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Which English word has the largest number of different unique phonetic vowel sounds in it?

I will only count one vowel sound per syllable.

To make it more like a competition, if two people get the same number of unique sounds, the winner is the shorter word. If that is equal too it is the first answer.

If there is a dispute about pronunciation and what is a proper word, I will take whatever the OED says as gospel. Your word has to be in the OED to count.

No hyphens or spaces are allowed.

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10 Answers 10

9
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I have 7 in 15 letters:

aerodynamically
â ō ī ā ĭ ə ē

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    $\begingroup$ Isn’t that 7, not 6? This seems to be one of the best so far. $\endgroup$ – Peter LeFanu Lumsdaine Oct 17 '16 at 12:39
  • $\begingroup$ Wow, I can't count. Changed it to 7. Thanks! $\endgroup$ – TwoBitOperation Oct 17 '16 at 12:54
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    $\begingroup$ One question is if there are two vowel sounds or one in the "cally" part. Is it pronounced as "clee"? $\endgroup$ – Lembik Oct 17 '16 at 13:06
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    $\begingroup$ @TwoBitOperation The OED generally lists derived adverbs under their derivation base (aerodynamic in this case) and doesn’t include pronunciation for derived terms unless unpredictable; there is no pronunciation available for aerodynamically. As Lembik points out, medically does have its own entry (for some reason): its BrE pronunciation is /ˈmεdı̵kli/ with no schwa; the AmE one is /ˈmεdək(ə)li/ with a parenthesised one. So if you stick with the US pronunciation, the OED backs you up that there are at least potentially seven distinct vowels: [ε oʊ/ə aɪ æ ɪ (ə) i]. $\endgroup$ – Janus Bahs Jacquet Oct 17 '16 at 14:34
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    $\begingroup$ Pronouncing -cally seems to vary like pronouncing "the". Seems to matter in the way the preceding words are said and the speed/rate. $\endgroup$ – MikeP Oct 17 '16 at 21:47
8
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Probably not the most serious but...

Jim Carrey pronouncing Beautiful Bee-ee-a-u-ti-full. The e is a repeat but the second u is different.
5 different sounds, 0 legitimacy as an answer.

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  • $\begingroup$ Very nice indeed :) $\endgroup$ – Lembik Oct 18 '16 at 9:31
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Taking a famously long word,

antidisestablishmentarianism

has, I think, five (with apologies for crappy ad hoc notation):

a ee ih [schwa] a ih [schwa] eh ee [schwa] ih

Incidentally, I think a better tie-breaking system would be to favour the shortest word with a given number of different vowel sounds. [EDITED to add: it turns out the OP thinks so too and has changed the question appropriately.]

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  • $\begingroup$ You are right! Changing it. $\endgroup$ – Lembik Oct 16 '16 at 21:37
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    $\begingroup$ @Matsmath It wouldn't bother me to see it in someone else's answer, but if any reader indicates that they're offended by it then I'll happily change it. $\endgroup$ – Gareth McCaughan Oct 16 '16 at 23:05
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    $\begingroup$ @Matsmath: crappy is pretty innocuous — adds informality, but hardly anyone would view it as offensive today. It took a long double-take to understand your comment, though, since the c-word usually refers to a different word which is still considered offensive in many contexts — probably currently the most offensive word in the language, in most English-speaking cultures. If you’re not sure what word I mean, look up George Carlin’s Seven dirty words. $\endgroup$ – Peter LeFanu Lumsdaine Oct 17 '16 at 12:17
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    $\begingroup$ I would pronounce that first "i" "eye," which would add another sound. $\endgroup$ – Devsman Oct 17 '16 at 12:35
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    $\begingroup$ @Lembik I didn't know anybody did. :) $\endgroup$ – Devsman Oct 17 '16 at 12:51
5
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Six

Another famously long word:

floccinaucinihilipification.

Despite the surfeit of /ɪ/ sounds in here, there are actually six different vowel phonemes! At least with one of the two different possible pronunciations listed by Wiktionary:

/ˌflɒksɪˌnɔːsɪˌnaɪhɪlɪˌpɪlɪfɪˈkeɪʃən/ has vowel sounds ɒ, ɪ, ɔː, aɪ, eɪ, ə.

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4
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A word in the OED with 8 different vowel sounds:

supercalifragilisticexpialidocious

suːpəkalɪfradʒɪlɪstɪkˌɛkspɪalɪˈdəʊʃəs

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  • $\begingroup$ How do you count 8? The vowels seem to be u ə a ᵻ a ᵻ ɪ ɪ ɛ ɪa ᵻ əʊ ə. But I think ɪa is really two syllables and I don't know the difference between and ɪ. $\endgroup$ – Lembik Oct 17 '16 at 8:44
  • $\begingroup$ @Lembik: I make it 8 as follows: u, ə, a, ɪ ×2, ɛ, əʊ, ə. Here the “ɪ ×2” is because the OED makes an odd choice in transcribing the i-vowels of “-istic” and “-expia-” as the same phoneme “ɪ” — they were historically the same, but for most speakers today they’re very different. (For a shorter word illiustrating the contrast: these are the first and third vowels in symposium.) $\endgroup$ – Peter LeFanu Lumsdaine Oct 17 '16 at 12:31
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    $\begingroup$ I think you have counted ə twice. We are counting unique vowel sounds. $\endgroup$ – Lembik Oct 17 '16 at 12:39
  • $\begingroup$ I get eight too, though not quite the same eight as the OED: [uː ə a ɪ a ı̵ ɪ ɪ ε i a ɪ əʊ]. Note that the OED gives a phonemic transcription: according to their view, /ı̵/ does not exist phonetically. It does for me, though: I have three phonetically distinct vowels in Rose’s, Rosa’s, and sis (that is, my reduced /ɪ/ differs from both my non-reduced /ɪ/ and my /ə/ phonetically). They also don’t seem to have updated their IPA to reflect the change in writing ‘happy tensing’ /i/ as /i/ for this word. Since the question is about phonetic, not phonemic, vowels, I’d say 8 for this. $\endgroup$ – Janus Bahs Jacquet Oct 17 '16 at 14:19
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7 vowel sounds (US pronunciation only): in 13 letters:

radioisotopic. The OED lists one US pronunciation as /ˌreɪdioʊˌaɪsəˈtɑpɪk/, with the 7 vowels /eɪ, i, oʊ, aɪ, ə, ɑ, ɪ/. The British pronunciation is only transcribed with 6 distinct vowels at most because the "i" in "radio-" is identified with /ɪ/.

7 vowel sounds (pretty solidly, I think) in 16 letters:

rhinolaryngology. The OED transcription is /ˌrʌɪnəʊˌlarᵻŋˈɡɒlədʒi/.

Since "/ᵻ/" is equivalent to "/ɪ/ or /ə/", this means this word can potentially can be pronounced with the 7 distinct vowel sounds

/ʌɪ, əʊ, a, ɪ, ɒ, ə, i/

Sources used:

This is a minor variation of one of the words mentioned in the following article: https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/explore/what-is-the-longest-english-word (otorhinolaryngological)

7 vowel sounds (but I don't think they're all legitimately distinct) in 12 letters:

radiobiology. The OED transcribes this as /ˌreɪdɪəʊbʌɪˈɒlədʒi/, giving 7 distinct vowels: /eɪ, ɪ, əʊ, ʌɪ, ɒ, ə, i/. However, I think few people actually distinguish the sound of the "i" in "radio-" from the sound of the "y" in "biology." That's why I don't think this is legitimate.

8 vowel sounds (but I don't think they're all legitimately distinct) in 26 letters:

radioimmunoelectrophoresis (another word from that article). The OED transcription is /ˌreɪdɪəʊˌɪmjᵿnəʊᵻˌlɛktrə(ʊ)fəˈriːsɪs/.

Why I think it's not legitimate:

As previously mentioned, the standard view, maintained by the OED, is "/ᵻ/" is just a notational shorthand for ""/ɪ/ or /ə/". So /eɪ, əʊ, (j)ᵿ, ᵻ, ɛ, ə, iː, ɪ/ does not constitute a set of 8 distinct vowels because /ᵻ/ is really the same as either /ɪ/ or /ə/. However, Janus Bahs Jacquet left a comment arguing that he does use three distinct vowels /ɪ/, /ə/ and /ᵻ/.

If we allow this, then I have another word with 7 vowel sounds in 15 letters:

radiomicrometer: the OED transcribes the parts of this word separately, the prefix "radio-" as /ˈreɪdɪəʊ/ and "micrometer" as /mʌɪˈkrɒmᵻtə/

The 7 vowels are:

/eɪ, ɪ, əʊ, ʌɪ, ɒ, ᵻ, ə/. I think this is a bit more legitimate since the first "/ɪ/" can actually be pronounced /i/, although the OED's transcription of British English does not acknowledge this.

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  • $\begingroup$ What a great answer! $\endgroup$ – Lembik Oct 17 '16 at 20:45
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I have 6 sounds in 14 letters. If you don't believe me, perhaps you are an

underestimator

and if you don't like that word (since it's not in the OED), you're still

underestimating

EDIT: It appears I overestimated and have only 5 unique sounds.

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    $\begingroup$ By my count those have at most 5 each: in underestimator, the last syllable has the same vowel as the 2nd syllable, and in underestimating, the last syllable has the same vowel as the 4th syllable. (And in some accents, the 4th syllable will be the same as the 2nd syllable — it gets reduced to a schwa as it’s completely unstressed.) $\endgroup$ – Peter LeFanu Lumsdaine Oct 17 '16 at 12:35
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I have 10 in a 20 letter word from http://www.yougowords.com/10-vowels word list. The word is Semiautobiographical, however, I think Semiautobiographical might need a dash to become Semi-autobiographical

Even au-to-bi-o-gra-phi-ca-l by itself is 7 phonetic sounds of vowels but I am horrendous at English. Thought I'd add to the list of answers just in case it's helpful list.

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  • $\begingroup$ Are they unique vowel sounds? $\endgroup$ – Lembik Oct 18 '16 at 9:32
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a quick guess,

Disenfranchise disənˈfran(t)SHīz has 4 different vowel sounds. There are probably words with five but I can't think of any yet.

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six different vowel sounds in 12 letters

on·o·mat·o·poe·ia

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    $\begingroup$ ɒ ə a ə i ə I make that 4 different sounds. $\endgroup$ – Lembik Oct 17 '16 at 11:23
  • $\begingroup$ @Lembik Question is not clear on on that to me $\endgroup$ – paparazzo Oct 17 '16 at 11:26
  • $\begingroup$ Why so? I just looked it up in the OED and copied out the vowel sounds in order. $\endgroup$ – Lembik Oct 17 '16 at 11:27
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    $\begingroup$ Aha... In my question I meant that that vowel sounds are different. So in your example it would be the names of the children that have to be different. Sorry for any confusion. $\endgroup$ – Lembik Oct 17 '16 at 11:31
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    $\begingroup$ I think the word you are looking for is unique. $\endgroup$ – paparazzo Oct 17 '16 at 11:31

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