Phonetics part iii suprasegmentals
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Phonetics, part III: Suprasegmentals. October 18, 2010. The Plan for Today. Run through the rest of the phonetics practice exercises. Discuss suprasegmentals. The plan for the future: More phonetics practice on Wednesday and Friday. Homework #2 due next Monday.

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The plan for today
The Plan for Today

  • Run through the rest of the phonetics practice exercises.

  • Discuss suprasegmentals.

  • The plan for the future:

    • More phonetics practice on Wednesday and Friday.

    • Homework #2 due next Monday.

    • Mid-term on the Friday after that! (Oct. 29th)

Oh by the way
Oh by the way…

  • The textbook mentions the existence of a mid-low, back, rounded vowel…

  • “Open O”: [ ]

  • Compare:

    • Calgary

    • Chicago

    • New York

    • Saskatoon


  • Also check out:

  • Calgary: Oxford, England:

Basic distinction 1
Basic Distinction #1

  • Last time, we discussed the difference between vowels and consonants.

  • Consonants:

    • Voicing

    • Place of Articulation

    • Manner of Articulation

  • Vowels:

    • High/mid/low

    • Front/central/back

    • Rounded/unrounded

    • Tense/lax

Basic distinction 2
Basic Distinction #2

  • Consonants and vowels together make up the class of segments in phonetics.

  • Each segment is a configuration of articulations…

    • ordered in time in an utterance.

  • Languages also have phonetic features which can span across multiple segments.

    • = suprasegmental features

    • supra = “above” the segment.

  • One basic example:

    • Languages organize strings of segments into syllables.


  • Syllables are hard to define phonetically…

    • But native speakers have an intuitive sense of what does and does not constitute a syllable.

  • Normally, syllables will have:

    • consonants (optionally) at beginning and end;

    • a vowel in the middle.

  • However, in English, nasals (/m/, /n/) and liquids (/l/, /r/) can form the “peak” of a syllable.

    • = syllabic consonants.

Syllabic examples
Syllabic Examples

  • Syllabic consonants are transcribed with a small vertical dash underneath them.

  • Examples:






  • Other suprasegmental features include:

    • Stress

    • Length

    • Tone

    • Intonation

  • These suprasegmental features are always defined in a relative manner.

    • Some segments are longer than others,

    • Some syllables are more stressed than others,

    • etc.

1 stress
1. Stress

  • Stress makes a syllable sound more prominent.

    • (due to increased articulatory effort)

  • Stress may be denoted by an accent over the vowel in the stressed syllable.

  • Examples of stress contrasts:

  • “contrast”

    • (N)

    • (V)

  • “insult”

    • (N)

    • (V)

2 length
2. Length

  • Languages can distinguish segments on the basis of length.

    • = some segments simply last longer than others.

  • Italian contrasts both long and short vowels and consonants.

Danish vowels
Danish Vowels

  • Danish contrasts long and short vowels.

3 tone
3. Tone

  • In tone languages, speakers change the rate at which their vocal folds vibrate to signal important differences in meaning.

  • Note: we hear the rate of vocal fold vibration as the “pitch” of a speaker’s voice.

  • In tone languages, each syllable is produced with a characteristic tone.

  • Register tone languages

    • Pitch must hit a certain level on any given syllable.

  • Contour tone languages

    • Pitch changes on a single syllable may form a complex pattern.

Ibibio tones
Ibibio Tones

  • Ibibio is a register tone language spoken in southern Nigeria

Mandarin tone
Mandarin Tone

  • Mandarin (Chinese) is a classic example of a contour tone language.

ma1: mother

ma2: hemp

ma3: horse

ma4: to scold

Mandarin sentences
Mandarin Sentences

ma1-ma0 ma4 ma3.

“Mother scolds the horse.”

ma3 ma4 ma1-ma0.

“The horse scolds mother.”


  • English is not a tone language like Chinese or Ibibio…

    • but it has something called “intonation”

  • English intonation:

  • High and Low accents attach to stressed syllables

    • (transcribed with H* or L*)

  • High and Low tones appear at the ends of phrases and utterances.

    • (transcribed with H% or L%)

  • The important difference: English “tones” are specified by context, not by the lexicon.

Intonation examples
Intonation Examples

  • In English intonation, statements usually have:

    • A high accented syllable (H*) within the sentence.

    • A low tone (L%) at the end of the sentence.

  • H* L%

  • Manny came with Anna.

  • Meanwhile, questions usually have:

    • A low accented syllable (L*) within the sentence.

    • A high tone (H%) at the end of the sentence.

  • L* H%

  • Manny came with Anna?