Phonetics 101: The Consonants - Textkit Greek and Latin Learning Tools

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Phonetics 101: The Consonants
by William Annis
Article Difficulty Rating: beginner Article Requirements: SPIonic Font download here

Textkit - Greek and Latin Learning Tools December 22, 2003 Introduction Early in the study of both Greek and Latin you are called on to memorize various sound changes and combinations. A basic understanding of some phonology will make many of these changes clear even obvious - since it's usually easier to learn a rule than to memorize a chart.

Points of Articulation
Recite all of these nonsense syllables, and pay attention to where your tongue starts off for each consonant: ta da na la sa za. If you speak English, all of those should have started off in very similar ways, with the tongue just behind the teeth, and further forward for sa and za. If you speak almost any other language outside of India the tongue should have started off in a similar location for all the syllables. All the consonants in those nonsense syllables are called dentals, because they are articulated just off the back of the teeth. (Except native English speakers, for whom t, d, n and l are retracted just a bit, and are called alveolar). Another set: p, b, m. These are bilabials since both lips are required to make the sounds. And the final set for now: k, g, ng. For ng think of the word singing. These are velars. In many older Greek and Latin textbooks and grammars they got called palatals or sometimes gutturals but that terminology is obsolete.

Voicing and Aspiration
I've shown that you can distinguish consonants by the points of articulation, that is, how the tongue and lips are configured to make the sound. Say these syllables: pa, ba, ka, ga. Here you will see that while p and b have the same point of articulation, they are considered different sounds in Latin and Greek (and English, too, of course). The main difference is in voicing. For the p the vocal chords aren't doing anything, but for b they are. So we say b is voiced and p is unvoiced or voiceless. Older grammars may call voiceless consonants surd and voiced sonant. So, of the sounds I've shown you so far, p, t, k and s are voiceless and b, d, g, z as well as m, n, r and l are voiced. Related to voicing is aspiration. This is tricky for English speakers since we have both aspirated and unaspirated voiceless consonants, but we don't hear them as different sounds because the aspiration depends on where the sound is occurring in the word. For speakers of many European languages all consonants are unaspirated.

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12/23/2003

Phonetics 101: The Consonants - Textkit Greek and Latin Learning Tools

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The difference can be heard - and felt if you put your palm over your mouth as you say the examples - by contrasting the sound p in the words pin and spin. For pin the p will be accompanied by a noticeably stronger puff of air than it will in spin. The first is aspirated, the second is not. In English, voicelessp, t, k are aspirated at the beginning of a word, but not otherwise. In Greek and Latin p, t, k are unaspirated, even at the beginning of words. Latin indicates aspiration with the letter h (which that puff is sort of like), so in charta "piece of paper" ch represents the aspirated k sound. In phonetics aspiration is often represented by a raised letter h, like so: kharta. In Greek, the letters theta (q ), phi (f) and chi ( x) are aspirates. Phi was not pronounced like an f until well into the Christian era. This explains why vowel elision after certain consonants leads to the changes it does. In e) f' h( mi= n "up to us" the p of e) pi/ has become ph because the following word starts with an h sound. Manner of Articulation Finally, in addition to points of articulation and voicing, the way a sound is made changes it. Here by "manner" we usually mean how the air flows out (or in a few languages sometimes in) when the sound is made. For example, the sounds p, b, t, d, k, g all stop the flow of air briefly, and so are often called stops (older grammars may call them mutes). So, in phoneticialese b is a voiced bilabial stop, and kh is an aspirated voiceless velar stop. If instead of using the tongue to stop the flow of air you let it go out your nose, you get a nasal sound: n is the dental nasal, m the bilabial and ng velar. Some languages do have voiceless nasals, but not Latin or Greek. If instead of a stop or a nasal you allow a small space for the air to go out with friction, you get a fricative. In English the sound th in three is a voiceless dental fricative. The Latin f is usually classified as a bilabial fricative, though if you pay attention to it you'll notice it's your teeth on your lips making this sound, a so called labio-dental. In some languages you do get a true voiceless bilabial fricative, which sounds a bit like blowing out a candle. S and z are like fricatives, and are also dental, but the teeth are much closer together. They're called sibilants (Lat. "to hiss"). If instead of friction you let the air flow out around the sides of your tongue, you get a lateral. It turns out l is the only lateral in the languages we're dealing with. Finally, r, depending on the language you're talking about, gets called all sorts of things. In classics textbooks l and r are usually classified together as liquids. (The Greek poets considered the liquids the most beautiful consonant sounds and the voiceless velars the least.)

The Family Chart
So here's a chart of the sounds we've been looking at. I'm skipping the terminology for some of the columns to spare you jargon overload: voiceless voiceless aspirate voiced fricative nasal lateral bilabial p b f m ph dental t velar k th kh d g n ng l szr

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Phonetics 101: The Consonants - Textkit Greek and Latin Learning Tools guttural h

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This layout is simplified a bit, and I've omitted the so-called semivowels (English w and y), but it will help you understand sound changes that can happen in both Greek and Latin.

Assimilation
The sound changes of Greek and Latin will start to make a bit more systematic sense when you match the sound changes to the chart above. Most of these changes make sense in terms of assimilation of articulation. You can have a sound change its voicing to match a following sound, in Greek you can have assimilation of aspiration, and in both languages the nasals can assimilate to point of articulation. When looking over the assimilation examples, spend a moment trying to pronounce the word before assimilation has taken place. Assimilation isn't just a random change, but makes a word easier to say by reducing how many vocal configuration changes we need to make moving from sound to sound. Latin. For example, in principal parts, intellego, -ere, intellexi, intellectum "understand" you'll see that the g has become a k sound in the perfect parts. Look at the chart and you see this is a change in voicing: the g has changed to k to match the voiceless s in the perfect and the voiceless t in the participle. In cedo, -ere, cessi, cessum "go, yield" the original d has assimilated not only to the voicing, but the manner of articulation of the following s. Another example of this is possum which comes from older pot + sum, as you can see from the third singular pot-est. Both. In most languages the nasals are especially prone to assimilation of the point of articulation. So, in + perfectum ends up imperfectum, In Greek, the n of su/n as a prefix can stay an n or become m ( sum-fe/rw) or ng (sug-kale/w). Greek. Greek is especially prone to sound changes at morpheme boundaries. In the third declension the nominative singular -j and the dative plural -si both cause changes. For example, the nominative plural of "vein" fle/bej shows that the noun stem ends in a b sound. When the endings with s are attached, however, the b is devoiced to match the voiceless s: fle/y and fleyi/ . (Note: when dentals come before s in Greek, they tend to disappear altogether. Linguists assume that they assimilated in articulation first -ss- then reduced the double sound to one. Before many consonants the dentals tended to become s.) The middle perfects of consonant stem verbs show several kinds of assimilation. Here's a bilabial stem tre/pw "I turn." Watch what happens to the ph of the stem tetraf-: te/trammai tetra/mmeqa te/trayai te/trafqon te/trafqe te/traptai te/trafqon tetra/fatai (The 3.pl form is Homeric; Attic used a participle periphrasis for this). Notice how the final stop is a nasal before nasal endings, and an aspirate before aspirates and an unaspirated stop before unaspirates. The same pattern applies to velar stems, teu/xw "make", middle perfect stem tetux-: te/tugmai tetu/gmeqa te/tucai te/tuxqon te/tuxqe te/tuktai te/tuxqon tetu/xatai

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Phonetics 101: The Consonants - Textkit Greek and Latin Learning Tools

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The pattern is repeated here: before nasals nasals, before aspirates aspirates and before unaspirates unaspirates.

And another thing
It's possible to spend a lot more time on the phonetics of Greek and Latin. For example, there are trickier sorts of assimilation changes that can take place. In some situations dissimilation will happen. There are a number of situations in both Greek and Latin where the sound changes make sense only if you know an earlier stage of the language (traho, tractum, qri/c, trixo/j). But I hope this brief introduction has helped you understand some of the sound changes we have to deal with a little better.

http://www.textkit.com/tutorials/20031222print.html

12/23/2003

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