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Classifications and

Characteristics of Speech
The English Language System
• Speech results from a complex
interaction between several
systems in the body.
• The brain, the sense of
hearing, the lungs, larynx,
vocal tract, and tongue all work
together to produce the
sounds of the English
• Understanding the process
and anatomy of speech can
assist teachers in teaching
ELL learners.
(Voice Foundation, 2006)
Anatomy of the Voice System
(Voice Foundation, 2006)
• Sounds are classified
on the basis of their
• Voicing is produced
when the larynx
muscles vibrate.
• The larynx muscles
form the vocal bands.
• This is a picture of a
normal larynx.
(Voice Foundation, 2006)
Voicing contiuned…
• Sounds can be voiced or
• Voiced sounds require
vibration of the muscles in
the larynx that form the
vocal bands.
• The space between these
bands is called the “glottis.”
• This photo shows the glottis
during normal breathing
(Voice Foundation, 2006)
Voicing Continued..
• The glottis is closed
when the vocal bands are
brought together.
• This is called “adducted.”
• This action blocks the
breath stream that builds
up below and causes the
bands to vibrate
(Edwards, 2003)
Graphic: (Voice Foundation, 2006)
Voicing continued..
• This graphic shows what
the vocal bands look like
when they are open, or
• The bands move together
like stiff rubber bands to
restrict and adjust airflow
for forming speech
(Voice Foundation, 2006)
Vowels and Voicing
• Vibratory cycles are
necessary for the vowels
and voiced consonants.
• When the glottis is
partially closed, it will
produce sounds such
as /h/.
• All the vowels are voiced
except for voiceless
vowels in whispered

(Edwards, 2003)
Physiology of Speech
• Diagram of Vocal Fold Vibration
• 1 Column of air pressure moves
upward towards vocal folds in "closed"
2, 3 Column of air pressure opens
bottom of vibrating layers of vocal
folds; body of vocal folds stays in
• 4, 5 Column of air pressure continues
to move upward, now towards the top
of vocal folds, and opens the top
• 6–10 The low pressure created behind
the fast-moving air column produces a
Bernoulli effect which causes the
bottom to close, followed by the top

• 10 Closure of the vocal folds cuts off

the air column and releases a pulse of
• (, 2006)
Consonants and Voicing
• Consonants are made up of many pairs of sounds called
• We tell them apart primarily by their voicing.
• For example, the pairs s/z, p/b, and t/d.
• The first sound is voiceless, the second is voiced.
• As a rule, the voiceless member of the pair will be
produced with more muscle tension, more airflow, and a
shorter sound duration than the second member.

(Edwards, 2003)
The Spoken Word
• “The spoken word results from three
components of voice production: voiced sound,
resonance, and articulation.”
• Voiced sound is the basic sound produced by
vocal fold vibrations.
• Often referred to as a “buzzy sound.”

(, 2004)
Place of Articulation
• A place of articulation is a
point of contact for
producing a speech
sound. It is the vocal
configuration necessary
for the production of
• There are many places of
articulation as indicated
on the left.

(Voice Foundation, 2006)

Description of Places of Articulation
• 1,2: Labial Sounds are produced
• 3: Inderdental
• 4: Dental sounds
• 5,6: Alveolar sounds
• 7, 8: Palatal sounds, Velar
• 9: Uvular sounds
• 10: Pharyngeal sounds
• 11-14: Glottal sounds
• 15: Interdental sounds
• 16-18: Labiodental sounds
(Edwards, 2003)
Graphic: Voice Foundation,
Articulation and Sound Production
• With articulation, vowels typically have
nine basic positions determined by the
placement of the tongue.
• Consonants are organized much the same
way, using the lips more than the vowels
(Edwards, 2003)
LABIAL sounds: Produced by one or both lips. They break
down into bilabial (both lips) sounds and labiodentals
(lower lip touches upper teeth).
• Labial sounds can be produced by one or both lips.
• Labial sounds are /p/, /b/, /f/, /v/, /m/, and /w/.
• When both lips are used it is called a bilabial sound.
• Examples of bilabial sounds are the /p/ and /b/ sounds.
• Examples of bilabial words are ‘mama’ and ‘papa’
• When the lower lip hits the upper teeth, the sound is a
labiodental sound. For example, the sound /v/. (Edwards, 2003)
Place of Articulation
• DENTAL sounds: When the tongue
contacts the teeth, for example: /ð/ and /θ/
• ALEVEOLARS: These sounds occur when
the tongue contacts the upper area behind
the teeth. Examples include: /r/,/t/,and /l/.
(Edwards, 2003)
Place of Articulation
• PALATALS: For these sounds, the tongue must
touch some part of the roof of the mouth. These
sounds are also broken down into various
groups depending upon the placement of the
tongue on the palate. Some examples of this
sound are: /ʧ/, /ʃ/, /ʤ/.
• VELLARS: These sounds are produced when
the tongue touches the soft palate (/k/,/g/).
(Edwards, 2003)
Place of Articulation
And, last, but not least…

• GLOTTALS: The only sound of this kind in

American English is the /h/ sound made by
narrowing the glottis by partially opening
the vocal folds to produce some friction.
(Edwards, 2003)
• The manner of articulation describes how the
tongue, lips, and other speech organs are
involved in making a sound make contact.
Manner is often used in describing the production
of consonants. (Manner of Articulation, 2006) As
indicated later on during the presentation, there
are many manners of articulation.
• This controls the flow of air and produces the
sounds we hear. (Edwards,2003)
• Once the articulators (tongue, lips, etc.) are in
place, they behave in particular ways.
Manner of Articulation and the

• The tongue plays an

important role in the
manner of articulation
and production of speech
• The type of sound and
articulation is determined
by the placement and
contact of the tongue in
the mouth.
(Voice Foundation, 2006)
Placement of the Tongue and
Sound Production (Edwards, 2003)
• The tongue can touch • The tongue can touch the
the teeth producing a roof of the mouth (hard
dentalized sound. palate).
• The tongue can touch producing a palatal sound.
Some productions of /r/
the area behind the
are palatal.
upper teeth producing
• For sounds such as /k/,
an alveolar sound.
and /g/, the tongue
(/t/, /d/, /s/, /z/, /n/, touches the soft palate and
/l/ /r/, etc.) are called Velar sounds.
Various Manners of Articulation
In Phonetics, articulation may be divided
into two large classes, obstruents and
sonorants. The following slides will
describe these and other various manners
of articulation. Again, manner of
articulation refers to how the sound is
produced. There are many manners of
Obstruents consonants are characterized
by an obstructed vocal tract, either
complete or partial. All of the consonants
except the sonorants are obstruents. To
understand obstruent sounds better,
compare the labial /b/ and /w/. The /b/
sound is a sound that completely blocks
the vocal tract while the /w/ sound does
not. (Edwards, 2003)
• When a sonorant sound is produced, the
channels through which air passes are
relatively open.
• The sonorant sounds are:
/m/, /n/, /l/, /r/, /w/, and /j/
Sonorant sounds are produced without
much extra effort on the part of the
(Edwards, 2003)
Nasals, Stridents, and Stops
• Nasal sounds are produced when sonorant
sounds are made as the passageway into the
nasal cavity is opened by the lowering of the soft
palate. Examples would be /m/ and /n/.
• Strident sounds are made by directing the
airflow against a surface such as the teeth,
producing considerable friction. Examples would
be /f/, /v/, and /s/.
• Stops are obstruent sounds made by the
complete stoppage of airflow through the vocal
tract. Examples would be /b/, /t/, and /g/.
(Edwards, 2003)
• Approximants are termed much the same way
sonorants are.
• With approximants, the articulators approach
each other, but not to the extent that turbulence
is produced.
• If the articulators are required to be completely
closed, then the sound (such as the nasal
sounds), are not approximants. Even though
they are resonated through the nose.
• The approximant sounds are: /l/, /r/, /w/, and /j/.
(Edwards, 2003)
Fricatives and Affricatives
• Fricatives are obstruent sounds produced from
a partial blockage of the breath stream. This
partial blockage results in friction or turbulence
during the sound production. Examples of
fricative sounds are: /h/, /s/, and /z/.
• Affricatives are sounds that begin as a stop,
then are released as a fricative. When this
happens, the sound released is termed an
affricative. (Edwards, 2003)
• Sibilants are often referred to as the
“hushing or hissing” sounds. The are
characterized by relatively high frequency
• Examples of sibilant sounds are: /s/,
and /z/.
Laterals and Liquids
• LATERALS: In American • LIQUIDS: These sounds
English, there exists a are produced with little to
sole lateral consonant no friction. Laterals and
produced with lateral liquids share many
airflow around one or commonalities. Often
both sides of the tongue. they are treated as the
• The /l/ is also same class of sound
characterized as a lateral production. In American
approximant. English, the sounds /r/,
(Edwards, 2003)
and /l/ are considered
liquid sounds.
• When a consonant is rapidly transitioned
to a following vowel, the sound is a glide.
When the sound is produced from a
transition between a consonant and a
preceding vowel, it is termed an ‘off glide.’
• The common glides for American English
are: /l/ and /r/.
(Edwards, 2003)
Phonetic Features Not
Distinguishing Phonemes
• To review, a phoneme is another name for a
speech sound.
• Speech sounds are most often divided into the
categories of vowels and consonants.
• Vowels are produced when the vocal tract is
basically unobstructed.
• Consonants are produced when the vocal tract
has some degree of obstruction of air flow.
(Voice Foundation, 2006)
Exceptions to the Rule of
Classifying Speech Sounds
• According to Harold Edwards, “sometimes
phoneticians need to add features to the
specification of a particular phoneme to
demonstrate a sounds change that occurs
in a particular context.”
• Sometimes in American English, consonant
sounds can also be used as vowel sounds.
(Such as the /y/ sound.) (Edwards, 2003)
Phonetic Features: Syllabic/Nonsyllabic and
• Other phonetic features that do not distinguish phonemes could be
designated as Syllabic/Nonsyllabic. For example the /l/ in bottle serves as
a vowel like consonant in the words. Even though the word has two
syllables, you do not hear a vowel in the second syllable, which is
• Two other features would be Aspiration/Nonaspiration. Aspiration would
help describe the voiceless stops in American English. During aspiration, a
strong burst of air accompanies either the release or the closure of outward
airflow. For example the /p/ sound changes in the word pot, and in the word
spot. The first is aspirated, but in combination with other consonants, the
second is nonaspirated.
• To see the difference in aspirated and nonaspirated sounds, hold your hand
in front of your mouth and say the word, “tore.” With the hand remaining in
front of the mouth, now say the word, “store.” You should feel a puff of air
with the word “tore” that you do not feel with the word “store.” The word
“tore” carried within it an aspirated sound. The /t/ sound should be the
aspirated sound.
(Edwards, 2003)
• Another feature of phonetic features that do not distinguish phonemes would be
Stress/Nonstress. For example, say the word ‘record’ with the stress sound
in the beginning of the word, and you may be identifying an object that
harbors music. Say the word ‘record’ with the stress at the end of the word,
and you are referring to taping something that is spoken or heard.
• These ways help distinguish vowels in syllables of their typical emphasis (stress)
from vowels in other contexts (nonstress)
• Stress/Nonstress features are useful in helping to distinguish vowels in syllables of
Stress (primary emphasis) from vowels in other contexts labeled Nonstress.
(Edwards, 2003)

Sound characteristics and classifications

are numerous and diverse. Phoneticians
continue to classify sounds today.
Basically, sounds are classified in broad
categories and are then narrowed into
smaller categories. They are refined and
distinctive in their properties.
For The ELL Teacher
Learning about speech
sounds and their specific
features can assist ELL
teachers in recognizing
problems that may occur
because of basic
anatomy, sound
mispronunciation, and
tongue placement in the
student. This can help
the teacher remedy the
problem or seek
additional intervention for
the student.
For The Teacher continued…
Understanding at least the general
characteristics of speech and their
developmental stages will also assist
teachers in individualizing curriculum and
seeking out additional resources for ELL
Why Should Teachers of ELL Students
Have a Basic Knowledge of Phonetics?
Most teachers in the everyday classroom can
and should understand the basics of Phonetics.
Not only for speech therapy purposes, but for
use in assisting all students in gaining
proficiency in the English language. As I have
taught ELL students, the research I have
learned about basic phonetics has helped me in
a variety of ways in an everyday classroom
setting. The following slides will describe what I
have learned about the importance of basic
phonetics for teachers.
Language is the basic building block for
communication. Differences in sound
systems have a phonological basis: they
depend upon speech organ positions and
breath control. Understanding basic
phonetics will help teachers understand
the physical aspects of speech production.
Social Acceptance
A major challenge for ELL learners is fitting in to a traditional English
classroom, especially if the student is older. To make this
adjustment easier, the teacher can assure the student that they are
producing sounds that are aesthetically pleasing to those around
him/her and are understood by native English speakers.
Bad Habits….Never Started?
It may be possible for teachers to prevent bad
speech habits from forming in ELL students. If
teachers can understand the correct sound
pronunciation, students can learn this.
Understanding this, the student and teacher can
work to avoid sound errors getting in the way of
other targets, such as easily producing words,
using words correctly, and gaining speech
Effects of Speech on Students
• ELL students in particular may
be sensitive to producing new
• ELL students may do twice as
much listening as speaking,
and learning the flow of natural
speech will assist in their
language development.
• Speaking is a key element in
communication and gives
students the skills and
confidence needed to succeed
in a classroom and in their
everyday lives.
Manner of articulation. (2006). Retrieved February 20, 2007, from

Russell, K. (2006). Phonetics-English Consonants. Retrieved February 19, 2007 from (2004). Understanding How Voice is Produced. Retrieved February

19, 2007 from

Edwards, H. T. (2003). Applied phonetics: The sounds of American English. Clifton Park,
New York: Delmar Learning.

Voice foundation. (2006). Retrieved February 20, 2007, from The Voice Foundation Web