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Types of allophones and the main features of the phoneme

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Vowel features are described by the height of the tongue in the Glossary Link oral cavity (high, mid, low), the part of the tongue (front, central, back), the position of the root of the tongue (tense/lax; also referred to as advanced tongue root/ATR and retracted tongue root/RTR), and the position of the lips (+/- round).


When describing a vowel, list the features in these orders.


Height, part of the tongue, tense/lax, [+/- round]


For example, [a] would be identified as low, back, tense, [-round]. [U] would be identified as high, back, lax, and [+round].


Many features are binary in their distribution. This means if a phoneme bears one feature such as [+voice], it cannot bear the other [-voice]. High and mid back vowels in English are always [+round] and front vowels are always are always [-round]. A binary classification is also possible when there are more than two distinctions, one of which is more salient. Vowel height can be categorized by [-/+low] since high and low vowels are more common in most languages than mid. Thus [high, mid] are classified as [-low].


Features for consonants include:

Voicing occurs when the vocal chords come into contact with each other.


Aspiration can be described as a release of a small burst of air.


Nasality which occurs when air passes through the nasal cavity during production of the phoneme


Continuants are sounds produced by Glossary Link constant airflow through the oral cavity (mouth).


Consonantal phonemes include any sound which is not considered a vowel.


Sonorants are phonemes which have no obstruction of airflow and produce constant voicing. These phonemes include vowels, nasals, liquids, and glides.


Obstruent phonemes are produced with some sort of obstruction of airflow.


Syllabics are defined by their ability to stand alone as a Glossary Link syllable. In English these include vowels, liquids, and nasals.


Labials are produced with one or both lips, such as [v] or [m].


Alveolar sounds are articulated by the tongue against or near the Glossary Link alveolar ridge (directly behind the upper teeth.)


Palatals are formed when the tongue is near or touching the hard palate.


Anterior sounds are formed at the Glossary Link anterior ridge or forward (teeth and lips).


Posterior sounds are formed at behind the anterior ridge and back (hard palate, Glossary Link velum, glottis, Glossary Link uvula).


Velars are produced with the tongue near or touching the velum or soft palate.


Coronals are articulated between the alveolar ridge and the hard palate.


Sibilants are characterized by the production of noise or air escaping the oral cavity.


High – when the tongue is high in the oral cavity


Mid - when the tongue is positioned towards the middle of the oral cavity


Low - when the tongue is low in the oral cavity


Front – when describing the position of the tip or blade of the tongue


Center - when describing the middle section of the tongue


Back - when describing the back of the tongue


+ Round/- round – referring to the position of the lips


Tense/lax – These terms are often used interchangeably with ATR/RTR, however this distinction involves more than simply the root of the tongue. Tenseness can be more generally distributed throughout the oral cavity as well as in a greater area of the tongue.


ATR/RTR (advanced and retracted tongue root) – when the base of the tongue is forward, lowering the Glossary Link larynx, or retracting the base of the tongue.


Let us consider the English phoneme [d]. It is occlusive, forelingual, apical, alveolar, lenis consonant. This is how it sounds in isolation or in such words as door, darn, down, etc, when it retains its typical articulatory characteristics. In this case the consonant [d] is called principal allophone. The allophones which do not undergo any distinguishable changes in speech are called principal.

Allophones that occur under influence of the neighboring sounds in different phonetic situations are called subsidiary, e.g.:

a. deal, did - it is slightly palatalized before front vowels

b. bad pain, bedtime - it is pronounced without any plosion

с. sudden, admit - it is pronounced with nasal plosion before [n], [m]

d. dry - it becomes post-alveolar followed by [r].

If we consider the production of the allophones of the phoneme above we will find out that they possess three articulatory features in common - all of them are forelingual lenis stops. Consequently, though allophones of the same phoneme possess similar articulatory features they may frequently show considerable phonetic differences.

Native speakers do not observe the difference between the allophones of the same phoneme. At the same time they realize that allophones of each phoneme possess a bundle of distinctive features that makes this phoneme functionally different from all other phonemes of the language. This functionally relevant bundle is called the invariant of the phoneme. All the allophones of the phoneme [d] instance, are occlusive, forelingual, lenis. If occlusive articulation is changed for constrictive one [d] will be replaced by [z]: e. g. breed - breeze, deal — zeal, thearticulatory features which form the invariant of the phoneme are called distinctive or relevant.

To extract relevant features of the phoneme we have to oppose it to some other phoneme in the phonetic context.

If the opposed sounds differ in one articulatory feature and this difference brings about changes in the meaning this feature is called relevant: for example, port — court, [p] and [k] are consonants, occlusive, fortis; the only difference being that [p] is labial and [t] is lingual.

The articulatory features which do not serve to distinguish meaning are called non-distinctive, irrelevant or redundant. For example, it is impossible to oppose an aspirated [ph] to a non-aspirated one in the same phonetic context to distinguish meaning.

We know that anyone who studies a foreign language makes mistakes in the articulation of sounds. L.V. Shcherba classifies the pronunciation errors as phonological and phonetic. If an allophone is replaced by an allophone of a different phoneme the mistake is called phonological. If an allophone of the phoneme is replaced by another allophone of the same phoneme the mistake is called phonetic.


14) 14. Types of phonetic transcription.

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