Linguistics 110 * Sentences & Dialects
Lecture Number 15-16
The Articulatory Properties
of Consonants & Vowels


  1. Natural Classes of Consonants

    (Manner and Place of Articulation)

    1. Stop (Occlusive) Consonants
      1. Stops are made by occluding the flow of air
        1. by pressing both lips together (bilabials): [p b]
        2. by pressing the tongue against
          1. the teeth (= dentals) [ d]
          2. the alveolar ridge (= alveolars) [t d]
          3. the palate (= palatals) [c Ö]
          4. the velum (= velars) [k g]
          5. the uvula (= uvulars) [q G]
        3. by closing the glottis (vocal cords) = glottal stop [Ü], e.g. [¤Üo] "uh-oh"

        Gold Flower Table 1: Stops (Occlusives)
        Labial Dental Alveolar Palatal Velar Uvular Glottal
        Voiceless p t t c k q Ü
        Voiced b d d Ö g G

      2. Stops are most often distinguished by voicing but in English, they are distinguished primarily by the aspiration of voiceless stops (except after /s/ and at the end of words).

        Gold Flower Distribution of Aspiration in English
        Labial Alveolar Velar
        Voiceless pie [phaj] tie [thaj] kite [khajt]
        Voiced buy [baj] die [daj] guy [gaj]
        After [s] spy [spaj] sty [staj] sky [skaj]
        Finally map [m└p] gnat[n└t] knack [n└k]

    2. Fricative Consonants are made by pressing the lips and the tongue in the same places but not enough to occlude the flow of air but to obstruct it just enough to cause friction:
      1. the lips (bilabial) [Phi Ŕ] Spanish 'b' = [Ŕ], e.g. saber 'knowledge' ([saŔer])
      2. the lips and the teeth (labiodentals) [f v]
      3. the tongue between the teeth (interdentals) [╩ ÷], e.g. theater and this
      4. the teeth or alveolar ridge (alveolars) [s z]
      5. the palate (palatals) [î Ś], e.g. English shut and garage
      6. the velum (velars) [x ´], e.g. German Loch 'hole', Russian dux 'spirit'; Ukrainian golod ([´olod]) 'hunger' vs. xolod 'cold'

      Gold Flower Table 2: Fricatives
      Labial Dental Alveolar Palatal Velar Uvular Glottal
      Voiceless f s î x ¸ h
      Voiced v ÷ z Ś ´ Ú Ť

    3. Affricate (Delayed release) Consonants. These are a combination of a stop and a fricative.

      Gold Flower Table 3: Affricates (Delayed Release)
      Labial Alveolar Palatal Velar
      Voiceless . ts ô .
      Voiced . dz ö .

    4. Sonorant Consonants (always voiced & may be syllabic)
      1. Liquids: lateral [l] and circumflex [r]
      2. Glides: labiovelar [w] and palatal [j]
      3. Nasals: [m n ˛ Ř]

      Gold Flower Table 4: Nasals
      Labial Alveolar Palatal Velar
      Voiced m n ˛ Ř

    5. Additional Properties All obstruents may have additional properties (i.e. belong to additional natural classes).
      1. Retroflection (Hindi):
      2. Palatalization (Polish, Russian): [p' b' t' d' k' g']


  2. English Consonants and their Environments

    1. English onsonants may alter their pronunciation based on their environment.
      1. Liquid devoicing: Liquids (l, r) become devoiced following voiceless stops
      2. Glide devoicing: Glides (w, j) become devoiced following voiceless stops
      3. Loss of aspiration: Aspirated stops (i.e., voiceless stops) become unaspirated after [s]
      4. Progressive voice assimilation: voiced consonants may become devoiced when following voiceless ones, and vice versa.


    2. Consonant change in other languages.
      1. Regressive voice assimilation (Russian, Czech): voiced consonants become devoiced before voiceless consonants
      2. Word-final devoicing (Russian, Czech): voiced consonants become devoiced at the ends of words
      3. Word-final consonant deletion (French): consonants (some consonants) are not pronounced at the ends of words

  3. Natural Classes of Vowels

    Vowels are classified according to the (1) advancement and (2) height of the tongue in pronunciation, (3) the tenseness of the tongue and (4) whether or not the lips are rounded during pronunciation. Finally, like consonants, vowels may be characterized by (5) nasality.

    Vowels, vowels, everywhere

    1. Advancement. During the pronunciation of a vowel the tongue may be advanced or retracted to approximately three positions: (a) the front, (b) central or (c) back of the mouth.

      Table 1 : Advancement
      Front [i, °, e, ŕ, └]
      Central [¬, ¤, ═]
      Back [Ý, u, o, a, ě]
      ([¬] = "u" in French dur)

    2. Height. The tongue may be raised (a) high, to a (b) mid position, or remain (c) low.

      Table 2 : Height
      High [i, °, ¬, Ý, u]
      Mid [e, ŕ, ¤, o, ě]
      Low [└, ═, a]

    3. Tenseness. TENSE [i, e, u, o] versus LAX [°, ŕ, Ý, o] and [└, ě,]
    4. Labialization. ROUNDED [y, Ó, Ý, u, ě, o] (also English [r])
    5. Nasalization. Polish [╗ ┬]; French [│ Ă yé Óé đ]
    6. Suprasegmental elements: Stress, Length, Tone


  4. English vowels and their environments

    1. Lax Vowels: Stressed Unstressed Reduced
      ° impl■cit simpl■stic implic˙tion
      ŕ all§ge temp§stuous alleg˙tion
      emph˙tic fant˙stic §mphasis
      Ý hřodwink n§ighborhood .
      a demřnstrable prognřsis demonstr˙tion
      ě c˙use caus˙lity .
      ¤ conf■rm verbřse confirm˙tion
      confrřnt umbr§lla confront˙tion

    2. Tense Vowels: Stressed Unstressed Reduced
      i [ij] depr§ci┌te cre˙te d§precate
      e [ej] expl˙in chařtic Ňxplan˙tion
      o [ow] invřke voc˙tion Ůnvoc˙tion
      u [uw] refßte ┌coust■cian rŇfut˙tion

    3. Diphthongs: Stressed Unstressed Reduced
      aj rec■te cit˙tion rŇcit˙tion
      aw devřut outs■der .
      ěj explřit Ňxploit˙tion .
      ju compßte cŢmput˙tion c■rcular

  5. Conclusions

    The natural classes of consonants are based on

    1. Place of articulation
      1. lips (labials)
      2. teeth (dentals)
      3. alveolum (alveolars)
      4. hard palate (palatals)
      5. soft palate or velum (velars)
      6. uvula (uvulars)
      7. glottis (glottals)
    2. Manner of articulation
      1. occlusion (stops)
      2. friction (fricatives)
      3. occlusion + friction (affricates)
      4. ALSO: sonorants (nasals and liquids) and glides
    3. Glottal State
      1. voicing (vibrating the vocal folds)
    4. Other properties
      1. nasalization (opening the phraryngeal flap)
        (usually considered in "Manner of Articulation")
      2. aspiration (exhaling hard)
      3. sharping (Russian 'soft' consonants)
      4. retroflexing (curling the tongue backward)
      5. labialization (lip rounding)

    The natural classes of vowels are based on
    1. Advancement of the tongue
      1. back
      2. central
      3. front
    2. Height of the tongue
      1. low
      2. mid
      3. high
    3. Tenseness of the tongue
      1. lax vs. tense vowels ("°" vs. "i"; "ŕ" vs. "e")
    4. Rounding of the lips
      1. rounded or unrounded vowels ("u, Ý, o" vs. "¤, , a")
    5. Other properties
      1. nasalization ("│ Ă yé Óé đ")




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