LIN228H1F 2012 – Week 2 Kochetov-1
English consonant phonemes: An overview
Table 1. English consonant phonemes
manner bi labio dental alveolar retro post- palatal velar glottal
labial dental flex alveolar
stops vls. /p/ /t/ /k/
vcd /b/ /d/
fricatives vls /f/ /θ/ /s/ /ʃ/ /h/
vcd /v/ /ð/ /z/ /ʒ/
nasal /m/ /n/
liquids /l/ /ɹ/
glides /w/* /j/ /w/*
*/w/ is labial-velar (double articulation)
Vls. = voiceless, vd. = voiced.
Phonemes are sounds that are contrastive in a given language, can create a difference in
• The following words illustrate the contrastive consonants of English:
pie tie/tight kite
bye die guy
fie thigh sigh shy high
vie thy/then Zen/ruse rouge
my nigh/win wing
Consonants are characterized according to voicing, place, and manner.
Some additional terms (manner):
• Obstruents: consonants which involve a high degree of constriction; this includes stops,
fricatives, and affricates
• Sonorants: include nasals and approximants
• Approximants: include liquids and glides
• Sibilants: obstruents that produce a hissing sound ([s], [z], [ʃ], [ʒ], [ʧ], [ʤ])
• Laterals: sounds produced with air moving around the sides of the tongue ([l] and [ɫ]) LIN228H1F 2012 – Week 2 Kochetov-2
• Rhotics: r-like sounds (/ɹ/ in English)
• Liquids: cover term for both laterals and rhotics.
Some additional terms (place):
• Labial: bilabial and labiodental consonants
• Coronal: dental, alveolar, post-alveolar, retroflex consonants
• Dorsal: palatal and velar consonants.
Basic naming of consonants: voicing, place, manner, e.g.
• voiceless alveolar fricative _____
• (voiced) alveolar lateral approximant _____
• (voiced) bilabial nasal (stop) _____
Line drawings allow one to visualize activities in the vocal tract (see pp. 25-27, 35).
• Oral supra-laryngeal channels:
no constriction (wide), an
p-a (slightly narrowed), a fricative-like
constriction (narrow), complete
closure (single line)
• Velic supra-laryngeal channel:
dorsal no constriction (wide– nasal
sounds), complete closure (oral
• Laryngeal (glottal) channel:
voiced (jagged line), voiceless
Denoting specific articulations:
• dent = dental
• p-a = post-alveolar
• lat = lateral
• ret = retroflex
There are restrictions on where some consonants can occur. For example,
• [ŋ] can only occur at the end of a syllable or before a velar as in fling [flɪŋ] or sink [sɪŋk];
• [h] occurs only at the beginning of a syllable as in ham [hæm]. LIN228H1F 2012 – Week 2 Kochetov-3
Rules that determine where sounds can occur and how sounds can be combined are called
Phonemes vs. allophones
Two sounds are contrastive if they are able to create a difference in meaning in a given language.
• For example, in English [b] and [p] are contrastive. There are many examples illustrating
this: pit vs. bit, pat vs. bat, pump vs. bump, etc.
Sounds that are contrastive are called phonemes (of a given language).
Not all sounds that occur in a language are able to create a difference in meaning.
• The initial consonant in the word pit is released with a puff of air that is not present in the
second segment of spit. The sound at the beginning of pit is an aspirated /p/. The sound
following the /s/ of spit is unaspirated. Aspiration is transcribed with a superscript h: