Confusing Linguistic Terminology: English

  When I started learning languages (being British) I had never heard so much as a single mention of IPA or other such linguistic terminology like Place/Manner of Articulation in my language classes. Figuring that there might be a lot of you out there in the same position as I was, I thought I’d do a simple guide to these words and what they mean on our blog.

I’ll start by looking at the linguistic terminology needed for English, however we’ll be making this a little weekly series on here, in which we will eventually cover all the languages we study/have an interest in so that we can make our posts a little more in-depth and interesting. These posts will be a lot more concise in the future, as the basic underlying principles of articulation (such as what a passive/active articulator are and what labial means) will already have been covered here.

 So, what is Place/Point of Articulation?

Well it’s one thing for vowels and one thing for consonants, so let’s focus on point of articulation for consonants on this post. In order to make sound Manner of Articulation and Voicing is also required, however let’s take this in steps.
640px-Places_of_articulation  The Place of Articulation for consonants is in the “vocal tract” (anywhere between your lips, H and your vocal folds, A).
This is where an obstruction occurs to stop air flowing in a particular way, for example when your lips come together when you say “m” or your tongue touches the roof of your mouth when saying “t”.

In place of articulation there are two parts to making a sound. The first is a passive articulator and the second is an active articulator. The passive articulator doesn’t move when the sound is created, the active articulator does.
For example, when you say “m”, your bottom lip is the active articulator and your top lip is the passive articulator.
Another example is, when saying “v”, your bottom lip is the active articulator and your teeth are the passive articulator.

In English there are 8 Places of Articulation.
These are: Bilabial

This all sounds kind of boring and over-complicated but bear with me, it’s a lot less complex than it sounds and actually pretty quick to explain. Also I would suggest that you say these sounds as I describe them, just so you can get a feel for what I mean.

1) Bilabial
So bilabial consonants are made by both of your lips coming together (located at H on the diagram).
These sounds are:
[p] (as in poo)
[b] (as in blob)
[m] (as in Mum)

2) Labiodental
These consonants are created by bringing your bottom lip up to your teeth to block air flow.
There sounds are:
[f] (as in fornication)
[v] (as in velociraptir)

3) Dental
Dental consonants occur when you place the tip of your tongue against your top teeth.
These sounds are (disappointingly boring word choices):
[θ] (as in thick)
[ð] (as in the)

4) Alveolar
These sounds happen when your tongue touches that ridge just behind your top row of teeth, called the alveolar ridge (F on the diagram).
These sounds are:
[n] (as in nibble)
[t] (as in troll)
[d] (as in dongle)
[s] (as in swivel)
[z] (as in zig-zag)
[ɫ] & [l] (as in floccinaucinihilipilification)

5) Post-Alveolar
These consonants are created when your tongue connects with the point just behind the alveolar ridge.
These sounds are:
[ʃ] (as in ship)
[ʒ] (as in precision)
[tʃ] (as in batch)
[dʒ] (as in fudge)

6) Palatal
Palatal Consonants are made when your tongue touches the roof of your mouth (shown at E on the diagram).
The only such sound in English is:
[j] (as in yo-yo)

7) Velar
Velar consonants occur when you raise the back of the tongue to meet the “velum” (or “soft palate” at the back of your throat, shown at D on the diagram).
These sounds are:
[ŋ] (as in fling)
[k] (as in king)
[g] (as in giggle)
[w] (as in wiggle)

8) Glottal
Glottal consonants are created when you close a sort of “lid” at the top of your windpipe, right at the back of your throat (shown at A on the diagram). The best way to understand where this is, is to hold your breath without closing your mouth. The part you’ll be closing is your glottis.
These sounds are:
[h] (as in Bahamas)
[?] (this is a glottal stop used, for example, if you were to drop the “t” in water)

So, this is what Place of Articulation is when talking about consonants in English. In the next post I will  be covering manner of articulation, which should be up by next Sunday 🙂


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