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Phonetics

It is the science of human speech sounds which studies the defining characteristics of
all human vocal noise and concentrates its attention on those sounds which occur in
the world´s languages.

It teaches people to recognize the different sounds which occur in the spoken form of
any language, and moreover, to produce them for themselves. It trains people to
describe the many ways in which the tongue, lips and other organ function in order to
produce these sounds.

Articulatory phonetics: the study of the physiological aspect of speech production,


i.e. vocal organs through which we produce the basic sounds of speech.

Acoustic phonetics: the study of the physical aspects of speech production, i.e. of the
sound waves, which is the way sounds are transmitted through the air from one person
to another.

Auditory phonetics: the study of the way in which the human ear perceives sounds.

Phonology
It is the study of the sound system. It studies the function of sounds, which in the first
instance is to identify words and word-groups and to distinguish words with different
meanings.

Phonemes: the smallest element of sound that shows a difference in meaning.

Allophones: the different variants of each phoneme. It changes the sound, not the
meaning.

 The wrong choice of phonemes may lead to a different meaning.


 The wrong use of allophones will only lead to a foreign accent or another
dialect.
The speech chain
The speech mechanism
 Lungs
 Winpipe or trachea
 Larynx (vocal cords or folds)

 Pharynx
Cavities or
 Nose
resonators
 Mouth
Vocal tract

 Teeth
 Lips
Articulators
 Tongue
 Palate
Vocal Folds or Cords

Wide apart (voiceless Near together (glottal


sounds) fricative) /h/

In light contact (voiced sounds)


Tightly together
(glottal stop) / ʔ/

The Tongue
Vowels
Definition: the type of sound depending largely on very slight variations of tongue
position, which is most easily described in terms of auditory relationships, since there
are no contacts or obstructions which we can feel with any precision and that are
always voiced, fall into the traditional category of vowels.
Therefore, a vowel may be defined as a voiced sound, in the pronunciation
of which the air passes through the mouth in a continuous stream, there being no
obstruction such as would cause audible friction. The characteristic qualities of vowels
depend on the shape of the open passage above the larynx. The chief organs
concerned in the modification of the shape of the passage are the lips and the tongue.

The tongue position of vowels can be classified in this way:

- According to the height to which the tongue is raised.


- According to the part of the tongue which is raised highest.

When we classify vowels according to the height of the tongue, we


distinguish four classes:

- Close vowels are those in which the tongue is raised as high as


possible.
- Half-close vowels are those in which the tongue occupies a position
about one third of the distance from close to open.
- Half-open vowels are those in which the tongue occupies a position
about two thirds of the distance from close to open.
- Open vowels are those in which the tongue is as low as possible.

When we classify vowels according to the part of the tongue which is raised
highest, we distinguish three classes:

- Front vowels: the front of the tongue is raised in the direction of the
hard palate. They are /i:/ɪ/e/ᴂ/
- Central vowels: the centre of the tongue is raised towards the juncture
of the hard and the soft palate. They are /ə/3:/ʌ/
- Back vowels: the back of the tongue is raised in the direction of the
soft palate. They are /u:/ʊ/ɔ:/ɒ/ɑ:/

The lips may also affect, to a considerable extent, the vowel quality. They
may be spread, rounded or neutral. Vowels with spread or neutral lips are generally
grouped together under the term “unrounded”. Two degrees of lip rounding may be
distinguished: close lip rounding and open lip rounding.
Front Vowels
/i:/ The front of the tongue is raised to a height slightly below and behind the close,
front position; the lips are spread; the tongue is tense, with the side rims making a firm
contact with the upper molars. This vowel should give little difficulty to foreign learners,
all of whom will have, in their own language, a vowel of approximately the same quality.

/ɪ/ This vowel is pronounced with a part of the tongue nearer to the centre than to the
front, raised just above the half-close position. The lips are loosely spread (neutral), the
tongue is lax (compared with the tension for /i:/), with the side rims making a light
contact with the upper molars. This vowel may occur in all positions in a word. It is of
the utmost importance that a proper qualitative (position of the lips and the tongue) and
quantitative (duration) relationship should be maintained between /i:/ and /ɪ/.

/e/ For this vowel, the front of the tongue is raised between the half-open and half-close
positions; the lips are slightly spread and are slightly wider apart than for /ɪ/. The
tongue may have more tension than in the case of /ɪ/, the side rimes making a light
contact with the upper molars. This vowel does not occur in final, open syllables.

/ᴂ/ The mouth is slightly more open than for /e/; the front of the tongue is raised just
below the half-open position, with the side rims making a very slight contact with the
back upper molars. The lips are spread. This vowel does not occur in final, open
syllables.

Central Vowels
/ə/ This vowel has a very high frequency of occurrence in unaccented syllables. Its
quality is that of a central vowel with neutral lip position, having in non-final positions a
tongue raising between half-open and half-close; in the vicinity of the velar consonants
/k/g/ŋ/, however, the tongue may be slightly more raised and retracted. But in final
positions, the vowel is pronounced either in the half-open central position or in the
most open regions of the central area. It is the weakest vowel and in many positions
it may be elided. Foreign learners should remember that English /ə/ has no lip
rounding and that it is extremely short.
/ɜ:/ It is pronounced with the centre of the tongue raised between half -close and half-
open, no firm contact being made between the tongue and the upper molars. The
lips are loosely rounded.

/ʌ/ This vowel is pronounced with a considerable separation of the jaws and the lips
neutrally open; the centre of the tongue (or a part slightly in advance of centre) is
raised just above the fully open position, no contact being made between the tongue
and the upper molars. This vowel does not occur in final, open syllables.

Back Vowels
/u:/ It is a back, close vowel. Its relationship with /ʊ/ is similar to that between /ɪ/ and
/i:/, the production of /u:/ being tense compared with that of /ʊ/, though no firm contact
is made between the tongue and the upper molars. The lips are closely rounded. The
quality of this vowel should cause no difficulty to most learners; many of them will have
a close back rounded vowel in their own languages.

/ʊ/ This vowel is pronounced with a part of the tongue nearer to the centre than to the
back, raised just above the half-close position. It has, therefore, a symmetrical back
relationship with the front vowel /ɪ/; the tongue is laxly held (compared with the tenser
/u:/), no firm contact being made between the tongue and the upper molars. The lips
are closely but loosely rounded. This vowel occurs both in accented and unaccented
syllables. It does not occur in initial positions nor before final /ŋ/, and finally, only in the
unaccented form of “to” /tʊ/.

/ɔ:/ This vowel is pronounced with medium lip rounding; the back of the tongue is
raised between the half-open and the half-close positions, no contact being made
between the tongue and the upper molars.

/ɒ/ This vowel is pronounced with wide open jaws and slight open lip-rounding; the
back of the tongue is raised just above the fully open position, no contact being made
between the tongue and the upper molars. This vowel does not occur in final, open
syllables.

/ɑ:/ This vowel is pronounced with a considerable separation of the jaws and the lips
neutrally open. A part of the tongue between the centre and back is in the fully open
position, no contact being made between the rims of the tongue and the upper molars.

Length
The length or quantity of a sound is the period of time during which that sound is held
on continuously in a given word or phrase. Consonants as well as vowels and
diphthongs have length.

Various degrees of length may be considered, but it is sufficient to distinguish two: long
and short.

The mark of length (:) is placed immediately after the symbol of the sound which is
long. Short sounds are left unmarked.

The principles governing the length of sounds in English are very complex, and
considerable differences may be observed when comparing the speech of one person
and that of another. However, the following rules may serve as a guide in the practical
teaching of a language:

a. The vowels /i:/ɑ:/ɜ:/u:/ɔ:/ are longer than the other English vowels in similar
situations, that is to say, when surrounded by the same sounds and
pronounced with the same degree of stress:

LONG SHORT
/hi:d/ /hɪd/
/dɑ:k/ /dʌk/
/tɜ:n/ /ten/
/kɔ:t/ /kɒt/
/fu:l/ /fʊl/
As a consequence of this rule, it is customary to designate the vowels
/i:/ɑ:/ɜ:/u:/ɔ:/ as the “long” vowels, and the remaining English vowels as the
“short” vowels.

b. The long vowels and diphthongs are shorter when followed by a fortis
consonant than when final, or followed by a lenis consonant. When final, these
long vowels are the longest.

Clipping
The shortening of a “long” vowel when it is followed by a fortis voiceless consonant.

/kɑ:/: longest

/kɑ:d/: a bit shorter

/kɑ:t/: shortest (clipped)

/kᴂt/kʌt/kɑ:t/ different quality – same quantity

Diphthongs
Diphthongs are sounds which consist of a movement or glide from one vowel to
another. The first part of a diphthong is much longer and stronger than the second part.
E.g. most of the diphthong /aɪ/ consists of the first vowel and only in about the last
quarter of the diphthong does the glide to the second one become noticeable. As a
result, the second part is shorter and quieter.
ɪə
Centring ending in ə eə
ʊə

Diphthong
ending in ɪ aɪ
Closing ɔɪ
əʊ
ending in ʊ

Triphthongs
A triphthong is a glide to one vowel to another and then to the third sound, all produced
quickly and without interruption. The triphthongs are composed of the five closing
diphthongs with /ə/ added at the end. Thus we get:
 eɪ + ə = eɪə
 aɪ + ə = aɪə
 ɔɪ + ə = ɔɪə
 əʊ + ə = əʊə
 aʊ + ə = aʊə

But: fewer /fju:ə/ ; Miami /maɪᴂmi/ they are not triphthongs.


Consonants
The type of sound which is most easily described in terms of articulation, since we can
generally feel the contact and movement involved which may be produced with or
without vocal folds vibration and very often has a noise component in the acoustic
sense, falls generally into the traditional category of consonants.
A complete description of consonants might provide answers to the following
questions:

 Is the air-stream st in motion by the lungs or by some other means? (pulmonic


or non-pulmonic) all English sounds are pulmonic
 Is the air-stream forced outwards or sucked inwards? (egressive or ingressive)
all English sounds are egressive
 Do the vocal folds vibrate or not? (voiced or voiceless) 50% - 50%
 Is the soft palate raised or lowered? (oral or nasal) just a few of them
 What is the degree of breath and muscular effort involved in the articulation?
(fortis or lenis) 50% - 50%
 At what point and between what organs does the obstruction takes place?
(point of articulation)
 What is the type of obstruction at the point of articulation? (manner of
articulation)

Points of articulation
BILABIAL: /p/b/m/: the lower lip articulates with the upper lip.
LABIO-DENTAL: /f/v/: the lower lip articulates with the upper teeth.
DENTAL: /θ/ð/: the tip of the tongue articulates with the upper teeth.
ALVEOLAR: /t/d/l/n/s/z/: the blade of the tongue articulates with the alveolar ridge.
POST-ALVEOLAR: /r/: the tip of the tongue articulates with the back part of the
alveolar ridge.
PALATO-ALVEOLAR: /ʧ/ʤ/ʃ/ʒ/: the blade of the tongue articulates with the alveolar
ridge and the front of the tongue articulates with the hard palate.
PALATAL: /j/: the front of the tongue articulates with the hard palate.
VELAR: /k/g/ŋ/: the back of the tongue articulates with the soft palate.
LABIO-VELAR: /w/: the back of the tongue articulates with the soft palate and, at
the same time, the lips are rounded.
GLOTTAL: /h/ʔ/: the vocal folds articulate with each other.

Plosives
 /p/: fortis voiceless bilabial plosive
 /b/: lenis voiced bilabial plosive
 /t/: fortis voiceless alveolar plosive
 /d/: lenis voiced alveolar plosive
 /k/: fortis voiceless velar plosive
 /g/: lenis voices velar plosive
Definition: A plosive is a sound produced by making a complete obstruction to the
flow of air and a explosion when it comes out of the mouth.

Stages: a. closing stage: during which the articulating organs move together in order
to form a complete closure.
b. hold or compression stage: during which lung action compresses the air
behind the closure.
c. release stage: during which the organs forming the obstruction separate
rapidly, allowing the air to escape abruptly with an explosion of sharp air.
d. post-release stage: when fortis plosives are at the beginning of a
stressed syllable, they are released with an extra amount of noise called
ASPIRATION (period during which air escapes through the vocal folds making a
sound like /h/).
When there is a sequence of plosives, there is a longer compression stage and
the release of the first plosive is accomplished in the second one.

Affricates
 /ʧ/:fortis voiceless palato-alveolar affricate
 /ʤ/: lenis voiced palato-alveolar affricate

Definition: an affricate is a type of consonant consisting of a plosive followed by a


fricative with the same or similar point of articulation.

Stages: a. closing stage: the articulators move together in order to form a complete
closure.
b. hold or compression stage: the air compresses behind the closure.
c. release stage: the organs separate slowly forming a narrow passage and
the air escapes with friction.
Nasals
 /m/: lenis voiced bilabial nasal
 /n/: lenis voiced alveolar nasal
 /ŋ/: lenis voiced velar nasal

Definition: a nasal is a consonant in which the air escapes through the nose. For
this to happen, the soft palate or velum must be lowered to allow the air to escape
through the nose and a complete closure must be made in the oral cavity to prevent
the air from escaping through it.

Obstructions in the mouth:


 BILABIAL: lower lip against upper lip.
 ALVEOLAR: blade of the tongue against alveolar ridge.
 VELAR: back of the tongue against soft palate.

Dustribution:
/m/n/: full (they can occur everywhere).
/ŋ/: limited:
 It never occurs in initial position.
 It never occurs after long vowels and diphthongs. It only follows
/ɪ/e/ᴂ/ʌ/ɒ/.
 /ŋ/ + velar plosives /g/k/:
1) “nk”; “nc”; “nq”: /ŋk/ (/nk/ also possible sometimes).
2) “ng” (final position): /ŋ/.
3) “ng” (medial position): - /ŋg/ (within one morpheme) finger /fɪŋgə/.
- /ŋ/ (between two morphemes) singer /sɪŋə/.

EXCEPTION: comparatives
and superlatives:

- longer /lɒŋgə/
- longest /lɒŋgəst/
Fricatives
 /f/: fortis voiceless labio-dental fricative
 /v/: lenis voiced labio-dental fricative
 /θ/: fortis voiceless dental fricative
 /ð/: lenis voiced dental fricative
 /s/: fortis voiceless alveolar fricative
 /z/: lenis voiced alveolar fricative
 /ʃ/: fortis voiceless palato-alveolar fricative
 /ʒ/: lenis voiced palate-alveolar fricative
 /h/: fortis voiceless glottal fricative

Definition: a fricative is a type of consonant made by forcing air through a narrow


gap so that a hissing noise is generated. This may be accompanied by vocal
vibration or not. They are continuant consonant, which means that you can continue
making them without interruption as long as you have air in your lungs.

/f/v/: labio-dental fricatives: the lower lip is in contact with the upper teeth. The
fricative noise is not very strong (intensity). The active articulator is the l ip and the
passive articulator the teeth.

/θ/ð/: dental fricatives: the tip of the tongue touches the inside part of the upper front
teeth. The air escapes through the gap between the tongue and the teeth. The
fricative sound is weak. The active articulator is the tongue and the passive
articulator the teeth.

/s/z/: alveolar fricatives: the tip and blade of the tongue are raised towards the
alveolar ridge forming a narrow passage. They make a strong hissing sound. They
are also called sibilants. The active articulator is the tongue and the passive
articulator the alveolar ridge.

/ʃ/ʒ/: palato-alveolar fricatives: the blade of the tongue is raised towards the back
part of the alveolar ridge and the front of the tongue is raised towards the hard
palate. The lips are usually rounded. They make a strong hissing sound. They are
also shibilants. The active articulator is the tongue and the passive articulator the
palate.

/h/: glottal fricative: the narrowing that produces the friction is between the vocal
folds, which are near together. We could regard this consonant as a “voiceless
vowel” because it always has the quality of the vowel it precedes in tongue, jaw and
lip position.

Distribution:
/ʒ/: limited: it is very rare in initial position (only in foreign origin words) but very
common in medial position.
/h/: limited: it only occurs in initial and medial position, never in final.
The rest of the fricatives: full.
Liquids
 /l/: lenis voiced alveolar lateral

Definition: a lateral is a consonant where there is obstruction to the passage of air


in the centre of the air passage, so the air escapes through the sides of the contact.
In the case of the English lateral, there is a complete closure in the centre of the
tongue between the blade and the alveolar ridge, but the sides of the tongue remain
open, allowing the air to flow through them so as a whole, the closure is partial.

Allophones:

[l] clear l + vowels


+ consonants / final position (the blade of the tongue is
against the alveolar ridge and the back of the tongue is
/l/ [ɫ] dark l
raised towards the soft palate and the sides of the tongue
remain open).
[l̥ ] devoiced l after fortis plosives in stressed syllables (it loses part of
the vocal fold vibration.

 /r/: lenis voiced post-alveolar frictionless continuant

Definition: it is also called approximant because the articulators approach each other
making very little obstruction to the air flow. The tip of the tongue approaches the back
part of the alveolar ridge and the central part of the tongue is lowered. The tongue is
curled backwards with the tip raised (consonants with this tongue-shape are called
retroflex). The air is allowed to escape freely without friction over the centre of the
tongue.

Distribution:
Received Pronunciation: /r/ + vowels (non-rhotic accent)
General American: /r/ + vowels/ consonants/ final position (rhotic accent)

Allophones:

flap (similar to ours in ‘pero’)


roll (similar to ours in ‘Rosa)
/r/ fricative (after fortis plosives in
a stressed syllable
Semivowels
 /j/: lenis voiced palatal semivowel: the front of the tongue is raised towards
the hard palate.
 /w/: lenis voiced labio-velar semivowel: the back of the tongue is raised in the
direction of the soft palate and at the same time there is lip rounding.

Definition: semivowels are sounds that function in a way similar to consonants, but in
some other aspects, they are similar to vowels. They are also called approximants
because the articulators approach each other making very little obstruction to the air
flow. They constitute a quick vocalic glide on to a syllable sound of greater steady
duration (vowel).

Phonetically (sound) = vowels because there is no obstruction to the air flow.

Phonologically (system) = consonants because:


- they have a marginal position in the syllable
- they take the pre-consonantal form of the
articles /ðə/ə/
- linking r does not appear before semivowels

When semivowels are preceded by a fortis plosive /p/t/k/ at the beginning of a


stressed syllable, we hear friction noise and there is devoicing. E.g. /pʰj ʊə/ /tʰu:n/
/tʰwɪn/ /kʰju:/ /kʰwi:n/

Fortis and Lenis Consonants


A voiceless/voiced pair such as s/z is distinguished not only by the presence or
absence of voice, but also by the degree of muscular effort involved in the
articulation. We shall see that in certain situations the voice opposition may be lost,
so that the energy of articulation becomes the significant factor. Those English
consonants that are articulated with relatively weak energy are called weak or lenis,
whereas those which are articulated with relatively strong energy receive the name
of strong or fortis. All fortis consonants in English are voiceless; and the lenis
consonants can be either voiced or devoiced.

Devoicing
It is the partial or total loss of voice that affects lenis consonants due to the presence
of voiceless sounds or silence.

In lenis plosive consonants /g/d/b/; affricate /ʤ/; and fricatives /z/ʒ/v/ð/ there may be
voice continuing throughout the consonant or there may be voice only during part of
it. The amount of voice depends, in English, on the position which the consonant
occupies in the word or sentences and on the characteristics of the sound next to it.
Situation Voiced/Devoiced Plosives Affricate Fricatives
Fully voiced
Cluster of voiced
/bəgɪn/ /rʌbd/ /mɑ:ʤɪn/ /ᴂdvɜ:b/ /i:zɪ/
sounds

Devoiced
Initially, preceded
by silence or a /bɪg/ /ʤɑ:/ /vᴂn/
voiceless /ðᴂt bɔɪ/ /fɪtsʤerəld/ /naɪs zu:/
consonant
Devoiced
In final position,
followed by /lʌvd/ /eʤ/ /bri:ð/
silence or a fortis /bɒb keɪm/ /ɒrɪnʤ keɪk/ /tə li:v taʊn/
consonant

Vowels vs consonants

Articulation
Obstruction to the air flow consonants
No obstruction to the air flow vowels
Marginal in the syllable consonants
Distribution

Central in the syllable vowels

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