Question 2

Vowels are one of the two groups of speech sounds in any language.
(a) Discuss the classification of the short vowels of English. Draw a quadrilateral chart
showing the position of the seven short vowels.



I ʊ
e
ə


The quadrilateral chart

Vowels are speech sounds produced when the air stream from the lungs passes
through the vocal tract without any obstruction. Vowels are represented by the
quadrilateral chart. The quadrilateral chart shows the tongue position, tongue height
and lip position. To be more specific, the horizontal line represents tongue position
with classifications being front, central and back. This refers to the parts of the tongue
that is the highest with the front of the tongue is equivalent to palatal and the back
equivalent to velar. The vowels in most varieties of English ‘sit’, ‘sir’, and ‘soon’ are
front, central and back respectively. The vertical line shows the tongue height with the
classifications being high, mid and low. Sometimes, the alternative terms of ‘close’
and ‘open’ are used for high and low respectively. The vowels in English ‘see’, ‘set’
and ‘car’ are high, mid and low respectively. Not to forget is also the lip position be it
rounded or unrounded. When pronouncing the word ‘see’, the lips will be unrounded
or spread. The pronunciation of the word ‘sue’, on the other hand, will make the lips
rounded. From this chart, we can give vowels a phonetic label by describing its
frontness, openness and rounding. For example, the vowel /ə/ is a front mid-close
æ
ʌ ɔ
Front
Open
Close
Low
Back
Central
Mid
High
unrounded vowel whereas / ɔ/ is a back mid-open rounded vowel. A complete
quadrilateral chart presents both the long and short vowels. However, in accordance
with the requirement of this question, this chart will only be filled with short vowels. In
total, there are seven short vowels. This essay will discuss in detail the classification
of all seven vowels with reference to the tongue position, tongue height and lip
position.

There are three types of short vowels based on frontness, which can then be
divided according to their vertical heights. First off, front short vowels are vowels that
involve the front part of the tongue during pronunciation. Front short vowels comprise
of /I/, /e/ and /æ/. In classifying the vowel /I/, it is a high, front and slightly spread short
vowel. This is because the vertical height of the tongue when pronouncing /I/ is
relatively higher and the lips are slightly spread. Examples of words with this vowel
are ‘sit’, ‘big’ and ‘lid’. As for the vowel /e/, it is a mid, front and slightly spread short
vowel. This is because the vertical height of the tongue when pronouncing /e/ is in the
middle and the lips are also slightly spread. Examples of words with this vowel are
‘met’, ‘bed’ and ‘bet’. Lastly, the vowel /æ/ is a low, front and slightly spread short
vowel. This is because the vertical height of the tongue when pronouncing / æ/ is low
and the lips are slightly spread too. Examples of words with this vowel are ‘bag’, ‘mat’
and ‘rare’.

Moving on, the second type of short vowels are central short vowels. Central
short vowels are vowels that involve the middle part of the tongue during
pronunciation. When divided according to vertical tongue position, there are two types
of central short vowels namely /ʌ/ and /ə/. The vowel /ʌ/ is a low, central and neutral
short vowel. This is because the vertical tongue position when pronouncing /ʌ/ is low
and the lips are in neutral state. Examples of words with this vowel are ‘but’, ‘mud’
and ‘bug’. For the vowel /ə/, it is a mid, central and neutral short vowel. This is
because the vertical tongue position is in the middle and the lips are in neutral state.
Examples of words with this vowel are ‘above’, ‘about’ and ‘again’.
Last but not least, the third type of short vowels is back short vowels. These
vowels involve the back part of the tongue during pronunciation. The vowel /ʊ/ is a
high, back and rounded short vowel because the vertical tongue position is relatively
higher and the lips are rounded. Examples of words with this vowel are ‘cook’, ‘pull’
and ‘bull’. Next, the vowel /ɔ/ is a low, back and rounded short vowel because the
vertical tongue position is lower and the lips are rounded. Examples of words with this
vowel are ‘job’, ‘rod’ and ‘gone’.

In conclusion, the seven short vowels differ from one another. When classified
according to the vertical and horizontal tongue position and the lip position, they are
better understood and differentiated. Therefore, all these classification is represented
by the quadrilateral chart.


















(b) List all English diphthongs. Provide a few words that comprises each of the listed
diphthongs.
Answer:
A diphthong is a vowel sound for which the tongue starts in one place and
glides to another. In other words, a diphthong is a sequence of two vowel sounds,
with a glide joining the two. In terms of length, diphthongs are such that the first
part is much longer and stronger than the second part. Diphthongs can be divided
into centring diphthongs and closing diphthongs, due to the way they start at one
vowel-position in the quadrilateral vowel chart and move towards another. The
term centring and closed is referring to the tongue positioning and lips shaping
respectively. Centring diphthongs are diphthongs that end with a /ə/, like /ɪə/ and
/eə/. They are called centring diphthongs because ‘ə’ is a central vowel, so the first
vowel has to glide to the centre of the quadrilateral chart since ‘ə’ is the second
vowel in the diphthong. Examples of centring vowels are like ‘weird’, ‘fierce’, and
‘ear’ for /ɪə/; ‘there’, ‘bear’, and ‘hair’ for /eə/; and ‘tour’, ‘lure’, and ‘sure’ for /ʊə/.
On the other hand, closing diphthongs are diphthongs that either end with /ɪ/ or /ʊ/.
They are called closing diphthongs because the first vowel moves from a relatively
less closed position to a relatively more closed position. For instance the
diphthong /aʊ/ is a glide from /a/ (relatively less closed) to /ʊ/ (relatively more
closed). Examples of closing vowels ending with ɪ are like /eɪ/ as in ‘paid’, ‘face’
and ‘shade’; /aɪ/ as in ‘time’, ‘bike’ and ‘pie’; and /ɔɪ/ as in ‘oil’, ‘coin’ and ‘toy’. As
for the closing diphthongs ending with /ʊ/, there are only two types. They are /əʊ/
as in ‘book’, ‘home’ and ‘boat’; and /aʊ/ as in ‘loud’, ‘house’ and ‘cow’.