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The Study of Speech Sounds

What is Phonetics?
Phonetics is the science of
speech sounds, which aims
to provide the set of
features or properties that
can be used to describe and
distinguish all the sounds
used in human language

Three Stages in Speech

1.The production of the
The study on how speech sounds
are produced is called Articulatory
Phonetics. Sounds are classified
according to the position of the lips
and tongue, how far open the mouth
is, whether or not the vocal cords
are vibrating, etc.

Three Stages in Speech

2. The transmission of the
The study that deals with the
transmission of speech sounds
through the air is called Acoustic
Phonetics. Various instruments are
used to measure the characteristics
of these sound waves. PRAAT is one
of the popular software to analyze
speech sounds.

Three Stages in Speech

3.The reception of message
The study on how speech sounds
are perceived by the listener is
called Auditory Phonetics. For
example, the differences in
aspiration of the phoneme /p/ in
pit and tip.

What is phonology ?

the study of the sound systems of

The study of how speech sounds form
patterns ( Fromkin, Victoria , 2011)- the
patterns could be simple as the fact that
the velar nasal cannot begin a syllable in
English, or as complex as why g is silent
in sign but is pronounced in the related
word signature.

refers both to the linguistic

knowledge that speakers have about
the sound patterns of their language
and to the description of that
knowledge that linguists try to
Phoneme a unit in the sound
system of a language

The importance of
Tells what sounds are in your lg. and which ones
are foreign
Tells what combinations of sounds could be an
actual word or otherwise. E.g. no English word
begins with the consonant sequence zbf and no
words end with the sequence aeh
Explains why certain phonetic features are
important to identify a word
Allows us to adjust our pronunciation of a
morpheme to suit the different phonological
contexts that it occurs in.

The Sound Producing

Sound is produced when air is
pumped out of our lungs (egressive
pulmonic airstream)
On the way out, air is filtered by
other mechanisms (articulators) to
produce sounds.
These mechanisms are parts of the
vocal tract: larynx, pharynx, oral
cavity, and nasal cavity etc.

The larynx: viewed from above






Articulators above the


1. Larynx
The vocal folds (vocal cords) are located
here. The opening between the folds is
called glottis. The different positions of the
vocal folds (wide, narrow, touching each
other, tightly closed) produce different kind
of sounds.
2. Pharynx
A tube which begins above the larynx. Its
top end is divided into two: the back of the
mouth and the beginning of the nasal cavity

3. Tongue
It can be moved into many different places and
different shapes.





Velum (soft palate)

In speech, it is raised so that air cannot escape
through the nose. Sounds produced in this area
are called velar.
5. Alveolar ridge
It is between the top front teeth and the hard
palate. Sounds made with the tongue touching
here are called alveolar.

6. The hard palate

Sounds made with the tongue touching
the hard palate are called palatal.
7. The teeth (upper and lower)
Sounds made with the tongue touching
the front teeth are called dental.
8. The lips (upper and lower)
They can be pressed together
(bilabial), brought into contact with the
teeth (labiodental), or rounded to
produce lip-shape for vowels like /u:/.

The International Phonetics Alphabet

Developed in 1888, the IPA is a writing
communicate with each other. It follows
an international standard, developed by
the International Phonetic Association,
which provides symbols for all of the
sounds that have been discovered in
the world languages.

The Phonemic Chart

We produce sounds or phonemes of a
language when we speak.
A phoneme is the smallest distinctive unit
in a language (Ladefoged & Johnson, 2011).
Different meanings can be derived from the
use of two different phonemes.
This can be illustrated through Minimal
Pairs (two words that differ in one
phoneme only in the same position
(Denham & Lobeck, 2010))

sip and zip
Both words are identical except for
the initial consonants /s/ and /z/.
What is the difference between the
two phonemes?
Give some other examples.

English Vowels

English Consonants

Tutorial Tasks
In pairs, list the minimal pairs that
you are aware of (at least 20)
Compare the English phonemic chart
to your mother tongue. Are they
similar, or different? How much do
they differ from each other?

Suggested readings.
Fromkin,V., Rodman,R. & Hyams,N.
(2007). An Introduction to Language.
( 8th ed.) Boston: Thomson Heinle.
Roach,P.(2001). English Phonetics
and Phonology. Cambridge:CUP