Linguistics: Phonetics – The sounds of language
Human languages display a wide variety of sounds, called phones or speech sounds.
There are two ways of approaching phonetics:
1. Studying the physiological mechanisms of speech production – articulatory
2. Acoustic phonetics – measuring and analyzing the physical properties of the
sound waves we produce when we speak
2.1. Phonetic Transcription
- Since the 16 century
- International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) - universal system for transcribing the
sounds of speech
2.1.1. Units of Representation
- The IPA represents speech in the form of segments
- Many of these individual activities are represented as smaller subunits called
features, which segments are composed.
2.2. The sound-producing system
- Speech production consists of an air supply, a sound source that sets the air in
motion in ways specifically relevant to speech production, and a set of filters that
modifies the sound in various ways.
- The air supply is provided by the lungs.
- The sound source is the larynx, where a set of muscles called vocal folds (or
vocal cords) is located.
- The filters are the organs above the larynx: the tube of the throat between the
larynx and the oral cavity, which is called the pharynx; the oral cavity; and the
- The passages are called the vocal tract.4
2.2.1. The Lungs
- A certain level of air pressure is needed to keep the speech mechanism
- The pressure is maintained by the action of various sets of muscles coming into
play during the course of the utterance.
- Primary muscles: intercostals (the muscles between the ribs), and the diaphragm
(the large sheet of muscle separating the chest cavity from the abdomen) - The intercostals raise the ribcage to allow air to flow into the lungs during
inhalation, while the diaphragm helps to control the release of air during
exhalation for speech so we can speak for a reasonable period of time between
2.2.2. The Larynx
- Air flows out of the lungs up the trachea (wind pipe), it passes through a box-
like structure made of cartilage and muscle; this is the larynx.
- The main portion of the Larynx is formed by the thyroid cartilage
- The thyroid cartilage rests on the ring-shaped cricoid cartilage
- Fine sheets of muscle flare from the inner sides of the thyroid cartilage, forming
the paired vocal cords.
- The inner edges of the vocals cords are attached to the vocal ligaments.
- The vocal cords can be pulled apart/drawn closer together (posterior ends)
where each is attached to one of two small cartilages, the arytenoids.
- They open and close and rotate by several pairs of small muscles.
- The air passes through the space between the vocal folds, which is called the
2.2.3. Glottal States
- Vocal folds may be positioned in a number of ways to produce different glottal
states. Voiceless - air passes through the glottis without much interference
- Fish, sing, house
Voiced - vocal folds are brought close together, but not tightly closed, air passing
between them causes them to vibrate.
- Zip, vow = any vowel
Whisper - the vocal folds are adjusted so that the anterior (front) positions are pulled
close together, while posterior (back) portions are apart.
Murmur - breathy voice; vocal folds are relaxed enough to allow enough air to escape
to produce a simultaneous breathy effect.
- “dh” - dharma
2.3. Sound Classes
- Vowels and Consonants
- Glides - shares properties of both vowels and consonants
- Vowels, consonants and glides can be distinguished on the basis of differences
of articulation, or by their acoustic properties.
The articulatory difference
- Consonantal sounds (voiced or voiceless) are made with either a complete
closure ([p]), or a narrowing ([f]) of the vocal tract. It is either blocked or opened
of the vocal tract.
- Vowels use little obstruction in the vocal tract and are usually voiced. The acoustic difference
- Vowels are more sonorous (acoustically powerful) than consonants, and so we
perceive them as louder and longer lasting.
Syllabic and non-syllabic sounds
- The greater sonority of vowels allows them to form the basis of syllables.
- A vowel is thus said to form the nucleus of a syllable
Major Differences between Syllabic and non-syllabic elements
Vowels (and other syllabic elements) Consonants (non-syllabic elements)
Are produced with relatively little Are produced with a complete closure
obstruction to the vocal cord or narrowing of the vocal tract
Are more sonorous Are less sonorous
- Rapidly articulated vowels - this is the auditory impression they produce
- Glides pattern as consonants
- They can never form the nucleus of a syllable
2.4 Consonant Articulation
- Airflow is modified in the vocal tract by the placement of the tongue and the
positioning of the lips.
- These modifications occur at specific places or points of articulation.
2.4.1. The Tongue
- Phonetic description refers to five areas of the tongue:
o The tip: narrow area of the front
o Blade: behind the tip
o Body: main mass of the tongue
o Back: hindmost part of the tongue
- The body and the back of the tongue can also be referred to jointly as the
- The root of the tongue is contained the upper part of the throat (pharynx) 2.4.2. Places of Articulation
Labial Sound - Peer Alveolar sound - Top Interdental sound - This AlveopalataVelar Sound - Call
- Small fleshy flap of tissue known as the uvula hangs down from the velum.
- Sounds made with the tongue near or touching this area are called uvulars.
- The area between the uvula and the larynx is known as the pharynx
- Sounds made through the modification of airflow in this region by retracting the
tongue or constricting the pharynx are called pharyngeals.
- Sounds produced using the vocal folds as primary articulators are called glottals.
- Heave, hog
2.5. Manners of Articulation
- The lips, tongue, velum, and glottis can be positioned in different ways to produce
different sound types. The various configurations are called manners of articulation.
2.5.1. Oral Vs. Nasal Phones
- basic manner of articulation is between oral and nasal phones.
- Oral sounds are produced when nasal passes are cut off by the velum being raised
- Nasal sounds are produced by the velum lowering to all air to pass through the nasal
- Both nasal and consonants can be nasal, in which they are generally voiced.
- Stops are made with a complete closure either in the oral cavity or glottis.
- Stops are found at bilabial, dental, alveolar, alveopalatal, palatal, velar, uvular, and
glottal places of articulation.
- Ex. Uh- huh, Bottle (British dialects) English Stops and Their Transcription
Voiceless span [p] Voiceless stun [t]
Voiced ban [b] Voiced dot [d]
Nasal man [m] Nasal not [n]
Voiceless scar [k] Voiceless [?]
Voiced gap [g]
Nasal Wing [ᵑ]
Glottal State Place of Articulation Transcription
Voiceless fan [f]
Voiced van [v]
Voiceless thin [Ɵ]
Voiced then [ð]
Voiceless sun [s]
Voiced zip [z]
Voiceless ship [ʃ]
Voiced azure [ʒ]
Voiceless hat [h]