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Today we are

going to learn
Speech sounds
Anomotical production


Anatomical production

Speech sounds

language has a unique set of

sounds, its phonemes, that are used to
build its words. These sounds are
contrastive. That is, they differentiate
between words. Compare these English
word pairs which differ in only one of
their phonemes:
sat/set sin/sit mop/top


vary in terms of the number

of distinct phonemes they use. English,
for example, has approximately 44
phonemes (depending on the accent),
while Italian has approximately 25.


speech sounds Speech

sounds are of two major types - vowels
and consonants.

What are vowels?


are speech sounds produced

with no obstruction to the air flow
coming from the lungs.

'Pure' vowels vs diphthongs. A diphthong is a

long, complex vowel which starts with the sound
quality of one vowel and ends with the sound
quality of another one.
Although they are classified as single phonemes,
diphthongs are given a double symbol to show
both the quality they start with and the quality
they end with. The English diphthongs in the chart
above are illustrated in the words bite, bait, boy,
toe, house, poor, ear, and air. Languages vary
in their use of diphthongs. For example, English
has several, while Italian has none.

What are consonants?


are speech sounds that

involve a momentary interruption or
obstruction of the air flow


can be described and

differentiated from each other by using
three main classifications: voice,
place, and manner of articulation..

1. Voice:

the vocal cords vibrating when

they are produced? Both /p/ and /b/ are
made by closing the lips briefly to stop the
flow of air and then releasing it. The only
difference between them is that
/b/ is voiced while /p/ is not. But what a
key difference this voicing contrast makes
linguistically! Would you rather receive a
bat on the head or a pat on the head?

2. Place of articulation:

in the vocal tract is the air

flow obstructed? The vocal tract
extends from the lips all the way back to
the glottis. (See Figure 2 above) The
main places of articulation that are used
to contrast phonemes in English,
starting from the front of the vocal tract,

labial (lips) - as in the first and last consonants of pip

labio-dental (teeth and lips) - as in first consonant of


dental (sometimes called linguo-dental since in

English these consonants are formed by placing the
tongue between the teeth) - as in the first consonant of
this (Note that even though in the written form of
this, that sound is spelled with two letters, t and h, it is
a single phoneme)

3. Manner of

what degree is the air flow

obstructed? Consonants can involve a
complete obstruction of the airflow as in
/p/ or /k/ all the way down a very
minimal obstruction as in /w/ or /j/. The
main manners of articulation that are
used to contrast phonemes in English,
starting with those requiring the most
obstruction, are:

plosive (complete obstruction followed by release) - as in the

first consonant of ten

fricative (very close but not complete obstruction involving

friction) - as in the first consonant of set

affricate (very close obstruction where the consonant begins

as a plosive and ends as a fricative - the
double symbol indicates both the quality it starts with the
quality it ends with) - as in the first and last
consonants of church (Again, note that although in the written
form of church, that sound is spelled
with two letters, c and h, this is a single phoneme)

nasal (complete obstruction of the air flow in the

mouth but with the velum open so that air can
from the nose producing a humming sound) - as in
first and last consonants of man

glides (a very slight closure, almost like a

vowel) - as in the /w/ of wet and the /j/ of yet.
consonants are sometimes called semi-vowels.


a go! If your eyes have started to

glaze over from reading, try some action
Close your eyes while you're doing this
so you can concentrate on the
sensations in your vocal tract.

Beginner's Guide to Phonetics

By Jean Peccei


page is adapted from my lectures

on introductory phonetics at
Roehampton University, where I teach
on the English Language & Linguistics