Lecture 6 The classification of English vowel sounds

There are two major classes of sounds traditionally distinguished by phoneticians in any language. They are termed consonants and vowels. The distinction is based mainly on auditory effect. Consonants are known to have voice and noise combined, while vowels are sounds consisting of voice only. From the articulatory point of view the difference is due to the work of speech organs. In case of vowels no obstruction is made. In case of consonants various obstructions are made. So consonants are characterized by so-called close articulation, that is by a complete, partial or intermittent blockage of the air-passage by an organ or organs. The closure is formed in such a way that the air-stream is blocked or hindered or otherwise gives rise to audible friction. As a result consonants are sounds which have noise as their indispensable and most defining characteristic.

Vowels unlike consonants are produced with no obstruction to the stream of air, so on the perception level their integral characteristic is naturally tone, not noise. The most important characteristic of the quality of these vowels is that they are acoustically stable. They are known to be entirely different from one another both articulatorily and acoustically. Different vowel sounds are produced by varying the placement of the body of the tongue and shaping the lips.
Vowels are sonorous, syllabic sounds made with vocal tract with more open than it is for consonant or glide articulation.
The quality of a vowel is known to be determined by the size, volume, and shape of the mouth resonator, which are modified by the movement of active speech organs, that is the tongue and the lips. Besides, the particular quality of a vowel can depend on a lot of other articulatory characteristics, such as the relative stability of the tongue, the position of the lips, physical duration of the segment, the force of articulation, the degree of tenseness of speech organs. So vowel quality could be thought of as a bundle of definite articulatory characteristics, which are sometimes intricately interconnected and interdependent.
The analysis of the articulatory constituents of the quality of vowels suggests the following criteria termed:


a) stability of articulation;
b) tongue position;
c) lip position;
d) character of the vowel end;
e) length;
f) tenseness.

   Stability of articulation specifies the actual position of the articulating organ in the process of the articulation of a vowel. There are two possible varieties: a) the tongue position is stable; b) it changes, that is the tongue moves from one position to another. In the first case the articulated vowel is relatively pure, in the second case a vowel consists of two clearly perceptible elements. There exists in addition a third variety, an intermediate case, when the change in the tongue position is fairly weak. So according to this principle the English vowels are subdivided into:
a) monophthongs,    b) diphthongs, c) diphthongoids.

      Diphthongs consist of two elements, the first of which, the nucleus, being strong and distinct and the second, the glide, being very weak and indistinct.
Though the interpretation we have just given is an obvious matter for Soviet phoneticians it does not mean that this way of seeing the situation is shared-by British phoneticians. A.C.Gimson, for example, distinguishes twenty vocalic phonemes, which are made of vowels and vowel glides. Seven of them are treated as short phonemes: [i], [e], [æ], [ ], [u], [⋀], [ə] and thirteen as long ones: [a:], [o:] [з:] [i:], [u:], [ei], [зu], [ai], [au], [ u], [iə], [ ə ], [uə] five of which are considered relatively pure: [a], [o:] [з:], [i:], [u:]; the rest are referred to long phonemes with different glides: [ei], [ai], [ i ] with a glide to [i]; [зu], [au] with a glide to [u]; and [iə], [uə], with a glide to [ə ].
 According to North American phoneticians, English vowels are divided into two major types – simple vowelsand diphthongs. Simple vowels do not show a noticeable change in quality during their articulation. The vowels of pit, set, cat, dog, but, put, and the first vowel of suppose are all simple vowels.
      Diphthongs are vowels that exhibit a change in a quality within a single syllable. English diphthongs show changes in quality that are due to tongue movement away from the initial vowel articulation toward a glide position. This change in vowel quality is clearly perceptible in words such as say, buy, cow,ice, lout, go and boy. The change is less easy to hear in the vowels of words like heed and lose.


Another principle of classification is the position of the tongue. The position of the tongue in the mouth cavity is characterized from two aspects that is the horizontal and vertical movement.
According to the horizontal movement, there are five classes of English vowels. They are:
1) front: [i:], [e], [ei], [a], [æ]; [εə]
2) front-retracted: [i], [i(ə)];
3) central: [⋀] [з:] [ə], [з (u)], [ε (u)];
4) back [ ], [o:], [ u:], [a:];
5) back-advanced: [u], [u(ə)].
Vertical movement of the tongue:
1) close a) narrow: [i:] [u:];
         b) broad: [i], [u], [i(ə)], [u(ə)];
2) mid a) narrow: [e], [з:], [ə], [e(i)], [з:(u)];
         b) broad: [ə], [⋀];
3) open a) narrow: [ε (ə)] [o:], [o (i)];
         b) broad: [æ], [a(i, u)], [ ], [a:]

[pen — pæn] pen — pan; [kæp — ka:p] cap — carp; [pen — pin] pen — pin; [kæp — k p] cap — cup; [bin — bi:n] bin — been; [b n — ba:n] bun — barn

Another principle of classification is lip rounding. Three lip positions are distinguished: spread, neutral and rounded. For the purpose of classification, it is sufficient to distinguish between two lip positions: rounded and unrounded, or neutral. Any back vowel is produced with rounded lips, the degree of rounding is different and depends on the height of the raised part of the tongue; the higher it is raised the more rounded the lips are. So lip rounding is a phoneme constitutive indispensable feature, because no back vowel ran exist without it.

Our next point is checkness. This quality depends on the character of the articulatory transition from a vowel to a consonant. As a result all English short vowels are checked when stressed. The degree of checkness may vary and depends on the following consonant. Before fortis voiceless consonant, it is more perceptible than before a lenis voiced consonant or sonorant. All long vowels are free.
Another articulatory characteristic of English vowels is their length or quantity. The monophthongs are divided into two varieties according to their length:
a) short vowels: [i], [e], [æ], [ ], [u], [⋀], [ə];
b) long vowels: [i:], [a:], [o:], [з:], [u:].
Vowel like any sound has physical duration — time which is required for its production (articulation). When sounds are used in connected speech, they cannot help being influenced by one another. Duration is one of the characteristics of a vowel which is modified by and depends on the following factors:
1) its own length,
2) the accent of the syllable in which it occurs,
3) phonetic context,
4) the position of the sound in a syllable,
5) the position in a rhythmic structure,
6) the position in a tone group,
7) the position in a phrase,
8) the position in an utterance,
9) the tempo of the whole utterance,
10) the type of pronunciation,
11) the style of pronunciation.

There is one more articulatory characteristic - tenseness. It characterizes the state of the organs of speech at the moment of production of a vowel. Historically long vowels are tense while historically short vowels are lax.

Lecture 7 Intonation


Phonemes, syllables and words, as lower—level linguistic units, are grouped by various prosodic means into a higher unit — the utterance. Every concrete utterance, alongside of its phonemic and syllabic structures has a certain prosodic structure, or intonation.

Intonation is a complex unity of speech melody, sentence stress, tempo, rhythm and voice timbre, which enables the speaker to express his thoughts, emotions and attitudes to­wards the contents of the utterance and the hearer.

Acoustically, intonation is a complex combination of varying fundamental frequency, intensity and duration.

Speech melody is primarily related with fundamental frequency, tempo — with duration.

On the articulatory, or production, level intonation is also a complex phe­nomenon. In the production of speech melody certain (subglottal, laryngeal and supraglottal) respiratory muscles regulate the subglottal air—pressure, which makes the vocal cords vibrate. An increase of subglottal pressure raises the pitch of the voice, and its decrease lowers the pitch.

The definition of intonation given above is a broad definition. It reflects the actual interconnection and interaction of melody, stress, tempo, rhythm and timbre in speech.

A great number of phoneticians abroad, (including D.Jones, L.Armstrong and I.Ward, K.Pike, R.Kingdon, A.Gimson, J.O'Connor and G.Arnold) define intonation as the variation of the pitch of the voice, thus reducing it to one component — speech melody. This is a narrow approach to the definition of intonation.

Thus G.Arnold writes: "When we talk about English intonation we mean the pitch patterns of spoken English, the pitch tunes or melodies, the musical features of English ".

Some foreign phoneticians give broader definitions of intonation. Thus L. Hultzen includes the variations of pitch, loudness and duration, F.Danes — the variations of pitch and intensity, D.Crystal — tone, pitch range, loudness, with rhythmicality and tempo closely related.

Alongside of the term "intonation" the term "prosody" is widely used. "Prosody" and "prosodic" denote non—segmental phenomena, i.e. those which do not enter into the system of segmental phonemes. D. Crystal defines prosodic features as "vocal effects constituted by variations along the parameters of pitch, loudness, duration and silence".

From the definition of prosody and intonation we can clearly see that both the notions include essentially the same phenomena. But the terms "in­tonation" and "prosody" are used differently by different linguists.

Some phoneticians apply the term "prosody" and "prosodic" only to the features pertaining to the syllable and phonetic word, or rhythmic unit (which are regarded as meaningless prosodic units) and oppose prosody to intonation (which is a meaningful phenomenon).

We adhere to the point of view that prosodic features pertain not only to syllables, words and rhythmic units, but to the intonation group and the utterance as well, since the latter are constituted by these units.

The notion of prosody, consequently, is broader than the notion of into­nation as it can be applied to the utterance, the word, the syllable, whereas prosody of the utterance and intonation are equivalent notions.

Whatever the views on the linguistic nature of prosodic phenomena, the phonic substance of prosody is regarded by all phoneticians as the modifications of fundamental frequency, intensity and duration. The most complicated and unsolved problems of prosody are the interaction between its acoustic properties, their functioning in speech and their systematization. R.Jakobson says that prosody is one of the most difficult and controversial problems of modern linguistic studies.

Intonation. Its functions.

Much has been said about the importance of paying due attention to intonation when studying a foreign language. The process of communication cannot be performed without intonation as it has its own functions in a sentence. These functions are:

1. The constitutive

2. The distinctive

(1) Intonation forms sentences. Each sentence consists of one or more intonation groups.

An intonation group is a word or a group of words characterized by a certain intonation pattern and is generally complete from the point of view of meaning.

E. g. You’ll come early | and stay as long as you can | won’t you ||

Sentences are separated from each other by pauses. The end of a sentence is always recognized by a long pause; the end of a non-final intonation group is usually characterized by a shorter pause.

E. g. He’s passed his exam || He is a student now || Like most old people | he was fond of talking about old days ||

(2) Intonation also serves to distinguish the communicative types of sentences, the actual meaning of a sentence, the speaker’s emotions or attitudes to the contents of the sentence, to the listener or to the topic of conversation.

E. g. He’s passed his exam ||

Low-Fall     - a statement of fact

High-Rise - a question

Low-Rise – a question with surprise

High-Fall – an exclamation

One and the same sentence pronounced with different intonation can express different emotions.

Intonation is also a powerful means of differentiating the functional styles.


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