Sunday, May 23, 2010

Description of Speech Sounds

Speech Sounds are divided into two main groups: (1) consonants, and (2) vowels.
Consonants: A description of consonants, according to A.C. Gimson, must provide answers to the following questions:


      (i)           Is the air-stream set in motion by the lungs or by some other means? (pulmonic   
               or non-pulmonic).
             (ii)         Is the air-stream forced outwards or sucked inwards? (egressive or ingressive)
            (iii)         Do the vocal cords vibrate or not? (voiced or voiceless).  
            (iv)        Is the soft palate raised or lowered? Or, does the air pass    through the oral cavity        
              (mouth) or the nasal cavity (nose)?
(v)         At what point or points and between what organs does the closure or narrowing  
              take place? (Place of articulation).
(vi)        What is the type of closure or narrowing at the point of articu­lation? (Manner of 
              articulation).





Thus the description of a consonant will include five kinds of infor­mation : (1) the nature of the air-stream mechanism; (2) the state of the glottis; (3) the position of soft palate (velum); (4) the articulators in­volved; and (5) the nature of the ‘stricture’.

The Nature of the Air-stream Mechanism. Most speech sounds and all normal English sounds are made with an egressive pul­monic air-stream, e.g., the air pushed out of the lungs.

The State of Glottis. A consonant may be voiced or voice-less, depending upon whether the vocal cords remain wide apart (voice-less) or in a state of vibration (voiced).

The Position of the Soft Palate. While describing consonants we have to mention whether they are oral sounds (produced with soft palate raised, thus blocking the nasal passage of air) or nasal sounds (produced with the soft palate lowered).

The Articulators Involved. In the description of consonants, we have also to discuss the various articulators involved. The articulators are active (the lower lip and the tongue) and passive (the upper lip, the upper teeth, the roof of the mouth divided into the teeth-ridge, the hard palate, and the soft palate, and the back wall of the throat pharynx). In the production of a consonant the active articulator is moved towards the passive articulator. The chief points of articulation are bilabial, labiodental, dental, alveolar, post-alveolar, palato-alveolar, retroflex, palatal, velar, uvular, and glottal. In the case of some consonantal sounds, there can be a secondary place of articulation in addition to the primary. Thus, in the so-called dark /l/, in addition to the partial alveolar contact, there is an essential raising of the back of the tongue towards the velum (velarization); or, again some post-alveolar articulator of ‘r’ (r) as in red are accompanied by slight lip-rounding (labialization). We can classify consonants according to the place of articulation.

The Nature of Stricture. By the nature of stricture we mean the manner of articulation. This stricture of obstruction made by the or­gans may be total, intermittent, partial, or may merely constitute a nar­rowing sufficient to cause friction.

When the stricture is that of a complete closure, the active and pas­sive articulators make a firm contact with each other, and prevent the passage of air between them. For instance, in the production of /p/ as in pin and /b/ as in bin, the lips make a total closure.
The stricture may be such that air passes between the active and passive articulators intermittently. Such a stricture is called intermittent closure, and involves the vibration of the active articulator against the passive. The Scottish /r/ as in rat is an example. The intermittent closure may be of such a short duration that the active articulator strikes against the passive articulator once only. The English /r/ in the word very is an example; the tip of the tongue (active articulator) makes one tap against the teeth-ridge (passive articulator).
In the partial stricture, the air passes between the active and passive articulators continuously, but with some difficulty. The sounds thus pro­duced are clear /1/ and dark /1/ in late, and hill, the clear and the dark ‘1’ respectively.

And lastly, the stricture may be such that the air, while passing be­tween the active and passive articulators, produces audible friction. /f, v, q, ð, s, z, f, з, h/ in English are examples of this kind of stricture. Or the air may pass without friction. Examples are /w/ in wet, /j/ in yes and flap /r/ as in butter. A stricture which involves audible friction, can be called a stricture of close approximation, whereas one which involves no such friction can be called a stricture of open approximation.

If we are to describe some of the consonant sounds in terms of the points discussed in the preceding paragraphs, we shall do that in the following manner (we shall not make any reference to the air-stream mechanism since we have already mentioned that all English sounds are made with a pulmonic egressive air-stream):

1.   /p/ in the English word pack.
(i)      The vocal cords are held apart and the sound is voiceless:
(ii)     The soft palate is raised and the nasal passage is closed.
(iii)    The active articulator is the lower lip.
(iv)    The passive articulator is the upper lip.
(v)     There is a stricture of complete closure.

2.   /b/ in the English word back.
(i)      The vocal cords vibrate, and the sound produced is voiced.
(ii)     The soft palate is raised and the nasal passage is closed.
(iii)    The active articulator is the lower lip.
(iv)    The passive articulator is the upper lip.
(v)     There is a stricture of complete closure.

3.   /g/ in the English word god.
(i)      The vocal cords vibrate, and the sound produced is voiced.
(ii)     The soft palate is raised and the nasal passive is closed.
(iii)    The active articulator is the back of the tongue.
(iv)    The passive articulator is the soft palate.
(v)     There is a stricture of complete closure; the back of the tongue makes a complete closure with the soft palate.

4.   /t/ in the English words cat.
(i)      The vocal cords are wide apart, and the sound is voiceless.
(ii)     The soft palate is raised and the nasal passage is closed.
(iii)    The active articulator is the tip of the tongue.
(iv)    The passive articulator is the teeth ridge.
(v)     There is a stricture of complete closure. The tip of the tongue makes a firm contact with the teeth ridge.

5.   /m/ in the English word man.
(i)      The vocal cords vibrate and the sound is voiced.
(ii)     The soft palate is lowered and the air passes through the nose.
(iii)    The active articulator is the lower lip.
(iv)    The passive articulator is the upper lip.
(v)     There is a stricture of complete oral closure.

6.   /v/ in the English word van.
(i)      The vocal cords vibrate and the sound is voiced.
(ii)     The soft palate is raised and the nasal passage is closed.
(iii)    The active articulator is the lower lip.
(iv)    The passive articulators are the upper front teeth.
(v)     The stricture is one of close approximation. (The lower lip is brought very near the upper front teeth. The air passes between them with audible friction.)

7.   /j/ in the English word yet.
(i)      The vocal cords vibrate and the sound is voiced.
(ii)     The soft palate is raised.
(iii)    The active articulator is the front of the tongue.
(iv)    The passive articulator is the hard palate.
(v)     There is a stricture of open approximation. The front of the tongue is brought near the hard palate but the space between them is sufficient for the air to pass without any audible friction.

Hence the kind of stricture involved in the articulation of various sounds is as follows :

a)   plosive : complete closure,
b)   affricate : complete closure and slow release,
c)   nasal : complete oral closure,
d)   fricate : close approximation,
e)   lateral : complete closure in the centre of the vocal tract and the air passes along the side(s) of the tongue,
f)    vowel : open approximation,
g)   semi-vowel : open approximation,
h)   frictionless continuant : open approximation.

Classification of Consonants
Consonantal sounds are classified on the basis of (i) voicing, (ii) place of articulation, and (iii) manner of articulation.

(i) Voicing. On the basis of voicing, sound can be classified into voiced and voiceless sounds. The voiced sounds in English are /b, d, g, v. ð, z, dз, m, n, ŋ, l, r, w, j/.
All the vocoids and semi-vowels are voiced sounds, whereas among the consonants some are voiced and some voiceless. If the vocal cards vibrate when a sound is produced, it is said to be voiceless.

(ii) The Place of Articulation. Consonants are divided as given in the following table on the basis of the articulatory points at which the articulators actually touch, or are at their closest.

The Classification of English Consonants according to the place of Articulation.

Classification
Articulators
Examples
Bilabial
Upper lip and lower lip
/p b m w/
Dental
Teeth and tip of tongue
/q ð/
Labio-dentel
Lower lip and upper teeth
/f v/
Alveolar
alveolar (teeth) ridge and tip and blade of tongue
/t d s z r k b/
Post-alveolar
Hard palate and tip of tongue
/r/
Palato-aveloar
Hard palate—alveolar and tip, blade and front of tongue
/f/z/ò/dз/
Palatal
Hard palate and front of tongue
/j/
Velar
Soft palate and back of tongue
/k g ŋ/
Glottal
Glottis (vocal cords)
/h/

The Manner of Articulation           
According to the manner of articulation, which describes the type of obstruction caused by the narrowing or closure of the articulators, the conso­nants can be divided into stops. affricates, fricatives, nasals, rolls, laterals, and semi-vowels or frictionless continuants. We shall discuss these one by one.

(1) Stop. In the production of a stop, the oral and nasal passages arc closed simultaneously. The active and passive articulators come in contact with each other forming a stricture of complete closure and preventing the air from escaping through the mouth. The soft palate is raised and thus the nasal passage is also blocked. (This is also known as velic closure). The air behind the oral closure is compressed, and when the active articulator is removed from contact with passive one, the air escapes with an explosion. Stops are also known as mutes. explosives. plosives or occlusives. /p/ in pat and /b/ in hat are the examples of stops.

(2) Affricate. If the stop is not held for any appreciable time and released slowly, we get an affricate rather than a plosive, e.g. /tò/ in chair and /dз/ in jail.

(3) Nasal. In a nasal contoid, the breath stream is interrupted at some point in the oral cavity or at the lips, while being allowed to enter the nose and create resonance there. Thus a nasal is produced by a stricture of complete oral closure. The soft palate is lowered and the air passes through the nose. All nasal sounds are voiced. Examples /m, n, v/ in English.

(4) Trill (or Rolled Consonants). In the production of a trill, the active articulator taps several times against the passive articulator. The stricture in­volved can be called a stricture of intermittent closure. Scottish /r/, for example in red, in which the tip of the tongue strikes against the teeth ridge a number of times, is called a trilled consonant.

(5) Flap. For a flap the active articulator strikes the passive articulation once only. For example the /r/ in the English word very, in which the tip of the tongue strikes against teeth ridge only once.
(6) Lateral. Laterals are produced by a stricture of complete closure in the centre of the vocal tract, but the air passes out every one or both side of the tongue. For example, /I/ in late.

(7) Fricative. In the production of a fricative consonant the stricture is one of close approximation. The active articulator and the passive articulator are so close to each other that passage between them is very narrow and the air passes through it with audible friction. Examples are /f/ in face, /v/ in vain /q/ in think, /ð/ in them, /s/ in sail, /z/ in zero, /ò/ in ship, /з/ in measure, /h/ in hat.

(8) Frictionless Continuant. In the production of a frictionless continuant the stricture is that of open approximation. For example in the production of /r/ in red, read, real, ready, the active articulator (tip of the tongue) is brought just behind the passive articulator (alveolar ridge) so that there is plenty of space between the two articulators, and the air passes between them without friction; and hence the term “frictionless continuant.”
Gimson includes the English /r/ in words like red and read among the frictionless continuants, but the English (r) also occurs as a fricative as in try, cry, ray, pray, grow, very, sorry. Jones includes it in the list of fricatives and Gimson in the list of frictionless continuants.

(9) Semi-vowel. A semi-vowel is a vowel glide functioning as a consonant i.e., as the C element in syllable structure. In terms of articulation semi-vowels are like vowels, but they don’t behave like vowels. Semi-vowels are never stable; they can never be pronounced by themselves. They are sounds in transition. Examples are /j/ in yet and /w/ in wet. These are also called semiconsonants too.

(10) Fortis and Lenis. When we have voiceless/voiced pair, the two sounds are also distinguished by the degree of breath force and muscular effort in­volved in the articulations. e.g., is comparatively strong or fortis, and z is comparatively weaker lenis.
We summarize the classification of the consonants in English on the basis of the manner of articulation in the following table.

Name of the Class
Structure Involved
Examples
Stop
Complete closure
/p b t d k g/
Affricate

frication
Closure, then slow separation
Narrowing, resulting audible friction
/t ò dз/

/f v q ð s z ò з/
Nasal
Complete clsoure in mouth, air escapes through nose
/m n ŋ/
Rolled
Rapid intermittent closure
/r/
Lateral
Closure in the centre of  mouth, air escapes over the sides of tongue
/l/
Frictionless Continuant
Slight narrowing, not enough to cause friction
/r/
Semi-vowels/ Semi-consonants
Slight narrowing, not enough  to cause friction.
/w j/





Vowels
Vowels may be defined with an open approximation without any obstruc­tion, partial or complete, in the air passage. They are referred to as vocoids in phonetics. They can be described in terms of three variables:
(1)  height of tongue
(2)  part of the tongue which is raised or lowered
(3)  lip-rounding.

In order to describe the vowels, we usually draw three points in the hori­zontal-axes: front, central and back, referring to the part of the tongue which is the highest. So we have

i)    front vowels, during the production of which the front of the tongue is raised towards the hard palate. For example, /i, i:, e. æ/ in English as in sit, seat, set, and sat respectively.
ii)   back vowels, during the production of which the back of the tongue is raised towards the soft palate. For example /a:, *, *:, u, u:/ in English as in cart, cot, caught, book and tool respectively.
iii)  central vowels, during the production of which the central part of the tongue (the part between the front and the back) is raised. For example, /ә, ә:, Λ/ in English as in about, earth and but respectively.

To describe the vowel sound we mention whether it is open or close, half-close or half-open, front or back or central, long or short, whether the tongue is tense or lax while the vowel is being pronounced, and whether lips are spread, neutral, open rounded, or close rounded. All English vowels are voiced. So, for every vowel, we must state that it is voiced:

Diphthongs

From the point of view of their quality, vowel sounds are of two types : monophthong and diphthong. Monophthongs are pure vowels and diphthongs are gliding vowels. ‘A vowel that does not change in quality’ may be called a monophthong; and a vowel sound with a continually changing quality may be called a diphthong.

A pure vowel is one for which the organs of speech remain in a given position for an appreciable period of time. A diphthong is a vowel sound consisting of a deliberate, i.e. intentional glide, the organs of speech starting in the position of one vowel and immediately moving in the direction of another vowel. A diphthong, moreover, consists of a single syllabic––that is, the vowel-glide most be performed with a single impulse of the breath; if there is more than one impulse of breath, the ear perceives two separate syllables...
––Peter MacCarthy, English Pronunciation.

A diphthong, thus, always occupies one syllabic. If two adjacent vowels form the nuclei of two successive syllables, they are not a diphthong. For example the vowels in bay, boy, and buy are diphthongs, but the vowels in doing are two different vowels since they belong to two different syllables.

One end of the diphthong is generally more prominent than the other. Diphthongs are termed ‘decrescendo’ of FALLING if the first element is louder or more prominent than the second, and ‘crescendo’ or RISING if the second element is louder or more prominent than the first. All the English diphthongs are falling diphthongs, because in them the first clement is louder or more prominent than the second clement.

Diphthongs are represented in phonetic transcription by a sequence of two letters, the first showing the position of the organs of speech at the begin­ning of the glide, the second their position at the end. In the case of the ‘closing’ diphthongs the second letter indicates the point toward which glide (movement) is made.

Phonetic Transcription
Phonetic transcription is a device in which we use several symbols in such a way that one symbol always represents one sound. It is also known as phonetic notation, it is an ‘attempt on paper, a record of the sounds that speakers make.’ By looking at an English word in its written form one cannot be sure of its pronunciation, whereas by looking at it in phonetic transcription one can be. Most of our phonetic transcriptions are phonemic transcriptions, that is, each symbol represents a phoneme, a distinct sound unit in language. A pair of square brackets [ ] indicates a phonetic transcription: Phonemic transcriptions are enclosed within slant bars / /.

The Usefulness of the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA)

The IPA gives us a uniform international medium of studying and transcribing the sounds of all the languages of the world. Many languages in the world have no orthographic (written) form at all. It has been made possible to study such languages with this alphabet. In other words, the IPA is ‘a precise and universal’ means (i.e. valid for all languages) of writing down the spoken forms of utterances as they are spoken without reference to their or­thographic representation, grammatical status, or meaning.

As regards English, the IPA helps us in establishing and maintaining international intelligibility and uniformity in the pronunciation of English. With the help of the IPA we can easily teach the pronunciation of English or of any other language. The IPA has contributed a lot in the teaching and description of language. The teachers and learners of English can improve, and standard­ize their pronunciation and can overcome the confusion created by the spell­ings with the help of the international phonetic alphabet.

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