3.4.4 orale diphthongs
We have already talked about nasale diphthongs, see 3.3.2. The principle is the same in the case of orale diphthongs.
There is a discussion whether a semivowel and a full vowel in on syllable is a diphtong or we can only talk of a diphtong if we have two vowels in one syllable like in área (area), aéreo (airplane), mágoa (sorrow), árduo (laborious), piada (laborious), viúva (widow). The argument is, that in case of a semivowel the border of the syllable vanishes and that we have smooth transition from one syllable to the other. There is no need to discuss these issue. First of all because it is irrelevant from a practical point of view and second because there is a smooth transition as well between a semivowel and a full vowel. In grammar books about Portuguese the combination of u + vowel / vowel + u or e + vowel / vowel + e are called diphthongs.
In Portuguese there are only two semivowels, the u and the e. The u as a semivowel is pronounced like an ininuated w in English words like water and the e as semivowel is pronounced like an i. The phonetic transcription is [w] and [j].
[w] => quando
[j] => pôe.
If the semivowel stays before the full vowel we speak of an ascendant diphthong, if it stays after the full vowel, we speak of an descendant diphthong. (Although there is no need to know that.)
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