THE SOUNDSTHE SOUNDS
OF LANGUAGEOF LANGUAGE
BY GEORGE YULEBY GEORGE YULE
The study of the characteristics of speech sounds.
-Articulatory phonetics: How speech sounds are
-Acoustic phonetics: Speech sounds as “waves in the
-Auditory phonetics: Perception of speech sounds
-Forensic phonetics: Speaker identification (legal)
How speech sounds are produced
using the complex oral apparatus we
Air pushed out by lungs through the
trachea (‘windpipe’) to the larynx.
Once in the larynx your vocal cords
may take two basic positions:
1)Vocal cords spread apart, air stream
2)Vocal cords drawn together, air
pushes them apart, vibration effect.
Once the air has passed through
the larynx, it comes up and out
through the mouth and/or nose.
The tongue and other parts of the
mouth constrict the shape of the oral
cavity where the air passes through.
The location, inside the mouth, where
this constriction takes place is called
place of articulation.
They are formed by using both upper and
pat, bat, mat
They are represented by the symbols [p],
[b], and [m], which are voiced.
The [w] sound at the beginning of way, walk,
and world is also a bilabial.
These are sounds formed with the upper
teeth and the lower lip.
They are represented by the symbols [f],
which is voiceless, and [v], which is voiced.
*Notice the case of final sounds of laugh and cough
Also, pay attention to initial sound of photo.
These are sounds formed with the tongue tip behind the
upper front teeth. The term interdental is sometimes used to
describe a manner of pronunciation with the tongue tip
between the upper and lower teeth.
thin, three, teeth, bath (voiceless)
They are represented by the symbol [ ], which is voiceless,Ɵ
and [ð], which is voiced.
there, then (initial position)
feather (middle position)
bathe (final position)
These are sounds formed with the front part of the tongue
on the alveolar ridge, which is the rough, bony ridge
immediately behind the upper teeth.
top, dip, sit, zoo, nut (initial position)
They are represented by the symbols [t], [d], [s], [z], and [n].
[t] and [s] are voiceless/voiced
[d], [z], and [n] are voiceless/voiced
Other alveolars are [l] in initial position in words like lap and
lit, and the [r] in initial position in words like right, write, and
Back behind the alveolar ridge you can find a hard part in the
root of your month (palate). Sounds which are produced at the
very front of the palate, near the alveolar ridge, are called
shout, child (voiceless)
They are represented by the symbols [ ]ʃ and [ respectively.ʧ
Voiced alveo-palatal [ ] is not very common in English. It canʒ
be found in middle position, as in treasure and pleasure or in
final position, as in rouge.
The other voiced alveol-palatal sound [ ]ʤ can be found in
initial position in words like joke and germ, judge, and George.
[ ]ȷ at the beginning of words like you and yet is also a palatal.
sound. This sound is pronounced with the tongue in the middle
of the palate.
Even further back in the root of the mouth, beyond the hard
palate, you will find a soft area which is called the soft palate,
or the velum. Sounds which are produced with the back of the
tongue against the velum are called velars.
kid, kill, car, and cold (voiceless velar sound, [k])
go, gun, bag, muge, and plague (voiced velar sound, [g])
The velum can be lowered to allow the air to flow through the
nasal cavity and produce another voiced velar sound, [ ].ƞ In
written English it is normally spelled as two letters ‘ng. ’
sing, sang, and tongue
ringing ([ ]ƞ occurs twice)
bang ([ ]ƞ occurs only once) Careful: There is no [g] sound
There is one other sound that is produced withouth the
active use of the tongue and other parts of the mouth. It is
the sound [h] which occurs at the beginning of words like:
have, house, who, and whose (voiceless glottal)
The ‘glottis’ is the space between the vocal cords in the
Manner of ArticulationManner of Articulation
This aspect deals with how the sounds are
These sounds are produced by some form of complete
‘stopping’ of the airstream (very briefly) and then letting it go
abruptly. They are also called ‘plosive’ sounds.
[p], [b], [t], [d], [k], [g]
A full description of the sound [t] at the beginning of a word
like ten, for example, is a ‘voiceless alveolar stop.’
The articulation of such sounds involves almost blocking the
airstream, and having the air push through the narrow
opening. As the air is pushed through, a type of friction is
produced and the resulting sounds are called fricatives.
[f], [v], [ ], [ð], [s], [z], [ ], [ ]Ɵ ʃ ʒ
fish: begins and ends with ‘voiceless fricatives’
those: begins and ends with ‘voiced fricatives’
If you combine a brief stopping of the airstream with an
obstructed release which causes some friction, you will be
able to produce the sounds:
[ ]ʧ and [ ]ʤ
They occur at the beginning of words like:
cheap with ‘voiceless affricate’
jeep with ‘voiced affricate’
Most sounds are produced orally, with the velum raised,
preventing airflow from entering the nasal cavity. However,
when the velum is lowered and the airstream is allowed to
flow through the nose, these sounds are nasals.
[m], [n] and [ ]ƞ
Nasal sounds are all voiced.
Examples: morning, knitting, and name (they begin and end
with nasal sounds).
The articulation of approximant sounds is strongly influenced
by the following vowel sound.
•[w] and [y] are sometimes called ‘semivowels’ or ‘glides,’
because they are typically produced with the tongue moving, or
‘gliding,’ to or from the position of a nearby vowel. They are
•Initial approximants in led and red are also voiced. The [l] and
[r] sounds are also called ‘liquids.’
•The [h] sound is a voiceless approximant. In words like hi or
hello, simply begins the pronunciation of the next vowel.
The Glottal Stop and the FlapThe Glottal Stop and the Flap
The glottal stop, represented [ ]Ɂ occurs when the space
between the vocal cords (glottis) is closed completely, very
briefly, and then released. Oh oh! Uh-uh! It is used by Scottish
speakers and New Yorkers. In London speech, they pronounce
a glottal stop in words like butter and bottle.
Butter similar to ‘budder’ in American English. This is a flap,
which is represented by [D] or [ ]ɾ . This flap is produced by the
tongue tip being thrown against the alveolar ridge for an
[t] and [d] between vowels are usually flapped so that, in casual
speech, ladder and latter, writer and rider, and metal medal do
not have distinct middle consonants.
• Vowel sounds are produced with a relatively free
flow of air. They are all voiced. To talk about place
of articulation, we think of the space inside the
mouth as having a front versus a back and a high
versus a low area.
heat and hit (high, front vowels)
hot and hat (low, back vowels)
• [aІ], [a ], and [oʊ І] are diphthongs because they
contain two sounds. Note that in each case, they
begin with a vowel sound and end with a glide. In
pronouncing diphthongs, we move from one
vocalic position to another.