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Phonetics. Main Contents. Definition and classification of phonetics Speech organs Consonants: manners of articulation and places of articulation Vowels: description Assimilation/co-articulation Phonetic transcription Supra-segmental features. 1. Phonetics.

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Main Contents

  • Definition and classification of phonetics

  • Speech organs

  • Consonants: manners of articulation and places of articulation

  • Vowels: description

  • Assimilation/co-articulation

  • Phonetic transcription

  • Supra-segmental features

1. Phonetics

  • Phonetics is the study of speech sounds; The study of how speech sounds are made/produced, transmitted and received

  • Phonetics looks at speech sounds from three distinct but related points of view


  • Production perception

  • Speaker hearer

  • Articulatory Phonetics发音语音学

  • Acoustic Phonetics声学语音学

  • Auditory Phonetics听觉语音学

Articulatory phonetics

From the speaker’s point of view: how a speaker uses his speech organs to produce or articulate the sounds, which results in articulatory phonetics.

Auditory Phonetics

From the hearer’s point of view:

how the sounds are perceived by

the hearer, which results in

auditory phonetics.

Acoustic phonetics

From the way sounds travel: how sounds travel by the sound waves, the physical means by which sounds are transmitted through the air from one person to another, which results in acoustic phonetics.

By studying sound waves with the help of spectrographs(摄谱仪), acoustic phoneticians find that the same sounds we claim to have heard are in most cases only phonetically similar, but rarely phonetically identical.

2. Organs of speech


pharyngeal cavity


articulatory apparatus

The oral cavity




Nasal cavity


1.lips 2.teeth

3.teeth ridge (alveolar)

4. hard palate 5.soft palate(velum) 6.uvula 7.tip of tongue 8. blade of tongue 9. back of tongue 10.vocal cords 11.pharyngeal cavity 12. Nasal cavity

The pharyngeal cavity

Voicing (浊音)

Vibration of the vocal cords (声带) results in a quality of speech sounds called voicing, which is a feature of all vowels and some consonants in English.

E.g. [b, z, d]


When the vocal cords are drawn wide apart, letting air go through without causing vibration, the sounds produced in such a condition are voiceless. E.g. [p, s, t]

Vibration of vocal cords

The nasal cavity

The nasal cavity is connected with the oral cavity. The soft part of the roof of the mouth, the velum, can be drawn back to close the passage so that all air exiting from the lungs can only go through the mouth. The sounds produced in this condition are not nasalized.

If the passage is left open to allow air to exit through the nose, the sounds produced are nasalized sounds.

Consonants and Vowels

Obstruction of airstream

  • Consonants are produced by constructing or obstructing the vocal tract(声道) at some place to divert, impede or completely shut off the flow of air in the oral cavity

  • Vowels are produced without such obstruction so no turbulence or a total stopping of the air can be perceived

3. Consonants

Airstream being obstructed in some way

  • Voicing

  • Places of articulation

  • Manners of articulation

    voiceless: [p] [t] [f] [k] [s]


    voiced: [b] [d] [v] [g] [z] [m]

Places of articulation

  • Bilabial (with the two lips): pie/buy/my

  • Labiodental (with the lower lip and the upper teeth):


  • Dental (with the teeth and tongue tip): think/this

  • Alveolar ( with the tongue tip and the alveolar ridge:


  • Palato-alveolar/ post-alveolar: shy/treasure/cheat/bridge

  • Palatal: you

  • Velar: hack/hag/hang

  • Retroflex: rye

  • Glottal: hat

Manners of articulation

  • Plosive/stop: pie/buy/die/tie/guy /kite (oral)

  • Nasal : my/nigh/sing

  • Fricative: five/vie/sigh/zoo/thigh/this/shy/treasure

  • Approximant: yacht/we/raw

  • Lateral: lay/ale

  • Affricate: church/judge

    [s] in sing: voiceless, alveolar fricative

    [N] in sing: voiced, velar, nasal stop

4. Vowels (four criteria)

  • The height of the body of the tongue: high/mid/low

  • The front-back position of the tongue: front/central/back

  • The degree of lip rounding: un-rounded: see/did/bird

    rounded: book/lot

  • The length or tenseness of the vowel:

    long/ tense: bead book

    short/lax: bid put

  • Vowel glides:

    pure or mono-phthong: be

    diphthong: boy/toe

    triphthong: tower/wire

5. Co-articulation

  • The articulation of sounds are often influenced by their neighbors. The process by which one sound takes on some or all the characteristics of its neighboring sound is called co-articulation or assimilation.

  • Anticipatory co-articulation: e.g. lamb

  • Perservative co-articulation: map


  • Regressive assimilation

    right place[p]

    good morning[b]

    one cup cf bank[N]

    have to[f]

  • Progressive assimilation



Assimilation rules:

Word-final alveolars become dental before dental fricatives;

Word-initial /l/ and /r/ becomes

voiceless after fortis consonants.

Word-final labio-dental

fricatives may become bilabial

before bilabial plosives;

Word-final /l/ is non-velarised if

followed by an initial vowel;

Word-final lenis plosives and

fricatives are not devoiced I followed

by a vowel or voiced consonant;

Word-final /t,d/ become bilabial before bilabial consonants;

Word-final /t,d/ become velar before velar plosives;

Word-final /n/ becomes

bilabial before bilabial


Word-final /n/ becomes velar before velar plosives

Word-final /nt,nd/ both

become bilabial before

bilabials and velar before


Word-final /s,z/ become palato-alveolar before palato-alveolar fricatives and the palatal frictionless continuant;

Word-final /t,d,s,z/ become palato-alveolar affricates (/t,d/) or fricatives(/s,z/) before /j/ and /j/disappears;

Word-final /d/ becomes a nasal before a nasal, at the place of articulation of the nasal;

Word-final /v/ becomes a nasal before a nasal;

Bilabial and alveolar nasals become labio-dental before labio-dental fricatives;

Word-final lenis fricatives

become fortis before an

initial fortis consonant;

5. Broad and Narrow Transcription

A broad transcription is one that only takes account of the sound differences that are important to distinguish words from each other in a language.

A broad transcription is the transcription with letter-symbols only. E.g. [pin] [speid]

Narrow transcription

A narrow transcription attempts to represent more or less accurately the way in which a particular speaker pronounces his words. A narrow transcription is a transcription with letter symbols together with diacritics(变音符号). e. g [phi n]

[s p= ei d]

The distinction between / ph / and /p/ does not make a difference between words in English. If we substitute /p/ for /ph/ in /phin/, we produce a peculiar pronunciation of pin but not a new word;

But the substitution of p for t does make a difference of word: pin/pin/ and tin/tin/ are different words in English.

6. Suprasegmental Features

  • Stress (and rhythm)

    green house vs. greenhouse

    Give itto John.



    Have you had supper?

    He was in an appalling bad temper.


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