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The System of English Consonants

Before passing on to the classification of English consonants the difference between consonants and vowels should be considered. Acoustically consonants are noises, not musical tones like vowels. From the articulatory point of view the difference is due to the work of speech organs. In case of consonants various obstructions are made.

As to the classification of English consonants there are few ways of seeing the situation. One of them is the classification according to the type of obstacle. On this ground two large classes of consonants are distinguished:

1) occlusive, which are produced when a complete obstruction is formed: [t, d, p, b, k, g], [m, n, ŋ];

2) constrictive, which are produced when an incomplete obstruction is formed: [s, z, f, v, Ɵ, ð, ʃ, ʒ, h], [w, r, l, j].

Each of the 2 classes is subdivided into noise consonants (these are those in the production of which noise prevails over tone) and sonorants (in the production of which tone component prevails). Noise occlusive consonants are called stops because the air stream is completely stopped at some point of articulation and then released with an explosion, that is why they are also called plosives: [t, d, p, b, k, g]. Constrictive noise consonants are called fricatives, because the air escapes through the narrowing with friction: [s, z, f, v, Ɵ, ð, ʃ, ʒ, h].

Occlusive-constrictive consonants or affricates are noise consonants produced with a complete obstruction which is slowly released and the air stream escapes from the mouth with some friction. There are only two affricates in English: [ʧ,ʤ].

Other phoneticians suggest that the first and basic principle of classification should be thedegree of noise. So consonants are divided first into noise consonants and sonorants and then each group is divided into smaller groups.

Another very important principle is the place of articulation. According to this principle English consonants are classed into labial, lingual and glottal.

I. Labial consonants in their turn are subdivided into a) bilabial (produced when both lips are active) [w, m, p, b]; b) labio-dental (articulated with the lower lip against the edge of the upper teeth) [f, v].

II. Among the class of lingual consonants three subclasses are distinguished: a) forelingual; b) medio-lingual; c) back-lingual. Forelingual consonants are also of three kinds:

1) apical (articulated with the tip of the tongue) [t, d, s, z, Ɵ, ð, ʃ, ʒ, ʤ, ʧ, n, l].

2) dorsal (produced when the blade of the tongue is active). There are no dorsal consonants in English. In Russian these are the sounds [т, д, с, з, ш, ж, н, л].



3) cacuminal (articulated with the tip of the tongue curled back). There is only one cacuminal consonant in English - [r].

According to the place of obstruction forelingual consonants may be:

- interdental, articulated with the tip of the tongue projected between the teeth: [Ɵ, ð];

- dental, produced with the blade of the tongue against the upper teeth: the Russian [т, д, с, з, ц, л];

- alveolar, produced with the tip of the tongue against the upper teeth ridge: [t, d, s, z, n, l];

- post-alveolar, articulated with the tip or the blade of the tongue against the back part of the teeth ridge: [r];

- palato-alveolar, made with the tip or the blade of the tongue against the teeth ridge and the front part of the tongue raised towards the hard palate, thus having two places of articulation (two foci): [ʧ, ʤ, ʃ, ʒ].

b) mediolingual consonants are produced with the front part of the tongue raised high to the hard palate, so they are always palatal: [j].

c) backlingual consonants are also called velar, because they are produced with the back part of the tongue raised towards the soft palate: [k, g, ŋ].

III. The glottal consonant [h] is articulated in the glottis. There are no glottal consonants in Russian.

One more articulatory characteristic which should be mentioned is the position of the soft palate. According to this principle consonants may be oral and nasal. There are only three nasal consonants in English, which require the lowered position of the soft palate: [m, n, h]. The rest of the consonants are oral because in their production the soft palate is raised and the air escapes through the mouth.

Our next point will be made in connection with another sound property, that is voice-voiceless characteristic. When the vocal cords are brought together and vibrate we hear voice and the consonants are voiced: [b, d, g, v, z, ð, ʒ, ʤ]. When the vocal cords are apart and do not vibrate we hear only noise and the consonants are voiceless: [p, t, k, f, s, Ɵ, ʃ, ʧ]. It should be noted that the difference between such pairs as [p, b], [t, d] and so on is based not only on the absence or presence of the voice component, as voiced consonants are not fully voiced in all word positions, in word final position, for example, they are partially devoiced. There's also energy difference. All voiced consonants are weak or lenis and all voiceless consonants are strong or fortis.

Summing it up, it should be mentioned that the most important articulatory features, which could serve as a criterion for grouping consonants into functionally similar classes, are: type of obstruction; place of articulation and the active organ of speech; force of articulation.

The rest of the characteristics are considered to be irrelevant, as they are of no importance from the phonological point of view, but they provide necessary and useful information for teaching purposes. It is for this reason that they are normally included into the classification.

 

Tasks and questions:

Read on the topic “The Organs of Speech and Their Work” and answer the questions:

1. Describe the direction of the air stream released from the lings.

2. Into what groups are the speech organs divided and what is their role in sound formation?

3. How do the power, vibrator, resonator and obstructer mechanisms work?

4. What is the role of the vocal cords in the production of vowels and consonants?

5. Look at the diagram and label all active and passive speech organs you can remember and identify:

Read on the topic “The Articulatory Classifications of English Consonants and Vowels” and answer the questions:

1. What principles of the classification of English vowels are relevant? Irrelevant? Find examples to prove it.

2. What principles of the classification of English consonants are relevant? Irrelevant? Find examples to prove it.

3. What are articulatory differences between vowels, consonants and sonorants?

4. For which sound(s) are the lips rounded?

5. For which sound(s) do we need to use teeth?

6. For which sound(s) is the mouth most open? Most closed?

7. For which sound(s) can you feel your Adam’s Apple vibrate?

8. Compare the places of articulation of the following pairs of consonants: [p – b], [t – d], k – g], [t - ʧ], [d - ʤ], [n - ŋ], [v - w], [j –h].

9. Compare the places of articulation of the English [h] and the Russian [х].

10. Compare the classifications of vowels given by different phoneticians. Whose point of view do you support?

11. Compare the articulations of the following pairs of vowels from the viewpoint of their quality and quantity: [i: - ɪ], [ɒ - ɔ:], [ʌ - a:], [ʊ - u:].

12. Compare the articulations of the following pairs of vowels from the viewpoint of the vertical movements of the tongue: [ɪ - e], [ɪ- ʊ], [e - ə], [ʌ - ɒ], [u: - ɔ:].

13. Compare the articulations of the following pairs of vowels from the viewpoint of the horizontal movements of the tongue: [ɪ - ʊ], [ɜ: - ɔ:], [ɒ - ʌ], [æ - ɒ], [ɛə - ɪə].

14. In what word will the vowel be the shortest? The longest? Why?

me – mean – meat

duty – do – doom

log – lock – lolly

 

Recommended literature:

1. Соколова М.А., Гинтовт К.П. и др. Практическая фонетика английского языка - М.: Высшая школа, 1997. – 384 с.

2. Соколова М.А., Гинтовт К.П., Тихонова И.С., Тихонова Р.М. Теоретическая фонетика английского языка - М.: Высшая школа, 1997. – 384 с.

3. Шевченко Т.И. Теоретическая фонетика английского языка – М.: Высшая школа, 2006. – 191 с.

4. Roach P. English Phonetics and Phonology. - Cambridge: Cambr. Univ. Press, 1987.

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