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Syllabic/Vocalic Consonant Forms

February 8th, 2021 by

There are five English consonants that can double as vowels.  They are ‘m,’ ‘n,’ ‘ng,’ ‘l,’ and ‘r’ (these are the English letters used to represent them since each letter has more than one sound, we will need to use the IPA for the sounds after this). 

They are called either vocalic or syllabic, which are slightly different views of their function. They are vocalic because they have sustained voicing, and they are syllabic because they can form the core of a syllable. This course has an emphasis on syllables, so I will call them syllabic. Later in this section, we will examine each in detail with examples, but I’m going to give you a 10,000-foot view here.

The first three are called nasals because air flows through your nose when you make the sounds.  The IPA symbols for the obstruent versions are /m/, /n/, and /ŋ/ (it is called agma or “ing”).   They are obstruents in “Nate” /neɪt/, “mate” /meɪt/, and “sing” /sɪŋ/.  When the sounds are syllabic, they are represented by a vertical line beneath them right in the center as in /m̩/, /n̩/. There is no syllabic agma /ŋ/, but ‘n’ and ‘m’ act as syllable cores in “button” /bʌɾ’ʔn̩/ and “bottom” /bɑɾ’ʔm̩/. 

The other two, ‘r’ and ‘l’ are called liquids, a name that goes back to Ancient Greece. The name came from their ability to add flexibility to poetic meter.  The ‘r’ sounds are usually the most difficult for learners of English (there are five of them) but speakers of many East Asian languages have a hard time with the ‘l’ sounds, as well (there are three). In Japanese, for instance, the ‘r’ and ‘l’ sounds are allophones of the same phoneme and are difficult for Japanese that are learning English to distinguish. 

Of the five ‘r’ sounds, three are considered to be vowels (which are always a syllable core), but since they are ‘r’ sounds, they overlap with consonants so I am discussing them here. The five are the obstruent as in “red” /ɹɛd/, and the four vowel ‘r’ sounds. These are the ‘r’ sound in “bird” /bɝd/ or “butter” /bʌɾɚ/ ,  and the r-colored vowels /ər/ as in “bear” /bɛr/, /ɪr/ as in “beer” /bɪr/, /ɔr/ as in “bore” /bɔr/. 

The first of the three ‘l’ sounds is the ‘l’ you find at the beginning of syllables. It is sometimes called the light-l. For instance, “let” /lɛt/.  The second is the one you often find at the end of syllables, as in “tall” /tɑɫ/. It is called the dark-l.  Both of these are obstruents. The third ‘l’ sound is the syllabic ‘l,’ which can be a syllable core as in “bottle” /bɑɾ ‘ʔl̩/. 

Each of these sounds is explored in detail in the following sections. 

 

 

Labio-Dental Fricitives- /f/ and /v/

February 6th, 2021 by

Great stuff coming. 

Affricates

January 30th, 2021 by

Fricatives

January 30th, 2021 by

Stops

January 27th, 2021 by

Outline of the Course

January 17th, 2021 by

This course builds a framework to develop an understandable English accent.  Ultimately, it places emphasis on the rhythm of English and on sentence stress. A simple declarative sentence can often have as many meanings as there are words in the sentence (or more) simply because of which word is stressed.  On the way there, we need to be aware of syllable stress, which can change both the vowels and the meaning of a word.

To be able to hear and produce stress, we need to understand the sounds that we are making. As I mentioned, we will be using the IPA to represent them, but it is necessary to know what types of sounds they are and how they fit together to produce speech. The sequence of the website is to start with a discussion of the sounds and how they relate to meaning, and build larger and larger units, morphemes, syllables, words, phrases, sentences, rhetoric, and genre. The goal is to not only speak clear English so you will be easily understood but also to be persuasive in your working and social life.

This website is not only something you will read, but something you will read, reread, and use for practice. You never think about how to place your tongue or when to use your vocal cords when you speak. Most of the time, you probably don’t think about the physical act of speaking, at all. You have a lifetime of experience doing it. That lifetime of experience also means you have strongly ingrained habits that you will have to unlearn.

You won’t be able to develop new habits overnight, and even when you have learned to make the new sounds correctly, you will find yourself falling back into your old patterns, at first.  Don’t worry, you can’t eat the whole elephant in one bite. It is like learning music. Musicians learn to do small things well and over time they build to more complex things.  Music teachers often tell their students, “practice slowly, progress quickly.”

[i] For a detailed look at this experience, I recommend the book Hillbilly Elegy, by J.D. Vance.

This book is not only something you will read, but something you will read, reread, and use for practice. You never think about how to place your tongue or when to use your vocal cords when you speak. Most of the time, you probably don’t think about the physical act of speaking, at all. You have a lifetime of experience doing it. That lifetime of experience also means you have strongly ingrained habits that you will have to unlearn.

You won’t be able to develop new habits overnight, and even when you have learned to make the new sounds correctly, you will find yourself falling back into your old patterns, at first.  Don’t worry, you can’t eat the whole elephant in one bite. It is like learning music. Musicians learn to do small things well and over time they build to more complex things.  Music teachers often tell their students, “practice slowly, progress quickly.”

Throughout I will be introducing new terminology. Having to learn new terminology can be a turnoff, but there will not be that many terms, overall, and they allow me to be precise when I am talking about the sounds. From about eight to ten-years-old, children learn about twelve words a day, so so in the course of using this book to modify your accent, you’ll find that learning the terms will be natural.

Vowels are fundamental to speech, so let’s look at them next.

< Varieties of English Accents ^ Accent Course Vowels >

American English Consonant Allophones

January 12th, 2021 by

Voiced and Unvoiced Consonants

January 12th, 2021 by

Consonants may be voiced or unvoiced. When a consonant is voiced, your vocal cords are engaged while you are altering the airflow; if it is unvoiced, your voice is not engaged.

When you look at the chart, you will see that there are often voiced/unvoiced pairs at different points of articulation.  Three pairs in English that help give an idea are [s] and [z], [t] and [d], and [f] and [v].  Each of the pairs have the same place and manner of articulation, but in each pair, the first sound is voiceless and the second is voiced. The voicing changes the meaning as in the following pairs of words. They are spelled differently, but the pairs sound the same.

 Unvoiced Voiced 
1.Sue[sʊ]zoo[zʊ]
2.sit[sɪt]zit[zɪt]
3.Ted[tʰɛd]dead[dʰɛd]
4.tied[tʰɑɪd]died[dʰɑɪd]
5.fat[fæt]vat[væt]
6.feel[fijl]veal[vijl]

Place and Manner of Articulation

January 12th, 2021 by

On the table,  Consonant Chart with English Highlighted, the vertical axis is the manner of articulation and the horizontal axis is the point of articulation.

The manner of articulation is the way that the sounds is made. Going down from the top the first row is stops (or stops).

These are sounds where the air is completely stopped and then released. If you go across the row you will see six symbols that you have long been familiar with and one that you learned about in the section, The /t/ Phoneme and It’s Allophones, above. The English phonemes are in green and are /p/, /b/, /t/, /d/ ; and the one you just learned is the glottal stop /ʔ/.

The column headings are the places of articulation, where the sound is made. The fact that there are different sounds in the same column shows that there are different types of sounds made at the same place in the vocal tract.

IPA Consonant Chart with English Highlighted

 BilabialLabio-DentalDentalAlveolarPost-alveolarRetro-flexPalatalVelarUvularPharengalGlottal
Voicing-v+v-v+v-v+v-v+v-v+v-v+v-v+v-v+v-v+v-v+v-v+v
StoppbtdʈɖcɟkgqGʔ
NasalmɱnɳɲŋN
TrillBrR
Tap or Flapɾɽ
Fricativeɸβfvθðszʃʒʂʐçʝxɣχʁħʕhɦ
Lateral Fricativeɮ̪ɬ̪ɬɮɭ̊˔ɭ˔ʎ̥˔ʎ˔ʟ̝̊ʟ̝
Affricatep͡ɸd͡ɮ[p̪͡fb̪͡vd͜ðt͡θt͡sd͡zt͡ʃd͡ʒʈ͡ʂɖ͡ʐc͡ʎ̥˔d͡ɮk͡xɡ͡ɣ
Lateral Affricateɬ̪d͡ɮcʎ̥˔ɟʎ̝kʟ̝̊ɡʟ̝
Approximantβ̞ʋ̥ð̞ɹ̥ɹɻjɰ̊ɰʁ̞ʕ̞
Lateral approximantlɭʎ̥ʎLʟ̠

Looking at the English phonemes in the top row from left to right, the first two are /p/ and /b/ and are called bilabial stops. Stop means that you stop the air and then release it, bilabial means that is made by putting your lips together. “Bi” means “two” and “labial” means “lips” and you can see that in the drawing. The +v and -v column headers stand for +voice and -voice which can “the vocal cords are engaged” and “the vocal cords are not engaged.” This is covered in detail in the section Voiced and Unvoiced Consonants.

Accent Course Introduction

January 11th, 2021 by

This course is meant as background material learning the sound of spoken English. It is unusual in that its primary focus is on the sounds and rhythm of English. It does not ignore vocabulary and grammar, but there are many excellent courses on that. A focus on vocabulary and grammar is necessary for reading and writing, and for speaking, of course, but, it is possible to be able to read and write well but still not be understandable in English.

One way of learning pronunciation is by rote memorization the way children do. However, as adults, we have already learned, at least, one language. We will find that the pronunciation, stress, and rhythm of our first language intrudes on new languages that we learn and are the reason for accents. Accents are fine and can be charming if they are not so strong that they become barriers to communication. This written document allows you to go over concepts, find and practice areas that are challenging for you. As an adult learner, having meta-knowledge accelerates the learning process.

^ Accent CourseWriting Speech Sounds – The International Phonetic Alphabet ->