Phonetics And The Description Of Speech Sounds English Language Essay Example


Spoken Language utilizes sets of contrasting sounds to communicate. Humans produce these sounds through articulatory organs. The articulatory organs span the area that is between your nose and your larynx. We use the trachea, the oral cavity, and the nasal cavity to produce the desired sounds. Then maneuver the tongue and lips to control the airflow. The only function of the lungs when producing sounds is to produce air that is then pushed out of the nose or mouth.

Linguists use the IPA (International Phonetic Alphabet) to transcribe languages. IPA serves as a common representational system that everyone can use to communicate pronunciation. This is useful because for some languages, like English, the alphabet and the sounds that the letters represent are inadequate to record or display all the sounds found in the natural language. IPA is used by linguists to record sounds of languages that have no official writing system. IPA can also be utilized by foreign language teachers, to help student’s pronunciation in the target language, and actors may use IPA to aid in learning a specific accent.

Sounds can be categorized into two main types: vowels and consonants. Consonants have more obstruction of airflow than vowels. Consonants are known to be voiced or voiceless. Voiced consonants involve the vibration of the vocal cords. While in voiceless consonants, vocal cords do not vibrate.

There are many categories of consonants. Consonants produced with the lips are called bilabials. Labiodental sounds come from touching your bottom lip to your upper teeth. Right above and behind the upper teeth is a small bump, which is called the alveolar ridge. Alveolar consonants are usually produced when the tip of the tongue touches or taps against the alveolar ridge. Some speakers produce alveolar consonants by touching or tapping the tip of the tongue against the back of the upper teeth. Dental consonants are produced with the tongue between or touching the back of the teeth. The next area behind the alveolar ridge is the hard palate, also known as the roof of the mouth. Consonants produced between the alveolar ridge and hard palate are known as post-alveolar. There is only one palatal consonant in English, which is the ‘y’ sound. There of course are more palatal consonants in other languages such as ‘ñ’ in Spanish.

 Consonants produced with the back of the tongue raised against the velum (or soft palate) are known as velar consonants. Uvular consonants are produced when the speaker raises the back of the tongue towards the uvula. Pharyngeal consonants are produced when the root of the tongue moves towards the rear wall of the pharynx. The last set of consonants discussed in detail are glottal. A glottal fricative is when the glottis is spread open, allowing air to freely pass through. A glottal stop is produced when the airflow is completely obstructed, then suddenly released into the oral cavity. Please note that there are three other consonants found in the world’s languages which are affricates, clicks, and implosive consonants.

An important feature of language production to note is the manner of articulation, which refers to how a sound is produced. A few examples of this are oral stops, nasal stops, trills, taps, and flaps. Also, fricatives and approximates, which don’t have complete obstruction of airflow. 

The next type of sounds to discuss are vowels, which do not form voiced versus voiceless distinctive pairs (in English) making them difficult to define. Vowel height refers to the tongue position within the mouth when making the vowel sound. High vowels are when the tongue is raised, low vowels when the tongue is lowered. They are also front vowels, back vowels, rounded vowels, mid vowels, and central vowels. Vowels that move tongue positions within the same syllable are known as diphthongs. Also, it is worth noting that not all varieties of English have the same set of vowels. ‘Accents’ in English often have differing vowels. Accents are the differences in pronunciation by native and non-native speakers.

 Languages utilize pitch to convey meaning. Pitch differences that contribute to the meaning of the word are tones. Contrastive features in any given language can include voicing, tone, place of articulation, or manner of articulation. Both similarities and differences are utilized to help to correctly convey or interpret the meaning. An example of the is a “minimal pair” which is a pair of words that only differ by one sound segment. Nuances like this contribute to the difficulty we experience in learning a new language.

The field of phonetics has articulatory phonetics (articulation of sounds), acoustic phonetics (acoustic properties of sound), and auditory phonetics (how sounds are perceived). Phoneticians collect data, design and conduct experiments, and make measurements, from which they make analyses and conclusions. Phoneticians can work in both a lab and field settings. (Word Count: 791)

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