The Classification And Description Of Speech Sounds English Language Essay

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Speech sounds are broadly divided into two categories, namely, Vowels and Consonants. If we say the English word shoe, we realize that this word is made up of two sounds, one represented by the letter sh and the letter oe. When we produce the word represented the letter sh slowly, we realize that during the production this sound, the air escapes through the mouth freely and we do not hear any friction. The sound that is represented by the letter sh in the word shoe is a consonant and the sound represented by the letters oe in the word shoe is Vowel. (All sounds during the production of which we hear friction are consonants, but not all consonants are produced with friction). This will be discussed under the type of consonants in this chapter.

If we say the words she, shoe, shy, show, ship and shout, we will realize that when we produce the sounds represented by the letters e, oe, y, ow,i and ou in these words, the air escapes through the mouth freely without any friction. All these sounds are therefore vowels but each one of them sounds different form the others. These sounds should therefore be sub-classified. Similarly, if we say the words shoe, see, zoo, and who, we will hear friction during production of the sounds represented by the letters sh, s, z and wh. All the se sounds are therefore consonants. But once again we will see that each of them sounds different from the others. The sounds that are called consonants also need to be sub-classified. In the chapter we will take up the classification and description of consonants.

To describe a consonant sound, we need certain important pieces of information. We need to know the following regarding its production:

the air stream mechanism;

the state of the glottis;

the position of the soft-palate;

the active articulator;

the passive articulator;

the stricture involved.

Let us discuss these in some detail.

The air -stream mechanism: All English sounds (vowels as well as consonants) are produced with a pulmonic egressive air-stream mechanism, i.e., lung-air pushed out.

The state of glottis; Speech sounds can be classified voiceless or voiced, depending upon whether the vocal cords are wide apart and the glottis is wide open (voiceless) or the vocal cords are kept loosely together and they vibrate (voiced).

The position of the soft-palate; Speech sounds can be classified as oral or nasal, depending upon whether the soft-palate is raised so as to shut off the nasal passage of air (oral) or it is lowered to open the nasal passage of air simultaneously with an oral closure (nasal). Sounds can also be nasalized.

And (e) The active and passive articulators: Of the various articulations described, at least two are required for the production of any speech sound; some articulators move during the production of speech sounds. These are termed active articulators. Certain other articulators remain passive and the active articulators move in the direction of these. These are termed passive articulator. The lower tip and the tongue are the active articulators. The upper lip and the entire roof of the mouth are the passive articulators. It should be remembered, however, that the upper lip and the soft palate are capable of independent movement; but when either of these is one of the articulators involved in the production of a sound, it is always the other articulator (the lower lip in the case of the upper lip and the back of the tongue in the case of the soft palate) that moves towards these. So the upper lip and the soft palate are considered passive articulators.

The stricture involved: The term 'stricture' refers to the way in which the passage of air is restricted by the various organs of speech.

Let us study the various types of strictures in detail.

Complete closure and sudden release: The stricture may be one of complete closure, i.e., the active articulators come into firm contact with each other, thus preventing the lung-air from escaping through the mouth. Simultaneously there is a velic closure, i.e., the soft palate is raised, thereby shutting off the nasal passage of air. Thus the lung-air blocked in the mouth. When the oral closure is released, i.e., when the active articulator is suddenly removed from the passive articulator, the air escapes with a small explosive noise. "Sounds produced with a stricture of complete closure and sudden releases are called Plosive". The initial sounds in the English word pin, bin, tin, din, kin, and gun are plosives.

Complete closure and sudden release: If after blocking the oral and the nasal passages of air, the oral closure is removed slowly, i.e., if the active articulator is removed slowly from the passive articulator, instead of the explosive noise that is characteristic of plosive consonants, friction will be heard. "Sounds that are produced with a stricture of complete closure and slow release are called Affricatives." The initial sounds in the English word chin and jam are affricate consonants.

Complete oral closure: the active and passive articulators are in firm contact with each other, thereby blocking off the oral passage of air completely. But the soft palate is lowered so that there is a velic opening, i.e., the nasal passage of air is opened. The lung-air will then escape through the nostrils freely. "Sounds that are articulated with a stricture of complete oral closure are called Nasals". The final sounds in the English words sum, sun, and sung are some examples of nasal consonants.

Intermittent closure: The soft palate is raised, thereby shutting off the nasal passage of air. The active articulator strikes against the passive articulator several times with the result that the air escapes between the active and passive articulators intermittently. Such a stricture is termed intermitted closure. Sounds that are articulated with a stricture of intermittent closure are called trills or rolled consonants. The letter r in English words like red and ran is pronounced as a trill by most Scottish people.

For some consonants the active articulator strikes against the passive articulator just once and then quickly flaps forward. Such consonants are called taps or flaps. The letter r in very is pronounced as a tap by some English people.

Close approximation: The active articulator is brought so close to the passive articulator that there is a very narrow gap between them. The soft palate is raised so as to shut off the nasal passage of air. The lung-air escapes through the narrow space between the active and passive articulators, producing audible friction. "Sounds that are articulated with a stricture of close approximation are called Fricatives". The initial sounds in the English word five, vine, thin, then, sip, zip, sheep and hat are fricatives.

Partial closure: the active and passive articulators are in firm contact with each other. The soft palate is raised, thereby shutting off the nasal passage of air. If the sides of the tongue are lowered so that there is plenty of gap between the sides of the tongue and the upper molar teeth, the air will escape along the sides of the tongue without any friction. "Sounds that are articulated with a stricture of complete closure in the centre of the vocal tract but with the air escaping along the sides of the tongue without any friction are called laterals". The initial sound in the English word love is a lateral.

Open approximation: The soft palate is raised, thereby shutting off the nasal passage of air. If the active articulator is brought close to the passive articulator so that the gap between them is wide the air will escape through this gap without any friction. "Sounds that are articulated with a stricture of open approximation are called frictionless continuants and semi vowels. In fact Peter Ladefoged uses the term approximants to refer to sounds that are articulated with a stricture of open approximation.

Having looked in detail at the six points referred to at beginning of this chapter; let us describe some consonant sounds with reference to the six points.

The sound represented by the letter p in the English word spy:

The air stream mechanism is pulmonic egresssive.

The vocal cords are drawn apart. The glottis is open. The sound is voiceless.

The soft palate is raised and the nasal passage of air is shut off completely. The sound is oral.

The active articulator is the upper lip.

The passive articulator is the lower lip.

The stricture is one of complete closure and sudden release the sound articulated is a plosive.

The sound represented by the letter s in the English word spy:

The air-stream mechanism is pulmonic egressive.

The vocal cords are drawn apart. The glottis is wide open. The sound is voiceless.

The soft palate is raised and the nasal passage of air is shut off completely. The sound is oral.

The active articulator is the blade of the tongue.

The passive articulator is the teeth ridge.

The stricture is one of close approximation. The sound articulated is a fricative.

The sound represented by the letter n in the English word finger:

The air-stream mechanism is pulmonic egressive.

The vocal cords are kept loosely together. They vibrate and the sound is voiced.

The soft palate is lowered. The nasal passage of air is open.

The sound is nasal.

The active articulator is the back of the tongue.

The passive articulator is the soft palate.

The stricture is one of complete oral closure. The sound articulated is a nasal.

The sound represented by the letter v in the English word vine:

The air-stream mechanism is pulmonic egressive.

The vocal cords are kept loosely together. They vibrate and the sound is voiced.

The soft palate is raised and the nasal passage of air is shut off completely. The sound is oral.

The active articulator is the lower lip.

The passive articulators are the upper front teeth.

The stricture is one of close approximation. The sound articulated is a fricative.

Three-term labels: Consonants are described using three-term labels. The three - term refer to (a ) the state of glottis, (b)the place of articulation and (c) the manner of articulation. The three - terms should be arranged in the order in which they have been listed above. Some consonants are described below with three-term labels.

The letter p in the English word spy represents a voiceless bilabial plosive.

The letter d in the English word dear represents a voiced alveolar plosive.

The letter k in the English word sky represents a voiceless velar plosive.

The letter ch in the English word cheap represents a voiceless palate-alveolar affricative.

The letter m in the English word mat represents a voiced bilabial nasal.

The letter n in the English word finger represents a voiced velar nasal.

The letter y in the English word yes represents a voiced palatal approximant. (Semi-vowel).

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