Phonetics around the world
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Phonetics Around the World. Most of the sound files for this lecture can be found online at: October 22, 2012. Fun Stuff. Voiceless [w] and Cool Whip. Some sound inventories: Piraha and Jhu|hoasi. 3. Burmese voiceless nasals.

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Phonetics Around the World

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Phonetics around the world

Phonetics Around the World

Most of the sound files for this lecture can be found online at:

October 22, 2012

Fun stuff

Fun Stuff

  • Voiceless [w] and Cool Whip.

  • Some sound inventories: Piraha and Jhu|hoasi.

  • 3. Burmese voiceless nasals.

  • Pirah

    • Pirahã is a rather exotic language spoken in the Amazon basin, in Brazil.

      • It has either 10 or 11 phonemes, depending on who’s counting.


    • Pirahã is a controversial language because so many wild claims have been made about it…

      • And it is hard to verify them, due to a lack of research.

    Jhu hoansi


    • Jhu|’hoansi is a Khoisan language spoken by about 30,000 people in southwestern Africa.

      • Mostly in Namibia and Botswana.

    • Jhu|’hoansi has only five vowels: [i], [e], [u], [o], [a].

    • But it has a lot of consonants!

    Jhu hoansi1


    • Jhu|’hoansi was (famously) featured in a movie called The Gods Must Be Crazy.

    • My friend Amanda Miller learned the language during a stint with the Peace Corps back in the ‘90s.

    • She currently does research on the phonetics of the language…

      • She just appeared on the show “Daily Planet” last week!


    Phonetics review

    Phonetics Review

    • Last time, we discussed how vowels are articulated along four different dimensions:

    • Height (of tongue)

      high, mid, low

    • Front/backness (of tongue)

      front, central, back

    • Rounding (of lips)

      rounded, unrounded

    • Tenseness

      tense vs. lax



    • Consonants are produced with more obstruction of the airflow through the vocal tract than vowels

    • They are characterized by a different set of attributes:

    • Voicing

      • vocal fold position and movement

    • Place of Articulation

      • location of constriction in the vocal tract

    • Manner of Articulation

      • type of constriction made in the vocal tract

    Moving on

    Moving on…

    • The big picture point for today is:

      • languages can combine a relatively small number of articulatory gestures to make a very large number of different sounds.

    English consonant chart

    English Consonant Chart

    Yes and no

    Yes and No

    • Here’s the complete chart of consonants:

    • Some combinations are unattested

    • Some combinations are impossible

    • Many of these combinations are not found in English



    • There are also combinations of gestures for vowels that English doesn’t use

    note: close = high, open = low, etc...

    Front round

    Front + Round

    • Dutch has vowels that are both front and rounded

    Back unrounded

    Back + Unrounded

    • Vietnamese has vowels that are back and unrounded.

    Nasalized vowels

    Nasalized Vowels

    • Air can flow through the nose during a vowel, too.

    • Examples from French:

    Different consonant combos

    Different Consonant Combos

    • English has bilabial stops, but not bilabial fricatives.

    • Bilabial fricatives exist in languages like Spanish and Ewe, which is spoken in West Africa.

    Different consonant combos1

    Different Consonant Combos

    • Fricative sounds can also be made at the palate and the velum.

    • Examples from Greek:

    English velar fricatives

    English Velar Fricatives

    • There is no velar fricative in English...

      • but there used to be.

    • Examples:German

      • night[naɪt]Nacht[naxt]

      • light[laɪt]Licht[lɪçt]

      • high[haɪ]hoch[hɔx]

      • thought[θat]dachte[daxtə]

      • tough[tʌf]





    Other places of articulation

    Other Places of Articulation

    • One dialect of Hebrew has uvular and pharyngeal fricatives

    Voiceless nasals

    Voiceless Nasals

    • Nasalization is disastrous for fricatives.

      • There are no (uncontroversial) nasal fricatives in the languages of the world.

    • There are, however, voiceless nasals in a few languages.

    • Examples from Burmese:

    Another manner trills

    Another Manner: Trills

    • Trills are made when the flow of air through the mouth rapidly forces two articulators to open and close against each other.

    • Kele has both bilabial and alveolar trills. Kele is spoken on the island of Manus, which is north of New Guinea.

    Other airstream mechanisms

    Other Airstream Mechanisms

    • Some sounds are made without air flowing out of the lungs.

    • For example, hold your breath and try making the stop sounds [p], [t], and [k].

    • You can force air out of your mouth with your closed glottis.

    • These sounds are called ejectives.

      • They are symbolized with a ‘ after a stop: [p’], [t’], [k’]

    Quechua ejectives

    Quechua Ejectives

    • Quechua is spoken in South America



    • Sounds can also be made when air rushes into the mouth.

    • One way to do this involves dropping a closed glottis while making a stop.

    • Sounds made in this way are called implosives.

    • Examples from Sindhi (spoken in India):

    Velaric ingressive sounds

    Velaric Ingressive Sounds

    • A very interesting effect can occur when certain articulations are combined with a velar stop closure

    • Can you differentiate between these sounds?

    • These “click” sounds are from the language Xhosa, which is spoken in southwestern Africa.

    What s going on here

    What’s going on here?

    • Click sounds are by made by the sound of air rushing intothe mouth.

    • How to make a click (step 1):

    • Make a velar stop and another stop in front of the velum. Air will get trapped in between the two closures.

    What s going on here1

    What’s going on here?

    • How to make a click (part 2):

    • Drop the tongue down to expand the chamber of air trapped in the mouth. The air pressure in the chamber will decrease.

    What s going on here2

    What’s going on here?

    • How to make a click (part 3):

    • Release the forward closure. Air rushes into the low pressure area, from outside the mouth.

    What s going on here3

    What’s going on here?

    • How to make a click (part 4):

    • Release the velar closure to make a velar stop sound.

    Clicks in connected speech

    Clicks in connected speech

    • Listen to clicks as they are produced in a long sequence of connected speech. You may experience a phenomenon known as perceptual streaming.

    • Sound file source:

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