronounced with an added "p" sound as [wɔɹrmpθ]
*English "fence" often pronounced [fɛnts]
*English "strength" -> colloquial "strengkth"
*English "fam(i)ly"> dialectal "fambly"

In Japanese

A limited number of words in Japanese use epenthetic consonants to separate vowels, example of this is the word "harusame" (, spring rain) which is a compound of "haru" and "ame" in which an /s/ is added to separate the final /u/ of "haru" and the initial /a/ of "ame". Since epenthetic consonants are not used regularly in modern Japanese, it is possible that this epenthetic /s/ is a hold over from Old Japanese. It is also possible that OJ /ame2/ was once pronounced */same2/, and the /s/ is not epenthetic but simply retained archaic pronunciation. Another example is "kosame" (, light rain).

Certain word compounds show an epenthetic /w/. One example is the word "baai" (場合, situation), which is a combination of "ba" (場, place) and "ai" (合い, meet): in some dialects it is pronounced "bawai".

One hypothesis argues that Japanese /r/ developed "as a default, epenthetic consonant in the intervocalic position".Labrune: 1]

Epenthesis of a vowel, or anaptyxis

Epenthesis of a vowel, or anaptyxis (ανάπτυξής, "growth" in Greek), is also known by the Sanskrit term "svarabhakti".

As a historical sound change

In the middle of a word

*"braːdar" > Persian "baraːdar" "brother"


*Latin "stupidus" > Spanish "estúpido"

As a poetic device

An example in an English song is "The Umbrella Man", where the meter requires "umbrella" to be pronounced with four syllables, "um-buh-rel-la," so that "any umbrellas" has the meter "ány úmberéllas."

As a grammatical rule

Epenthesis often breaks up a consonant cluster or vowel sequence that is not permitted by the phonotactics of a language. Sporadic cases can be less obviously motivated, however, such as "warsh" 'wash' in some varities of American English.

Regular or semiregular epenthesis commonly occurs in languages which use affixes. For example, a schwa IPA|/ə/ or an IPA|/ɪ/ is inserted before the English plural suffix IPA|-/z/ and the past tense suffix IPA|-/d/ when the root ends in a similar consonant: "glass" → "glasses" IPA|/glæsəz/ or IPA|/glɑːsəz/ or IPA|/glɑːsɪz/ and "bat" → "batted" IPA|/bætəd/ or IPA|/bætɪd/.

Vocalic epenthesis typically occurs when words are borrowed from a language that has consonant clusters or syllable codas that are not permitted in the borrowing language, though this is not always the cause.

Languages use various vowels for this purpose, though schwa is quite common when it is available. For example,
* Hebrew uses a single vowel, the schwa (though pronounced as IPA|/ɛ/ in Israeli Hebrew).
* Japanese generally uses IPA| [ɯ] except following IPA|/t/ and IPA|/d/, when it uses IPA| [o] , and after IPA|/h/, when it uses an echo vowel. For example, the English word "street" becomes IPA|/sɯtoɺito/ in Japanese; the Dutch name "Gogh" becomes IPA|/ɡohho/, and the German name "Bach", IPA|/bahha/.
* Korean uses IPA| [ɯ] , except when borrowing IPA| [ʃ] , which takes a following IPA| [i] if the consonant is at the end of the word, or IPA|/ju/ otherwise.

In informal speech

Epenthesis most often occurs within unfamiliar or complex consonant clusters. For example, the name "Dwight" is commonly pronounced with an epenthetic schwa between the IPA|/d/ and the IPA|/w/, and many speakers insert schwa between the /l/ and /t/ of "realtor". Epenthesis is sometimes used for humorous or childlike effect. For example, the cartoon character Yogi Bear says "pic-a-nic basket" for "picnic basket." Another example is to be found in the chants of England football fans in which England is usually rendered as IPA| [ˈɪŋgəlænd] , or the pronunciation of "athlete" as "ath-e-lete". Some apparent occurrences of epenthesis, however, have a separate cause: the pronunciation of "nuclear" as "nucular" arises out of analogy with other -"cular" words ("binocular", "particular", etc.), rather than epenthesis.
* Certain registers of colloquial Brazilian Portuguese sometimes have IPA| [i] between consonant clusters, except those formed with IPA|/l/ ("atleta") or IPA|/r/ ("prato"), so that words like "psicologia" and "advogado" are pronounced as IPA|/pisikoloʒiɐ/ and IPA|/adivoɡadu/. Some regional dialects also use IPA| [e] for voiced consonant clusters.
* In Spanish it is usual to find epenthetic or svarabatic vowels in the groups of plosive + trill + vowel or labiodental fricative + trill + vowel, normally in non-emphatic pronunciation: For instance in pronouncing "Vinagre" instead of the usual IPA| [biˈnaɣre] we find IPA| [biˈnaɣ(ə)re] .

In Finnish

In Finnish, there are two epenthetic vowels and two nativization vowels. One epenthetic vowel is the preceding vowel, found in the illative case ending "-(h)*n", e.g. "maahan", "taloon". (There is no schwa in Finnish; the term "schwa" is often confused with the epenthetic vowel.) The second one is IPA| [e] , connecting stems that have historically been consonant stems to their case endings, e.g. "nim+n" → "nimen".

In standard Finnish, consonant clusters may not be broken by epenthetic vowels; foreign words undergo consonant deletion rather than addition of vowels. However, modern loans may not end in consonants. Even if the word, such as a personal name, is not loaned, a paragogic vowel is needed to connect a consonantal case ending to the word. The vowel is IPA|/i/, e.g. "(Inter)net" → "netti", or in the case of personal name, "Bush" + "-sta" → "Bushista" "about Bush".

Finnish has moraic consonants, of which L, H and N are of interest in this case. In standard Finnish, these are slightly intensified when preceding a consonant in a medial cluster, e.g. "-hj-". Some dialects, like Savo and Ostrobothnian, employ epenthesis instead, using the preceding vowel in clusters of type "-lC-" and "-hC-", and in Savo, "-nh-". For example, "Pohjanmaa" "Ostrobothnia" → "Pohojammaa", "ryhmä" → "ryhymä", and Savo "vanha" → "vanaha". Ambiguities may result: "salmi" "strait" vs. "salami". (An exception is that in Pohjanmaa, "-lj-" and "-rj-" become "-li-" and "-ri-", respectively, e.g. "kirja" → "kiria". Also, in a small region in Savo, the vowel IPA|/e/ is used in the same role.)

Related phenomena

*Prothesis: the addition of a sound to the start of a word.
*Paragoge: the addition of a sound to the end of a word.
*Infixation: the insertion of a morpheme within a word.
*Tmesis: the inclusion of a whole word within another one.
*Metathesis: the reordering of sounds within a word.

ee also

*Language game, which often makes use of epenthetic syllables
* Coarticulation (Co-articulated consonant, Secondary articulation)
* Vowel harmony
* Consonant harmony
* Sandhi
* Labialisation
* Palatalization
* Velarization
* Pharyngealisation
* Assibilation
* Crasis
* Lenition



*Crowley, Terry. (1997) "An Introduction to Historical Linguistics." 3rd edition. Oxford University Press.
*cite web
url = http://erssab.u-bordeaux3.fr/IMG/pdf/labrune_article_final_r.pdf
title = The phonology of Japanese /r/: a panchronic account
accessdate = 2007-11-19
last = Labrune
first = Laurence
date =
year =
month =
format = PDF
publisher = Université Bordeaux 3 & CNRS

* [http://www.internetix.ofw.fi/opinnot/opintojaksot/8kieletkirjallisuus/aidinkieli/murteet/valivok.html Välivokaali]

External links

* [http://humanities.byu.edu/rhetoric/Figures/E/epenthesis.htm Definition at BYU]

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • Epenthesis — E*pen the*sis, n.; pl. {Epentheses}. [L., fr. Gr. ?; epi + ? to put or set in.] (Gram.) The insertion of a letter or a sound in the body of a word; as, the b in nimble from AS. n[=e]mol. [1913 Webster] …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • Epenthĕsis — (gr.), etymologische Figur, die Einschiebung eines Buchstabens od. einer Sylbe in die Mitte eines Wortes; z.B. Alcumena für Alcmene. Davon Epenthetisch eingeschaltet …   Pierer's Universal-Lexikon

  • Epenthesis — Epenthesis, griech., in der Grammatik Einschiebung einer Sylbe in die Mitte eines Wortes, z.B. klägelich (ist in der Regel nur Wiederherstellung der alten Form); epenthetisch, eingeschoben …   Herders Conversations-Lexikon

  • epenthesis — [ep en′thə sis] n. pl. epentheses [ep en′thəsēz΄] [LL < Gr < epi , upon + en , in + thesis, a placing: see THESIS] 1. Phonet. a change which involves the insertion of an unhistoric sound or letter in a word, as the b in mumble or the extra… …   English World dictionary

  • Epenthesis — Ep|ẹn|the|sis 〈f.; , the|sen; Phon.〉 = Epenthese * * * Epen|the|se, Epẹn|the|sis, die; , ...thesen [spätlat. epenthesis < griech. epénthesis = das Einschieben] (Sprachw.): Einschub von Lauten, meist zur Erleichterung der Aussprache (z. B. t… …   Universal-Lexikon

  • epenthesis — epenthetic /ep euhn thet ik/, adj. /euh pen theuh sis/, n., pl. epentheses / seez /. the insertion of one or more sounds in the middle of a word, as the schwa in the nonstandard pronunciation /el euhm/ of elm. [1650 60; < LL: insertion of a… …   Universalium

  • epenthesis — ep•en•the•sis [[t]əˈpɛn θə sɪs[/t]] n. pl. ses [[t] ˌsiz[/t]] phn the insertion of one or more sounds in the middle of a word • Etymology: 1650–60; < LL < Gk epénthesis=ep ep +en II+thésis placing; see thesis ep•en•thet•ic ˌɛp ənˈθɛt ɪk adj …   From formal English to slang

  • epenthesis — noun (plural epentheses) Etymology: Late Latin, from Greek, from epentithenai to insert a letter, from epi + entithenai to put in, from en + tithenai to put more at do Date: 1543 the insertion or development of a sound or letter in the body of a… …   New Collegiate Dictionary

  • epenthesis — noun /ɪˈpɛn.θə.sɪs/ The insertion of a phoneme, letter, or syllable into a word, usually to satisfy the phonological constraints of a language or poetic context …   Wiktionary

  • Epenthesis — Ep|ẹn|the|sis auch: E|pẹn|the|sis 〈f.; Gen.: , Pl.: the|sen; Sprachw.〉 = Epenthese …   Lexikalische Deutsches Wörterbuch

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