Unit – 1
Introduction to Phonetics
Speech sounds, also known as Phonemes, is the smallest recurring sound in a sentence. Merriam Webster defines speech sound as “any one of the smallest recurrent recognizably same constituents of spoken language produced by movement or movement and configuration of a varying number of the organs of speech in an act of ear-directed communication.”
The English language consists of 26 alphabets but there are 44 speech sounds (Phonemes) in the English language consisting of 20 vowel sounds and 24 consonant sounds.
Phonemes (speech sounds) are represented in writing by placing the letters used to represent the sound between two slashes, for example, the sound that you say at the beginning of the word pot is represented by /p/.
Speech Sounds can be classified into two types, viz. Consonants and Vowels.
In ordinary speech, a vowel is a voiced sound in the pronunciation of which the air passes through the mouth in a continuous stream, there being no obstruction and no narrowing such as would produce audible friction. All English vowels are voiced. Vowels like consonants can also occur initially or finally.
The following list consists of some words with vowel speech sounds:
Feel, fill, tall, bull, fool, mile, bat, toil, cart, pear, poor, butter, pier.
The qualities of vowels depend upon the position of the tongue and lips. It is convenient to classify them according to the position of the main part of the tongue. The position of the tip has no great effect on vowel quality. The tip of the tongue is supposed to be touching or near the lower teeth.
- Front vowels are the vowels which are produced with the front of the tongue raised in the direction of the hard palate. Ex. Feed.
- Back vowels are the vowels which are produced with the back of the tongue raises in the direction of the soft palate. Ex. Food.
- The vowels which are intermediate between the front and the back vowels are known as central vowels. Ex. Bird.
Below are the vowels comprised in the English Phonetic script by the International Phonetics Association (IPA)
ɪ i: ʊ u:
ship sheep book shoot
e ɜ: ə ɔ:
left her teacher door
æ ʌ ɒ ɑ:
hat up on far
Classification of Vowel Sounds
The qualities of vowels depend upon the position of and lips. Therefore, it is convenient to classify them according to the position of the main part of the tongue. The position of the tip has no great effect on vowel quality. The tip of the tongue is supposed to be touching or near the lower teeth.
In the production of most of the vowel sounds the tongue is convex to the palate. Therefore, vowels may be conveniently arranged according to the position of the highest point of the tongue.
There are front vowels, in the production of which the 'Front' of the tongue is raised in the direction of the hard palate. e.g. i: in feed.
There are back vowels, in the production of which the back' of the tongue is raised in the direction of the soft palate, e.g. u: in food.
Then there are vowels intermediate between front and back. They are called central vowels e.g. ə in bird.
This one important element in the classification of vowel sounds is the part of the tongue which is raised.
A second important element is the height to which it is raised. Those vowels in which the tongue is held as high as possible consistently without producing a frictional noise are called close vowels (e.g. ɪ, i:, u:). Those in which the tongue is as low as possible are called open vowels (e.g. ɑ:, ə, ɔ:)
It is customary to distinguish two intermediate classes, half-close and half-open, in the formation of which the tongue occupies positions one-third and two-thirds of the distance from 'close' and 'open'.
Vowels may be classified according to the lip-position. The lips may be spread as in /i/, rounded as in /ɔ:/, and neutral as in /ə/. Vowels may also be differentiated by degrees of muscular tension. For instance, i: is a tense vowel, and i as the corresponding lax one.
But the tenseness or laxness of vowels has not yet been sufficiently well demonstrated for it to be of primary importance in the description of English vowels.
Description of English Vowels
i: (as in sea, feel, read): The front of the tongue is raised towards the hard palate. It is raised almost to 'close' position. Lips are spread or neutral.
i (as in fit, did. sit): Front of the tongue raised towards the hard palate. Tongue is raised slightly more than half-close position. Lips are somewhat spread. Lax muscles.
e (as in bet, egg. bell): Front of the tongue raised. Tongue raised about half the distance between close and open position. Lips neutral to spread.
æ (as in bad, catch, lax): Front of the tongue raised. Tongue raised approximately I/6th of the distance from open to close. Lips neutral to spread. Lax.
ɑ: (as in father; calm, halt): Back of the tongue raised towards soft palate. Tongue quite low. An open vowel. Lips neutrally open.
ɒ (as in not, long, box): Back of the tongue raised. Raising is very slight. An open vowel. Slight lip-rounding z
ə (as in saw, caught. wail): Back of the tongue raised. Tongue raised to half-open position. Lips considerably rounded. Rather tense.
u: (as in rude, fool): Back of the tongue raised towards soft palate. Tongue raised almost to close position. Lips rounded. Rather tense.
ʊ (as in put, book): Back of the tongue raised. Tongue raised to a little above half-close position. Lips generally rounded. Rather lax.
ʌ (as in but, love, clutch): Back of the tongue raised, but not fully back, somewhat central. Tongue raised close to half-open position. Lips neutral.
ə (as in bird fur, learn): Central part of the tongue raised. Tongue raised about half-way between open and close. Lips neutral. Rather tense.
ɔ: (as in alone, never): Central part of the tongue raised. Tongue raised about one-third of the way from open to close. Lips neutral, Lax.
A consonant is a sound accompanied by voice, in which there is either a complete or partial obstruction which prevents the air from freely issuing from the mouth.
In words such as base, maze, bathe, rouge, bake, path, long the sounds at the end of the words are distinctive. These twenty-four sounds may occur initially, medially and finally.
Consonants are perhaps more important than vowels because even if we pronounce the consonants only, most English words would be easy to understand. Consonant form the bones, the skeleton of English words and give them their basic shape. Moreover, differences of accent are mainly the result of differences in the sound of vowels; if the consonants are imperfect there will be a great risk of misunderstanding.
There are many types of consonants such as Fricatives (s,z,f,v), Plosives (stop) consonants (p and b; t and d; k and g). Nasal (m,n), Lateral and Gliding consonants.
Below are all the consonants comprised in the English phonetic script by the International Phonetics Association (IPA)
p f θ t s ʃ ʧ k
pea free thing tree see sheep cheese coin
b v ð d z ʒ ʤ g
boat video this dog zoo television joke go
m n ŋ h w l r j
mouse now thing hope we love run you
Classification of English Consonants
Consonants are classified according to the organs with which we articulate them and according to the manner in which the organs articulate them.
Classification According to Speech Organs
If we classify according to the organs which articulate them, we distinguish seven main classes:
1. Bi-labial, namely sounds articulated by two tips e.g. p, m, b, w.
Labio-dental, namely sounds articulated by the lower lip against the upper teeth e.g. f, v.
2. Dental, sounds articulated by the tip of the tongue against the upper teeth e.g. θ, ð
3. Alveolar, sounds articulated by the tip or blade of the tongue against the teeth-ridge e.g. t, d, s, z, n, I, r.
4. Palato-alveolar, sounds which have alveolar articulation together with a simultaneous raising of the main body of the tongue towards the roof of the mouth e.g. ʃ, ʒ.
5. Palatal, sounds articulated by the front of the tongue against the hard palate e.g. j.
6. Velar, sounds articulated by the back of the tongue against the soft palate e.g. k, g, ŋ.
7. Glottal, sounds articulated in the glottis e.g. h.
Classification of Consonants According to Manner
Consonants may be classified according to the manner in which the organs articulate them. It is possible to distinguish eight main classes.
(I) Plosive, formed by completely closing the air passage and suddenly removing the obstacle, so that the air escapes making an explosive sound eg. p, b, t, d, k, g.
(ii) Affricate, resembles a plosive but with separation of the articulating organs performed less quickly, with the result that a fricative sound is perceived during the process of separation, e.g. t, ʤ.
(iii) Nasal, formed by completely closing the mouth at some point, the soft palate remaining lowered so that the air is free to pass out through the nose e.g. m, n, ŋ.
(iv) Lateral, formed by an obstacle placed in the middle of the mouth, the air being free to escape at one or both sides.
(v) Rolled, formed by a rapid succession of taps of some elastic part of the speech mechanism, e.g. rolled r.
(vi) Flapped, formed like a rolled consonant but consisting of a single tap only, e.g. flapped r.
(vii) Fricative, formed by a narrowing of the air passage at some point so that the air in escaping makes a kind of hissing sound, e.g. f, θ, s, ʃ, v, ð, z, ʒ, h.
(viii) Semi-Vowel, a gliding sound in which the speech organs start at or near a close vowel and immediately move away to some other vowel e.g. w, j.
A diphthong is a deliberate glide where speech organs start in the position of one vowel and move towards another. A diphthong constitutes one syllable though the ear perceives two separate syllables.
Every diphthong may be said to have a first element (the starting point) and a second element (in the direction of which the glide is made). Most of the length and stress associated with the glide is concentrated on the first element. The second element is only lightly sounded. All English diphthongs are falling diphthongs (decrescendo).
The diphthongs are equivalent in length to the long pure vowels and are subject to the same variations of quantity. They also reflect variations in different regional and social types of speech.
Diphthongs are represented in phonetic transcription by a sequence of two letters, the first showing the position of the organs of speech at the beginning of the glide and the second showing their position at the end. In the case of ‘closing diphthongs’ the second letter indicates the point towards which the glide is made, but that point is not necessarily reached, and such diphthongs sound quite correct if the organs of speech perform only part of the maximum permissible movement.
Below are the diphthongs comprised in the English Phonetic script by the International Phonetics Association (IPA)
eɪ ɔɪ aɪ
wait coin like
eə ɪə ʊə
hair here tourist
Intonation is the ‘music’ of the language. It describes the pitch, pattern, or melody of the words in a given sentence. Intonation allows us to understand the underlying meaning of the sentence because of its varying pitch. It is also an important factor in recognizing different emotions like surprise, confusion, and etc.
Types of Intonation
A falling intonation is a type of tone where the voice falls on the last syllable of the last word. This intonation is typically employed in –wh questions- what, where, when, why, and how.
- Why are you not busy today?
- How are you going to pass all of those papers on time?
In addition, falling intonation is also used if one wants to emphasize things or they want to be definite or clear with their words or intentions.
- I think we locked the door properly.
- We are certain about this project proposal of ours.
The rising intonations can be placed at the end or at the last syllable of the word in a sentence. Yes- no questions use rising intonation.
- Are you sure about that?
- Is this dress looks pretty on me?
Fall-rise intonation is the combination of the two prior intonations- falling and rising intonations. The fall-rise intonation how the speaker’s voice falls and then rises at the same time in the same sentence. Fall-rise intonation is used if one is indefinite or not sure with their words or ideas presented.
- I don’t like the idea of marriage right now.
- He thinks it would be okay to start planning next week.
We also utilize fall-rise intonation if we are doing questions that intend to ask permission, request, or an invitation to someone. Fall-rise intonation sounds politer than using falling intonation or rising intonation.
- Would like another glass of wine?
- Do you want to join me for dinner? It will be fun.
Functions and Significance of Intonation
Here are some of the most important uses of intonation:
- Grammatical Function: Intonation performs a grammatical function such as signalling the difference between a statement and a question, or distinguishing between an information question or a yes/no question.
2. Accentual Function: Intonation carries an accentual function which means it can be used to emphasize or draw attention to certain words. This occurs when we introduce new information, contrast two ideas, or clarify our meaning.
3. Attitudinal or Emotional Function: Intonation is useful for expressing attitudes and emotions, which means it conveys additional information about the speaker’s mood, feelings, emotions, or attitude. This type of information which is acquired from intonation could be about the speaker’s general attitude, their emotions about what they’re saying, or their feelings towards the listener. To interpret this type of intonation, it’s important to pay attention to other contextual clues.
4. Discourse Function: Discourse function of intonation means it signals how ideas go together in speech. For instance, we use stress and intonation to signal thoughts, or how we break our speech into smaller, more digestible parts.
5. Psychological Function: The psychological function of intonation makes ideas easier to understand, memorize, and say. You can hear this use of intonation in how we say lists and series, open- and closed-choice questions, large numbers, and phone numbers.
6. Conversation Management: Intonation is used for conversation management, which means it helps facilitate the flow of conversation by signalling whose turn it is to speak. Some examples are how we use a steep drop to signal that a thought is complete, or how we maintain a slight or a steep rise in order to signal that we’re not done speaking yet.
7. Indexical Function: Indexical function of intonation means it signals our personal or social identity. People from certain regions may use uptalk or more or less pitch variation to signal where they’re from. This use can also be heard among people of certain specific professions:
- Teachers and educators often use a “teacher” voice.
- Preachers or religious authorities often speak with a certain tone of voice.
- Transportation workers like conductors and bus drivers often recite stops or information with a certain voice.