CH is Not a “Blend”

Numerous websites offering tips on reading instruction refer to the digraph ch as a “blend.”

The phonogram ch is not a blend.

A blend is a letter combination that represents two distinct sounds run together. Here are some true “blends”: bl, br, cl, cr, dr, fl, fr, gl, gr pl, pr, sl, sm, st

Each of these letter combinations represent two distinct sounds run together to pronounce a word.

Here are some words that contain the blends listed above:
black, bring, clam, creep, drag, flow, French, glance, grade, plan, prince, slide, small, stand.

The bl in black represents the sounds of b and l. The fr in French represents the sounds of f and r.

Ch does not work in the same way.

Ch is a digraph: a spelling symbol represented by two letters, but representing one sound.

The digraph ch is not a “blend” because it does not represent the sounds of c and h run together. Ch in chicken represents a sound that is different from either c or h. It represents a sound made by the tongue moving on the palate. Ch in chrome represents the sound of the letter k. Ch in chef represents the sound usually spelled sh (another digraph and not a blend).

The most common sound represented by the diagraph ch is the /tch/ sound heard in church, chance, and inch.

Ch represents the sound /k/ in words of Greek origin: Christmas, chronicle, and archaeology.

Ch represents the sound /sh/ in certain French borrowings like chef, chauffeur, and chamois.

Instead of confusing beginning readers by telling them that ch is a “blend,” tell them that ch is an “extra letter.” And teach them the three sounds it stands for: /tch/, /k/, /sh/.


10 Responses

  1. Sue,
    I have used the notation /tch/ as a phonetic spelling for the sound represented by the digraph ch in the word chicken. There is no “t” in the sound, although the sound does begin with the tongue placed against the palate.

  2. Since I came across this discussion I have recorded myself saying with a “ch” sound repeatedly. On playback I do not hear a “tch”. I should also add I am trained in linguistics and can easily transcribe what I hear into IPA but I do not hear “tch” in my speech. Comparing “ch” and “sh” the only difference I hear is the former is voiced while the latter is not. Since so many of you are convinced both sounds blend with initial “t” I wonder if this is a regional accent difference. But then I think of other languages in which the “t” sound is made with the tongue in a different place in the mouth. Russian “t” is pronounced with the tip of the tongue on both the dental ridge and back of the front teeth. It is highly unlikely a speaker can’t get their tongue from “t” to “ch” quickly enough to get the smooth single sound of “ch”.

    I must pay closer attention in future.

  3. Meinard,
    I’ll try one more time to explain why the digraph ch is not a blend.
    A blend combines two separate sounds, both of which are heard in the blend.

    For example, in the blend tr (as in treat), the tongue taps against the roof of the mouth to produce the /t/ sound and is succeeded by the separate sound of /r/. Likewise, for the blend st (as in steam), the speech organs shift to pronounce the separate sounds of /s/ and /t/.

    As you acknowledge, sh is not a blend. It is one sound, made by pushing air over the tongue, which is positioned more or less mid-mouth.

    Likewise, ch is not a blend because, although the sound begins with the tongue in the position for /t/, it does not tap and then shift to the /sh/ sound. For the ch of church, the tongue remains in place at the roof of the mouth and the air is pushed past it. The tongue does not move. The sound produced is all one sound.

    If this explanation fails to convince you that ch is not a blend but a single sound, there’s nothing more I can offer. Further comment is futile.

  4. The phoneme heard at the beginning of “chip” is a distinct and very different sound than the sound heard at the beginning of “ship.”
    Correct. Because the sharp phoneme you hear is a “t” in front of the “sh”, because “ch” is a blend of “t” and “sh”.

  5. Meinard Strydom,
    I do disagree with you. The sound /ch/ is not a blend of /t/ + /sh/ any more than the sound /sh/ is a blend of /s/ and /h/. The phoneme heard at the beginning of “chip” is a distinct and very different sound than the sound heard at the beginning of “ship.”

  6. Yeah, I see it didn’t render my IPA symbols. And you didn’t disagree with me, you actually most the IPA symbol that proves me right: You see the funny “S” symbol after the “t” in the IPA for “ch”? That funny “s” symbol is the symbol for the “sh” sound. Which means “ch” is a blend of “t” and “Sh”.

  7. Meinard Strydom,
    I’ll just post one of your comments as they are very similar.

    I find it very difficult to follow your examples. I suppose that any IPA symbols you used became garbled in WP. I don’t know how to fix them. I’m uploading the IPA symbol for the first sound of the digraph “ch” as a graphic:
    IPA symbol for the first sound of the spelling . I must disagree with your assertion.

  8. WRONG. “Ch” IS a blend! “Ch” is a blend of “t” and “sh” which is why it is written in IPA as /t?/. Which also why it is sometimes written as a “tch”.

    watch /w??t?/
    beach /bi?t?/

    Likewise, if you make “t” voiced in “ch” you get a “d” and if you make the “sh” voiced in “ch” you get a “zh”, thus “ch” becomes the “-ge”/”j” /d?/ sound.

    “-ge” IS a blend. “-ge” is a blend of “d” and “zh” which is why it is written in IPA as /d?/. Which also why it is sometimes written as a “-dge”.

    judge /d?ud?/
    orange /???r?nd?/

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