Chapter Two Speech Sounds
As human beings we are capable of making all kinds of sounds, but only some of these sounds have become units in the language system. • We can analyze speech sounds from various perspectives and the two major areas of study are phonetics and phonology.
Phonetics studies how speech sounds are produced, transmitted, and perceived.
Articulatory Phonetics is the study of the production of speech sounds. • Acoustic Phonetics is the study of the physical properties of speech sounds. • Perceptual or Auditory Phonetics is concerned with the perception of speech sounds.
Phonology is the study of the sound patterns and sound systems of languages. • It aims to ‘discover the principles that govern the way sounds are organized in languages, and to explain the variations that occur’. • In phonology we normally begin by analyzing an individual language, say English, in order to determine its phonological structure, i.e. which sound units are used and how they are put together. • Then we compare the properties of sound systems in different languages in order to make hypotheses about the rules that underlie the use of sounds in them, and ultimately we aim to discover the rules that underlie the sound patterns of all languages.
1. How speech sounds are made 1.1 Speech organs
1.2 The IPA • In 1886, the Phonetic Teachers’ Association was inaugurated by a small group of language teachers in France who had found the practice of phonetics useful in their teaching and wished to popularize their methods. • It was changed to its present title of the International Phonetic Association (IPA) in 1897.
One of the first activities of the Association was to produce a journal in which the contents were printed entirely in phonetic transcription. • The idea of establishing a phonetic alphabet was first proposed by the Danish grammarian and phonetician Otto Jespersen (1860-1943) in 1886, and • the first version of the International Phonetic Alphabet (the IPA chart) was published in August 1888.
Its main principles were that • there should be a separate letter for each distinctive sound, and • that the same symbol should be used for that sound in any language in which it appears. • The alphabet was to consist of as many Roman alphabet letters as possible, using new letters and diacritics only when absolutely necessary. • These principles continue to be followed today.
2. Consonants and vowels • Consonants are produced ‘by a closure in the vocal tract, or by a narrowing which is so marked that air cannot escape without producing audible friction’. • By contrast, a vowel is produced without such ‘stricture’ so that ‘air escapes in a relatively unimpeded way through the mouth or nose’.
The distinction between vowels and consonants lies in the obstruction of airstream. • As there is no obstruction of air in the production of vowels, the description of the consonants and vowels cannot be done along the same lines.
2.1 Consonants • In the production of consonants at least two articulators are involved. • For example, the initial sound in bad involves both lips and its final segment involves the blade (or the tip) of the tongue and the alveolar ridge. • The categories of consonant, therefore, are established on the basis of several factors.
The manner of articulation refers to ways in which articulation can be accomplished: • the articulators may close off the oral tract for an instant or a relatively long period; • they may narrow the space considerably; or • they may simply modify the shape of the tract by approaching each other.
Stop (or Plosive) • Oral & Nasal • Fricative • (Median) Approximant • Lateral (Approximant) • Trill • Tap or Flap • Affricate
The place of articulation refers to the point where a consonant is made. • Practically consonants may be produced at any place between the lips and the vocal folds. • Eleven places of articulation are distinguished on the IPA chart:
Bilabial Labiodental Dental Alveolar Postalveolar Retroflex Palatal Velar Uvular Pharyngeal Glottal
2.2 Vowels • Cardinal Vowels, as exhibited by the vowel diagram in the IPA chart, are a set of vowel qualities arbitrarily defined, fixed and unchanging, intended to provide a frame of reference for the description of the actual vowels of existing languages.
Jones: An Outline of English Phonetics (1918) Black: IPA Red: English
The problematic area is that the initial sound in hot gives little turbulence, depending on how forcefully it is said, and in yet and wet the initial segments are obviously vowels. • To get out of this problem, the usual solution is to say that these segments are neither vowels nor consonants but midway between the two categories. For this purpose, the term ‘semi-vowel’ is often used.
Languages also frequently make use of a distinction between vowels where the quality remains constant throughout the articulation and those where there is an audible change of quality. • The former are known as pure or monophthong vowels and the latter, vowel glides. • If a single movement of the tongue is involved, the glides are called diphthongs.
A double movement produces a triphthong, which is ‘a glide from one vowel to another and then to a third, all produced rapidly and without interruption’. • They are really diphthongs followed by the schwa [ə], found in English words like wire [waɪə] and tower [taʊə].
2.3 The sounds of English • Received Pronunciation (RP) • General American (GA) • English consonants
The consonants of English can be described in the following manner: • [p]voiceless bilabial stop • [b]voiced bilabial stop • [s]voiceless alveolar fricative • [z]voiced alveolar fricative
The description of English vowels needs to fulfill four basic requirements: • the height of tongue raising (high, mid, low); • the position of the highest part of the tongue (front, central, back); • the length or tenseness of the vowel (tense vs. lax or long vs. short), and • lip-rounding (rounded vs. unrounded).
We can now describe the English vowels in this way: •  high front tense unrounded vowel •  high back lax rounded vowel •  mid central lax unrounded vowel •  low back lax rounded vowel
3. From phonetics to phonology • Speech is a continuous process, so the vocal organs do not move from one sound segment to the next in a series of separate steps. Rather, sounds continually show the influence of their neighbors. • For example, map, lamb.
3.1 Coarticulation • When such simultaneous or overlapping articulations are involved, we call the process coarticulation. • If the sound becomes more like the following sound, as in the case of lamb, it is known as anticipatory coarticulation. • If the sound shows the influence of the preceding sound, it is perseverative coarticulation, as is the case of map.
The fact that the vowel  in lamb has some quality of the following nasal is a phenomenon we call nasalization. • To indicate that a vowel has been nasalized, we add a diacritic to the top of the symbol , as .
[p] is aspirated in peak and unaspirated in speak. • This aspirated voiceless bilabial stop is thus indicated by the diacritich, as [ph], whereas the unaspirated counterpart is transcribed as [p].