skills - English phonetics and phonology (Peter Roach)

English phonetics and phonology (Peter Roach)

2 The production of speech sounds

We have a large and complex set of muscles that can produce changes in the shape of the vocal tract

These different parts are called articulators and the study of them is called articulatory phonetics.

Articulators are as followings

i) The pharynx is a tube which begins just above the larynx. It is about 7 cm long in women and about 8 cm in men, and at its top end it is divided into two, one part being the back of the mouth and the other being the beginning of the way through the nasal cavity.

ii) The velum or soft palate is seen in the diagram in a position that allows air to pass through the nose and through the mouth.

iii) The hard palate is often called the “roof of the mouth”. You can feel its smooth curved surface with your tongue.

iv) The alveolar ridge is between the top front teeth and the hard palate. You can feel its shape with your tongue. Its surface is really much rougher than it feels and is covered with little ridges.

Sounds made with the tongue touching here (such as t and d) are called alveolar

v) The tongue is, of course, a very important articulator and it can be moved into many different places and different shapes.tongue on a larger scale with these parts shown: tip, blade, front, back and root.

vi) The teeth (upper and lower) are usually shown in diagrams like fig.1 only at the front of the mouth, immediately behind the lips. Sounds made with the tongue touching the front teeth are called dental.

vii) The lips are important in speech. They can be pressed together (when we produce the sounds p, b),

brought into contact with the teeth (as in f, v) or rounded to produce the lip-shape for vowels like u:. Sounds in which the lips are in contact With each other are called bilabial, while those with lip-to-teeth contact are called labiodental.

The seven articulators described above are the main ones used in speech, but there are three other things to remember firstly, the larynx could also be described as an articulator. Secondly, the jaw are sometimes called articulators. Finally, although there is practically nothing that we can do with the nose and the nasal cavity, they are a very important part of our equipment for making sounds.

2.2 Vowel and consonant

Vowels are sounds in which there is no obstruction to the flow of air as it passes from the larynx to the lips.

Looking at the different contexts and positions in which particular sounds can occur; this is the study of the distribution of the sounds, and is of great importance in phonology.

Study of the sounds found at the beginning and end of English words has shown that two groups of sounds with quite different patterns of distribution can be identified and these two groups are those of vowel and consonant. We must say that the most important difference between vowel and consonant is not the way, but their different distributions. We need to know in what ways vowels differ from each other. The first matter to consider is the shape and position of the tongue.It is usual to simplify the very complex possibilities by describing just two things: firstly, the vertical distance between the upper surface of the tongue and the palate and secondly, the part of the tongue, between front and back, which is raised highest.

Altough the lips can have many different shapes and positions. We will at this stage consider only three possibilities. These are:

i) Rounded, where the corners or the lips are brought towards each other and the lips pushed forwards. This is most clearly seen in cardinal vowel no.8 [u].

ii) Spread, with the corners of the lips moved away from each other, as for a smile. This is most clearly seen in cardinal vowel no.1 [i].

iii) Neutral, where the lips are not noticeably rounded or spread.

2.3 English short vowels

The symbols for these short vowels are: I, e, æ, Λ, D, υ. Short vowels are only relatively short; Each vowel is described in relation to the cardinal vowels.

I (example words: ‘bit’, ‘pin’, ‘fish’)

e (example words: ‘bet’, ‘men’, ‘yes’)

æ (example words: ‘bat’, ‘man’, ‘gas’)

Λ (example words: ‘but’, ‘some’, ‘rush’)

D (example words: ‘pot’, ‘gone’, ‘cross’)

υ (example words: ‘put’, ‘pull’, ‘push’)

There is one other short vowel. For which the symbol is ə. This central vowel – which is called shwa – is a very familiar sound in English.


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