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  • Phonology

    • Phonology is the study of the sounds of language

    • phone: a vocal sound

    • phoneme: a minimal sound unit recognized as a distinct value by the speakers of a language (e.g. [p], [b], [a]); the smallest sound that can distinguish one word from another (e.g.[f]at/[v]at, stri[f]e, stri[v]e)

    • allophones are variants of a phoneme which the speakers of the language don't perceive as different from that phoneme (e.g. compare the different sounds of the "t" in "cat," "satin," "cater"-- they sound very different but, to speakers of American English, they are all just t's!)

    • there are about 100-150 human sounds (see International Phonetic Alphabet)

    • Modern English has about 35 main phonemes, though English speakers use about 35-45 different sounds

    • the sounds of language are produced by the passage of air through the vocal tract

    • diagram of the human vocal tract (see number key below for identification of the different parts):

vocal tract

Illustration © 2002 Emily J. Fajardo

  • 1 Lips
  • 2 Teeth
  • 3 Alveolar Region
  • 4 Tongue
  • 5 Palate
  • 6 Velum
  • 7 Uvula
  • 8 Pharynx
  • 9 Nasal Cavity
  • 10 Epiglottis
  • 11 Esophagus
  • 12 Glottis
  • 13 Vocal Cords
  • 14 Trachea
  • 15 Larynx
  • Vowels: sounds involving the unrestricted flow of air through the mouth

    • vowel sounds are always voiced (i.e. they involve vibration of the vocal cords)

    • vowels differ depending on the degree of openness of the mouth and height of the tongue (the lower the tongue the more open the mouth) (high, mid, low)

    • also important in vowel articulation is the position in the mouth of the highest part of the tongue (front, central, back)

    • main vowel phonemes in English:

  • vowels

    • diphthongs are sounds involving two vowels (e.g. [ai], [au], [oi], in words like "buy," "bough," and "boy" respectively )

    • in English unstressed vowels tend to be pronounced as the mid-central vowel

  • Consonants: phonemes that involve stoppage of flow of air in vocal tract

    • voiced consonants: involve vibration of the vocal cords

    • voiceless consonanst: no vibration of the vocal cords
    • place of articulation:
      • labial : involving the lips
      • dental: involving the teeth
      • alveolar: involving the area behind the teeth
      • palatal: involving the hard palate
      • velar: involving the velum or soft palate

    • manner of articulation
      • stops (plosives): involve the stoppage and sudden release of air
      • fricatives (spirants): involve the constricted flow of air producing a kind of hissing sound
      • affricates: a combination of stop + fricative
      • nasals: flow of air channeled through the nose, always voiced
      • lateral: flow of air channeled through the sides of the tongue, also voiced
      • retroflex: similar to the lateral but involving a backward curving of the tip of the tongue, also voiced
      • semivowels (glides): similar to vowels in that the stoppage of the flow of air is very minimal

    • chart of consonant phonemes in English:



References & Links:


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Last updated: 09/26/2008


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