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Introduction to Phonetics forStudents of English, French,German and SpanishDr. Rodney BallUniversity of Southampton

Introduction to Phonetics for Students of English,French, German and Spanish This Introduction to Phonetics was originally a booklet produced in the Schoolof Modern Languages at the University of Southampton, to serve as a backgroundand further reading text for the Articulatory Phonetics component of our first-yearLinguistics unit. It focuses on the structure and linguistic function of the vocal tract,the classification of vowels and consonants, the International Phonetic Alphabet and itsuse in phonetic transcription. Though phonology/phonemics is not explicitly covered,the references to broad and narrow transcription in the final section will point the userin that direction.It is primarily addressed to native anglophones, drawing on their knowledge andexperience of English. However, it also contains extensive illustration from standardFrench, German and (Castilian) Spanish, with plenty of emphasis on the phoneticresemblances and differences between these four languages. There are around ahundred exercises (answers are supplied), in which, again, English, French, Germanand Spanish all figure. Though the course is not intended to provide a systematic indepth analysis of the sound system of any individual language, there is enough basicmaterial here to serve as the starting-point for subsequent language-specific Phoneticsor Linguistics units.

CONTENTS1.Introduction1.01 What is Phonetics?1.02 Why study Phonetics?1.03 Working through this course11222.The Vocal Tract2.01 Speaking and breathing2.02 The source of air for speech sounds2.03 The larynx2.04 Voicing2.05 The upper vocal tract2.07 The oral tract from lips to uvula2.07 The tongue2.08 The pharynx2.09 Pronunciation: an acquired skill44456891111123.Vowels3.01 Tongue position for vowels3.02 The cardinal vowels3.03 Lip rounding3.04 Reversing the lip position3.05 The secondary cardinal vowels3.06 Focus on English3.07 Diphthongs3.08 Length and nasalization; Diacritics3.09 Semi-vowels141418232425283236384.Consonants4.01 Classifying consonants4.02 Place of articulation: bilabials, dentals, alveolars and velars4.03 Manner of articulation4.04 Stops (or plosives)4.05 Fricatives4.06 More places: palatal, uvular, pharyngeal, glottal4.07 Aspirates4.08 Affricates4.09 Nasals4.10 Laterals (the l sounds)4.11 The r sounds4.12 The IPA consonant chart404040434445495253555759635.Phonetic Transcription and General Revision5.01 Guidelines for transcription5.02 Transcribing English5.03 Transcribing French, German and Spanish5.04 General Revision64646768716.Answers to Exercises737.Further Reading86

introduction[1]1.01 What is Phonetics?Languages can basically be thought of as systems — highly complicated ones — whichenable us to express our thoughts by means of “vocal noises”, and to extract meaningfrom the “noises” (speech sounds from now on) that are made by other people.Linguistics is the study of the nature and properties of these systems, and its variousbranches focus on different aspects of the communication process.Phonetics is the branch concerned with human speech sounds, and itself has threedifferent aspects: Articulatory Phonetics (the most anatomical and physiological division)describes how vowels and consonants are produced or “articulated” in variousparts of the mouth and throat. Acoustic Phonetics (the branch that has the closest affinities with physics)studies the sound waves that transmit the vowels and consonants through theair from the speaker to the hearer. Auditory Phonetics (the branch of most interest to psychologists) looks at theway in which the hearer’s brain decodes the sound waves back into the vowelsand consonants originally intended by the speaker.Closely associated with Phonetics is another branch of linguistics known as Phonology.This focuses on the way languages use differences between sounds in order to conveydifferences of meaning between words, each language having its own unique soundpattern. Phonology is really the link between Phonetics and the rest of Linguistics.This course focuses on the first of these aspects: Articulatory Phonetics.Warning. The word phonetics is often incorrectly used to refer to the symbolsof the International Phonetic Alphabet (the IPA). So people say: “How is thiswritten in phonetics?”, “It was all in phonetics, so I couldn’t understand it”, or“Dictionaries use phonetics to show pronunciation”.This isn’t how the term should be used. As has just been explained, Phonetics isa branch of Linguistics, not an alphabet. So it would be more appropriate to say:“How is this written in phonetic script?”, “It was all in phonetic transcription.”,or “Dictionaries show pronunciation by using the phonetic alphabet”.Introduction1

You will be introduced to the IPA as you work through this course. Its symbolsare identified by square brackets: [p], [u], [ð], etc. Ordinary letters and spellings,on the other hand, will always be given in italics. As you can see, some of thephonetic symbols are the same as ordinary letters, but others will be new to you.1.02 Why Study Phonetics?Obviously it’s a fundamental part of Linguistics, so no-one studying this subjectcan ignore it. But for students of languages, there are also practical advantages tobe gained from knowing some basic Phonetics.Firstly, you should be able to improve your pronunciation of foreign languagesif you have a clearer idea of how the sounds are actually produced. Troublesomesounds like French r, German ü or Spanish j lose their mystery and become lessdaunting once you know how they relate to other more familiar sounds. And thereare various general features of the “British accent” which can be characterized byphonetic analysis: when you know what it is that makes British accents so British,you’ll be well on the way to getting rid of yours (if you have one: most people doto some extent at least). What’s more, you’ll be able to look up the pronunciationof words in the dictionary once you’re familiar with the phonetic alphabet.Secondly, many of you will at some stage or other find yourselves teaching alanguage to other people: either French, German, Spanish, etc. if you make acareer of teaching, or English if you are involved in ESOL (English as a SecondLanguage, also known as EFL: English as a Foreign Language). ESOL is notjust a useful source of vac jobs: it is a serious career in itself. And many ModernLanguages students spend a year of their degree course working abroad as Englishlanguage teachers. In all such cases, you are likely to have to help learners toimprove their accents. If someone is having difficulty with English th, it’s notmuch help just to tell them “don’t say it like that, say it like I do”. (Unless they’renatural mimics, in which case they won’t need instruction from you anyway.)Much better if you can guide them to make the appropriate tongue movements,on a basis of your knowledge of phonetics.In short, Phonetics always looks good on a language teacher’s cv.1.03 Working Through This CourseIt contains a section describing the organs of speech, a section on vowels, a sectionon consonants, and a concluding section on phonetic transcription, together witha few suggestions for optional further reading.There are also a large number of exercises, answers to all of which can beaccessed. Some of the exercises are to enable you to check that you’ve absorbed2Introduction

and understood the material covered, others encourage you to think more aboutthe languages you are studying and more particularly to draw on your experienceand knowledge of English.Introduction3

the vocal tract[2]2.01 Speaking and BreathingAll speech sounds in all languages are produced by modifying ordinary respiration. Inquiet breathing, air enters and leaves the lungs without any obstruction, passing freelythrough the throat and mouth (or nose). If, however, the tongue or some other organis placed in the path of the airstream, this free passage of air is disturbed; the air fromthe lungs may be set into vibration or the flow momentarily interrupted. For example,the lips close and briefly cut off the airstream for [p] and [b]. Any such disturbancegenerates a sound wave — a ripple effect that travels through the air between speakerand hearer(s) and is then interpreted as a particular speech sound. Articulatoryphonetics studies the various ways in which airstreams can be “interfered with”.2.02 The Source of Air for Speech SoundsThe LUNGS (Fig. 1) are basically sponge-like in design, except that they hold air (in amyriad of tiny airsacs), not water. When we breathe in, we enlarge the chest cavity (inpart by lowering the diaphragm). This in turn expands the lungs, and air rushes in tofill the vacuum. Breathing out involves the opposite procedure. The chest is contractedand air is squeezed out of the lungs, passing through the two BRONCHI (or bronchialtubes), then through the windpipe (more technically the TRACHEA), and finallyemerging in the throat.LarynxTracheaRight BronchusFig. 14The Vocal TractLeft Bronchus

One or two refinements on this simple picture might be noted in passing.First, we normally speak only while breathing out. It’s also quite possible to speak whilebreathing in (for example when counting and not wishing to pause to draw breath), but thisis an inefficient way of making sounds and therefore not a regular feature of any language.In some speech-communities, though, people use “ingressive air” as a conventional means ofdisguising their voices.Second, there are various ways of making speech sounds with air that doesn’t originate in thelungs. The disapproving noise conventionally represented as tut tut! is an example. Somelanguages make regular use of “click” sounds like this one, as well as other “non-pulmonic”sounds that from a European point of view seem even more exotic.Third, if we used the same breathing rhythm for talking as for just breathing quietly, we’dhave to pause for breath every couple of words. (Try it and see.) In speech, quite complexadjustments of the chest muscles and diaphragm are constantly being made in order to slowdown the airstream and hold it back as it leaves the lungs.2.03 The LarynxThe statement above that the airstream “emerges from the trachea (windpipe) into thethroat” is actually an over-simplification. Before the air reaches the “throat”, it has topass through one of the most important speech organs, the LARYNX. It’s at this pointthat the first possibilities occur of modifying the airstream and generating sound.The larynx can conveniently be thought of as an irregularly-shaped, hollow box madeof cartilage, which sits on top of the trachea. (This is reflected in the non-technicalname for it: the “voice-box”.) The front of the larynx can easily be seen and touched:it forms the projection an inch or two below the chin, known as the “Adam’s apple”(more prominent in males than in females — hence presumably the name).Across the interior of the larynx are stretched two horizontal sheets of muscle tissue.When these are relaxed and wide apart, then the air is free to pass between them. Thisis how they are held for normal respiration (Fig. 2). But if they are brought togetherwith their inner edges in close contact, then air is prevented from entering or leavingthe lungs: the only way in or out is through the larynx cavity, which is now sealed off(Fig. 3). This is the configuration for swallowing: it prevents not only air but, moreimportantly, foreign bodies from getting into the lungs.Front of larynx (Adam’s apple)Vocal FoldsFig. 2Fig. 3The Vocal Tract5

A third possibility is shown in Fig. 4. The sheets of muscle are again in contact, but veryloosely this time, instead of being pressed firmly together as they were in Fig. 3. As a result, airis able to pass through, but not freely: it has to force its way, so to speak. This sets the inneredges of the muscles into vibration, and this vibration causes a disturbance in the airstream— i.e. a sound wave. The sound is greatly amplified by the resonance of the mouth andthroat cavities, and the result is: the human voice. As a consequence, the inner edges of themuscles stretched across the larynx are known as the vocal folds (alternatively vocal cords or,occasionally, vocal lips). Say aaah, for instance: the sound you’re producing is amplified vocalfold vibration. In essence, the vibration is similar to the effect which you get by folding overa piece of thin paper and blowing between the edges.The space between the vocal folds is known as the GLOTTIS. So Fig. 2 shows an open glottis,Fig. 3 a closed glottis, and Fig. 4 a vibrating glottis.The vocal folds also control the pitch of the voice. As with the strings of a musical instrument,the greater the tension, the higher the pitch. The larynx is provided with a number of muscleswhich, together with the vocal fold muscles themselves, carry out the complex adjustments ofvocal fold tension that take place continually during speech.Fig. 4The larynx and vocal folds of women and children are smaller than those of adultmales: hence the difference between soprano and bass voices. When a boy’s voice“breaks” at puberty, this is due to a rapid increase in the size of the larynx.Subtle and complex adjustments of the glottis give rise not just to “normal” voice ata range of pitches, but also to such varied vocal effects as stage whisper, falsetto andso-called “breathy voice”. But it’s worth remembering that voice is a only secondaryadaptation of the “vocal” folds, despite the name. (Other mammals and even reptileshave a larynx too.) Biologically the primary function of the larynx in general and thevocal folds in particular is to serve as a valve for the lungs. As has been mentionedalready, it’s advisable to close the glottis firmly when swallowing — we all do soinstinctively in fact. A second important reason for having a larynx is that the closedvocal folds, b