Hiatus (linguistics)

Sound change and alternation


In phonology, hiatus (English: /haɪˈeɪtəs/; Latin: [hɪˈaːtʊs] "gaping")[1] or diaeresis (/daɪˈɛrɨsɨs/ or /daɪˈɪərɨsɨs/,[2] from Ancient Greek διαίρεσις diaíresis "division")[3] refers to two vowel sounds occurring in adjacent syllables, with no intervening consonant. When two adjacent vowel sounds occur in the same syllable, the result is instead described as a diphthong.

The English words hiatus and diaeresis themselves contain a hiatus between the first and second syllables.



Some languages do not have diphthongs, except optionally in rapid speech, or have a limited number of diphthongs but also numerous vowel sequences which cannot form diphthongs and thus appear in hiatus. This is the case of Japanese, Bantu languages such as Swahili and Zulu, and Polynesian languages such as Hawaiian and Maori. Extreme examples are Japanese aoi 'blue/green', Swahili eua 'to purify', and Hawaiian aea 'to rise up', all of which are three syllables.


Many languages disallow or restrict hiatus, avoiding it either by deleting or assimilating the vowel, or by adding an extra consonant.


A glottal stop or a glide may be added (epenthesis) between vowels to prevent hiatus.

Intrusive R

Some (but not all) non-rhotic dialects of English insert an /r/ to avoid hiatus after non-high word-final (or occasionally morpheme-final) vowels, although prescriptive guides for Received Pronunciation discourage this.[4]


In Greek and Latin poetry, hiatus is generally avoided, though it does occur in many authors under certain rules with varying degrees of poetic licence. Hiatus may be avoided by elision of a final vowel, occasionally prodelision (elision of initial vowel) and synizesis (pronunciation of two vowels as one without change in writing).


In Sanskrit, most instances of hiatus are avoided through the process of sandhi.



In Dutch and French, the second of two vowels in hiatus is marked with a diaeresis. In written English it was formerly common to use a diaeresis (or "tréma") to indicate a hiatus (for example: coöperate, daïs, reëlect).


Nowadays in English, the diaeresis is normally left out (cooperate), except by The New Yorker, or a hyphen is used (co-operate). It is, however, still common in loanwords such as naïve and Noël.

Other ways

In Scottish Gaelic, hiatus is written using a number of digraphs: bh, dh, gh, mh, th. Some examples include:

  • abhainn "river" [a.ɪɲ]
  • adha "liver" [ɤ.ə]
  • ogha "nephew" [o.ə]
  • cumha "condition" [kʰũ.ə]
  • latha "day" [lˠ̪a.ə]

This convention goes back to the Old Irish scribal tradition (though it is more consistently applied in Scottish Gaelic), e.g. lathe (> latha). However, hiatus in Old Irish was usually simply implied in certain vowel digraphs, e.g. óe (> adha), ua (> ogha).


Correption is the shortening of a long vowel before a short vowel in hiatus.


  1. ^ hiātus. Charlton T. Lewis and Charles Short. A Latin Dictionary on Perseus Project.
  2. ^ "diaeresis". Oxford English Dictionary. Oxford University Press. 2nd ed. 1989.
  3. ^ διαίρεσις. Liddell, Henry George; Scott, Robert; A Greek–English Lexicon at Perseus Project
  4. ^ "Voice and Speech in the Theatre"

See also

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