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In phonetics, epenthesis (/əˈpɛnθəsɪs/, Greek 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 trem(u)lare > French trembler ("to tremble")
  • Old English thun(o)r > English "thunder"
  • Proto-Greek amrotos > Ancient Greek ambrotos ("immortal")

As a grammatical rule

In French, the letter "t" is inserted in inverted interrogative phrases between a verb ending in a vowel and a pronoun beginning with a vowel, such as in "y a-t-il" (meaning "is there...?").

As a poetic device

  • Latin reliquias > poetic relliquias

In informal speech

  • English "hamster" often pronounced [hæmpstəɹ]
  • English "fence" often pronounced [fɛnts]
  • English fam(i)ly> dialectal fambly

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

A comic 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.

This also occurs in Rihanna's #1 single Umbrella.

As a grammatical rule

In linguistics, epenthesis generally breaks up a consonant cluster or vowel sequence that is not permitted by the phonotactics of a language.

Regular or semiregular epenthesis commonly occurs in languages which use affixes. For example, a schwa /ə/ (or in RP an /ɪ/) is inserted before the English plural suffix -/z/ and the past tense suffix -/d/ when the root ends in a similar consonant: glassglasses /glæsəz/ or /glɑːsəz/ or /glɑːsɪz/ and batbatted /bætəd/ or /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 /ɛ/ in Israeli Hebrew).
  • Japanese generally uses [ɯ] except following /t/ and /d/, when it uses [o], and after /h/, when it uses an echo vowel. For example, the English word street becomes /sɯtoɺito/ in Japanese; the Dutch name Gogh becomes /ɡohho/, and the German name Bach, /bahha/.
  • Korean uses [ɯ], except when borrowing [ʃ], which takes a following [i] if the consonant is at the end of the word, or /ju/ otherwise.
  • Colloquial Brazilian Portuguese uses [i] between consonant clusters, except those formed with /l/ (atleta) or /r/ (prato). Words like psicologia and advogado are pronounced as /pisikoloʒiɐ/ and /adivoɡadu/. Some regional dialects use [e] instead of [i] for voiced consonant clusters.

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 /d/ and the /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 [ˈɪŋgəlænd], or the pronunciation of "athlete" as "ath-e-lete", or of "nuclear" as "nucular".

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 [e], connecting stems that have historically been consonant stems to their case endings, e.g. nim+nnimen.

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 /i/, e.g. (Inter)netnetti, or in the case of personal name, Bush + -staBushista "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, ryhmäryhymä, and Savo vanhavanaha. Ambiguities may result: salmi "strait" vs. salami. (An exception is that in Pohjanmaa, -lj- and -rj- become -li- and -ri-, respectively, e.g. kirjakiria. Also, in a small region in Savo, the vowel /e/ is used in the same role.)

In Japanese

A limited number of words in Japanese use epenthetic consonants to separate vowels, example of this is the word harusame (春雨, 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 is it possible that this epenthetic /s/ is a hold over from Old Japanese. It is also possible that /ame/ was once pronounced */same2/, and the /s/ is not epenthetic but simply retained archaic pronunciation. Another example is kosame (小雨, small-rain).

Certain word compounds show an epenthetic /w/. One example is bawai (場合, situation) which is a combination of ba (場, place) and ai (合い, to meet). It must be noted however that bawai is not considered standard Japanese pronunciation, in standard Japanese it is pronounced /ba.ai/ or /ba:i/ and only some dialects insert a /w/.

Related phenomena

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

See also



External links

br:Epentezenn ca:Epèntesi de:Fugenlaut it:Epentesi nl:Epenthesis sv:Epentes