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Phonetics & Phonology of English: How & Why We Speak the Way We Do. Dr. Latricia Trites Academic Advisor Fulbright Yilan Project 2008-2009. What is Phonetics?. Phonetics is the study of speech sounds. Articulatory phonetics – how speech sounds are produced

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phonetics phonology of english how why we speak the way we do

Phonetics & Phonology of English:How & Why We Speak the Way We Do

Dr. Latricia Trites

Academic Advisor

Fulbright Yilan Project 2008-2009

what is phonetics
What is Phonetics?
  • Phonetics is the study of speech sounds.
    • Articulatory phonetics – how speech sounds are produced
    • Acoustic phonetics – the transmission and physical properties of speech sounds
    • Auditory phonetics – perception of speech sounds
  • Phonetic transcriptions – one sound = one symbol.
  • The descriptions of the sounds we call consonants are based on the human articulatory system (lungs to pump air in and out, vocal folds, oral cavity including tongue and lips, and nasal cavity).
  • Consonants are described using 3 characteristics:
    • vocal quality (voiced/voiceless)
    • point of articulation
    • manner of articulation
  • Place of articulation, manner of articulation and voicing are not useful when trying to describe vowels.
  • Vowels are all made in the mouth (place), with little or no air flow constriction (manner) and are always voiced in English
  • So the system that describes vowels does so in terms 4 characteristics:
    • tongue placement
    • tongue height
    • lip rounding
    • tenseness.

Vowel Chart











ə ʌ










  • /aɪ/
  • /ɔɪ/
  • /aʊ/

Minor (if at all)

  • /eɪ/
  • /oʊ/
suprasegmentals what are those
Suprasegmentals! What are those?
  • Length
    • High vowels shorter than low vowels
    • Voiceless consonants longer than voiced consonants
    • Voiceless fricatives longest
    • Length is influenced by the surrounding sounds
  • Tone
    • Can change meaning in some languages (like Chinese)
  • Stress
    • Stressed syllables more prominent than unstressed ones
    • Stressed syllables usually contain tense vowels
    • Stressed syllables are often longer
    • Unstressed syllables reduce vowel
  • Intonation
    • Rising and falling intonation can change meaning
what is phonology
What is Phonology?
  • Phonology is how speech sounds are organized and affect one another in pronunciation.
  • Key terms:
    • Phone – sound that is actually heard [ ]
    • Phoneme – more theoretical (idea) of a sound / /
    • Allophone – nondistinctive realization of the same phoneme
  • This organization is explained in phonological rules
different types of phonological variation
Different Types of Phonological Variation
  • Overlapping Distribution – different sound in same environment (ex. /thap/ vs. /phat/).
  • Contrastive distribution – changing sound changes meaning (ex. /mæn/ vs./mɪn/).
  • Complementary distribution – sounds in a language never found in the same phonetic environment (ex. /thap/ vs. /path/*).
  • Free variation – two sounds that occur in overlapping environments but doesn’t change meaning (ex. /ɪnpʊt/ vs. / ɪmpʊt /).

*Italics indicates sound variant that cannot occur in the English language

common phonemic rules
Common Phonemic Rules
  • Aspiration [h]
  • Unreleased Stop [ ̚ ]
  • Flap [ɾ]
  • Dental Consonants [⊓]
  • Velarization [ɫ]
  • Voicelessness [˚]
  • Vowel lengthening [׃]
  • Vowel nasalization [~]
phonemic rules
Phonemic Rules
  • Aspiration Rule: Voiceless stops are aspirated at the beginning of a stressed syllable.
  • Liquid/Glide Devoicing: Liquids/Glides become voiceless when they follow a voiceless stop, fricative, or affricate.
  • Vowel Lengthening: Vowels are lengthened when they come before a voiced consonant.
  • Flapping: When a /t/ or /d/ is preceded by a vowel and followed by a vowel, it becomes flapped (ex. bitter, butter, batter, ladder, letter, beauty, beautiful).
common phonological rules
Common Phonological Rules
  • Assimilation – becomes like the neighboring sound (ex. hippo)
    • Palatization (ex. Don’t you, Won’t you)
    • r coloring (ex. fur, bird, party) often seen as /ɚ/or/ɝ/
    • Nasal coloring
  • Dissimilation (ex. fifth, sixth)
  • Insertion (ex. dance, strength, hamster)
  • Deletion (ex. chocolate, interesting)
important information to remember
Important Information to Remember
  • There are EXCEPTIONS to every rule in English.
  • English speakers, like all other languages try to say things as quickly and easily as possible.
  • Every region and dialect will have variations in speech patterns; however, it is important to foster correct pronunciation instead of bad habits.
  • Be consistent with one symbol = one sound.
  • Remember that “bo po mo fo” is used to teach Mandarin, not English, because the language is built on syllables, English is a sound/symbol language, not built on syllables.
  • Help students understand how sounds are made.
  • Help students learn to sound out words instead of just listen and repeat.
  • Be aware of common mistakes based on first language that students tend to make: dropping final consonants, confusing /l/ and /r/, inserting /ә/, pronouncing all vowels as tense vowels.
  • Remember that there are useful websites where you can find correct pronunciation of English words.
teaching phonics
Teaching Phonics
  • How can we use this phonetic information and the phonological rules to teach phonics better?
  • Using your regular textbook, take 10 - 15 minutes to design a phonics activity that incorporates some of the information learned today.

Bergmann, A., Hall, K.C., & Ross, S. H. (Eds.). (2007). Language files: Materials for an introduction to language & linguistics (10th ed.). Columbus, OH: Ohio State University Press.

Celce-Murcia, M., Brinton, D., & Goodwin, J. (1996). Teaching pronunciation: A reference for teachers of English to speakers of other languages. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

International Phonetic Association

Merriam-Webster Dictionary