Consonants and vowels
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Consonants and vowels. John Goldsmith . Kinds of phonetics. Transcribing: descriptive phonetics? transcriptional phonetics? No standard name. Articulatory phonetics Acoustic phonetics Perceptual phonetics (Psychology) Computational phonetics (CS). Articulatory apparatus.

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Consonants and vowels

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Consonants and vowels

Consonants and vowels

John Goldsmith

Kinds of phonetics

Kinds of phonetics

  • Transcribing: descriptive phonetics? transcriptional phonetics? No standard name.

  • Articulatory phonetics

  • Acoustic phonetics

  • Perceptual phonetics (Psychology)

  • Computational phonetics (CS)

Articulatory apparatus

Articulatory apparatus

Some not so happy assumptions generally made to do transcriptions

Some (not so happy) assumptions generally made to do transcriptions

  • There is a (1-dimensional) sequence of units that define or characterize the utterance – rather than 2 or more parallel streams. We think of the articulators as being a single instrument rather than as an orchestra.

  • We can slice the utterances into pieces vertically, in time, and ignore most differences in duration.

  • Sounds follow one another, and that’s it: there is no packing of them into groups.

Sounds of english

Sounds of English

Consonants: first, the stops:

  • b as in bat, sob, cubby

  • d as in date, hid, ado

  • g as in gas, lag, ragged

  • p as in pet, tap, repeat

  • t as in tap, pet, attack

  • k as in king, pick, picking

When we need to emphasize

that we are using a phonetic

transcription, we put square

brackets [b] around the symbols.

More consonants fricatives

More consonants: fricatives

  • f as in fail, life

  • v as in veil, live

  • Ɵ as in thin, wrath

  • ð as in this, bathe

  • s as in soft, miss

  • z as in zoo, as

  • š (American) or ʃ (IPA) as in shame, mash

  • ž (American) or ǯ (IPA)as in triage, garage, azure,

  • h as in help, vehicular



  • č (American) or tʃ (IPA) as in cheap, hatch

  • ǰ (American) or ʤ(IPA) as in jump, hedge

Nasal consonants

nasal consonants

  • m as in map, him

  • n as in knot, tin (alveolar POA)

  • ñ as in canyon

  • ŋ as in sing, gingham, dinghy



  • l as in large, gull

  • r as in red, jar

Glides and semi consonants

glides and semi-consonants

  • y (American) or j (IPA) as in boy, yellow

  • w as in wall, cow

Consonants and vowels

  • 6 stops

  • 2 affricates

  • 9 fricatives

  • 4 nasals

  • 2 liquids

  • 2 glides

Short vowels


I as in bit

Ɛ as in bet

æ as in bat


as in put

ʌ as in putt

 as in bought

a or ɑas in Mott, ma, spot

ǝ “schwa” as in about

Short vowels

Long vowels

Long vowels

  • iyor i as in beet

  • eyor ej as in bait

  • ay as in bite

  • oy as in boy

  • uw or u as in boot

  • ow as in boat

  • aw as how

Review where we ve been

Review where we’ve been

  • We’ve listened to the sounds of “our” English, and assigned a set of symbols to them.

  • We abstracted away from pitch, loudness, and duration.

  • We hope to better understanding our language’s sounds by analyzing them as being composed of a sequence of identifiable sounds, each of which occurs frequently in words of the language.

Consonants and vowels

  • Frequently? If a sound occurs in just 2 or 3 words, we don’t take it seriously (glottal stop, velar fricative)

  • We do this against the background knowledge that the inventory of sounds in English is not necessary as human languages go: they are what they are against a much wider backdrop of possible linguistic sounds.

Consonants and vowels

  • We also attempt to physically characterize these sounds: acoustically and articulatorily. Consonants are easier to characterize articulatorily, vowels acoustically.

  • We are particularly interested in those ways in which the English of Speaker 1 is different from the English of Speaker 2: again, working against the background knowledge of variation.

Consonants and vowels

  • We also characterize differences of sounds across sound contexts: we say, notice the different sound that occurs in front of a voiceless consonant in height.

  • Looking ahead to phonology, we will attempt to get a handle on variation in sounds in two ways:

    • Two sounds are similar if (roughly) we can characterize one of them as a variant of the other used in a particular context (“under the influence of that context,” so to speak)

    • Two sounds are distinct (hence, different) if two distinct words differ only with regard to these two sounds, in otherwise identical positions

Consonants and vowels

  • We try to characterize the inventory of sounds in a language, knowing that that language chose one set of sounds when a vast range of other possibilities might have been chosen.



  • We assign symbols to these sounds; in addition, we want to characterize them as best we can articulatorily and acoustically.

    Sounds can be divided into two major groups, consonants and vowels; or set along a continuum known as the sonority hierarchy:

Sonority hierarchy

Sonority hierarchy

  • Vowels

  • Glides

  • Liquids

  • Nasals

  • Obstruents:

    • Fricatives

    • Affricates

    • Stops



  • Consonants = obstruents + sonorants

    • Obstruents: (oral) stops, affricates, and fricatives

    • Sonorants: nasals and liquids (l,r)

Consonants have a point of articulation

Consonants have a point of articulation

The crucial points of articulation for English consonants are:

  • Labial

  • Labio-dental

  • Dental

  • Alveolar: at the alveolar ridge, behind the teeth

  • Post-alveolar/palato-alveolar/alveopalatal: multiple names for the same thing

  • Retroflex (r only)

  • Palatal (y, ñ)

  • Velar

  • Laryngeal

Consonants and vowels


  • 6 stops

  • 9 fricatives

  • 2 affricates

  • Nasals (4)

  • 2 other sonorants (what are they?)

  • 2 glides



  • Vowels are harder to characterize articulatorily, but we try!

  • The fact that it’s harder is reflected in the fact that there is more than one way in which it’s done. IPA is one way; American is another.

Consonants and vowels


Two systems side by side

Two systems side by side

A phonetic chart based on the first two formants

A phonetic chart based on the first two formants

Consonants and vowels


Consonants and vowels

/i/ green

/ae/ hat

/u/ boot

graphics thanks to

Kevin Russell, Univ of Manitoba

Consonants and vowels

“Hi” /haj/


we were away a year ago

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