Articulatory Phonetics
 
 
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Articulatory Phonetics

For starters: Phonetics vs. phonology - which is which?

Since this course, despite its rather fancy name "How to Handle Speech," is in fact an introduction to phonetics and phonology, it might be a reasonable first step to sketch out at least the basic features of how phonetics and phonology differ from each other.

While phonetics deals with how speech sounds are actually produced, transmitted, and received in actual spoken language, phonology deals specifically with the ways those sounds are organized into the individual languages, hence dealing with abstractions on a virtual basis.

In an attempt to make this definition a little more accessible, you might dare to say that phonology deals with what is in a speaker's head (knowledge about the sounds of language), while phonetics focuses on what actually comes out of the speaker's head and mouth (concrete production of sounds). (Please keep in mind that this is by no means a proper definition of either of the two terms; this is merely meant to be a memory hook!)

Here see two useful defninitions for phonetics and phonology:

"Phonetics first of all divides, or segments, concrete utterances into individual speech sounds. It is therefore exclusively concernded with parole or performance. Phonetics can then be divided into three distinct phases : (1) articulatory phonetics, (2) acoustic phonetics, and (3) auditory phonetics" (Skandera & Burleigh, 2005:3).

"Phonology deals with the speakers' knowledge of the sound system of a language. It is therefore exclusively concerned with langue or competence. [...] Phonology can be divided into two branches: (1) segmental phonology and (2) suprasegmental phonology" (Skandera & Burleigh, 2005:5).

As an example of how the views of phonetics and phonology differ from each other, consider how each of these two sciences approach the definition of a "consonant":

  • "From a phonetic point of view, [consonants] are articulated in one of two ways: either there is a closing movement of one of the vocal organs, forming such a narrow constriction that it is possible to hear the sound of the air passing through; or the closing movement is complete, giving a total blockage. The closing movement may involve lips, tongue, or throat." (Crystal 2003)
  • "From a phonological point of view, they are units of the sound system which typically occupy the edges of a syllable (the margins). They may also appear in sequences (clusters). In fact, up to three consonants may be used together at the beginning of a spoken word in English (as in string), and up to four consonants at the end, though not always very comfortably (as in twelfths [...])." (ibid)

Phonetics is further divided into three main branches, corresponding to these three distinctions:

  • articulatory phonetics: is the study of the way the vocal organs are used to produce speech sounds,
  • acoustic phonetics: is the study of the physical properties of speech sounds,
  • auditory phonetics: is the study of the way people perceive speech sounds.

Organs of speech - complete chart of terms and examples

Today's topic: Articulatory phonetics

Articulatory phonetics is the branch of phonetics which studies the organs of speech and their use in producing speech sounds.

Organs of speech

The term organs of speech refers to those parts of the human body which are concerned in various ways with the production of speech. A lot of them are only secondarily concerned with the production of speech – their primary functions have to do with eating, chewing, and swallowing food, and respiration. Those parts of the body below (not the lungs) belong to the vocal tract. The vocal tract is divided into the supraglottal and the subglottal tract.

  • lips
  • teeth
  • nasal cavity
  • tongue
  • hard palate
  • soft palate
  • pharynx
  • larynx
  • vocal folds/cords
  • trachea
  • lungs
  • uvula
  • diaphragm
  • jaw bone

A diagram of the organs of speech as well as places of articulation can be found here.

By the way: A nice clickable graphic for further illustration of the articulatory anatomy can be found on Phonetics: The Sounds of English, Spanish and German.

Task: Please make a table with three columns. Write the German expressions in the first column, the English expressions in the second column and the Latin-English expressions in the third column. Also please make sure you know the names of all the organs and parts of organs and their function in the production of speech. You can used the following template for this purpose.

Solution:
(table bringing together the German expressions, the English expressions, the Latin-English expressions, as well as sound examples for each organ of speech)

 

By the way: A nice clickable graphic for further illustration of the articulatory anatomy can be found on Phonetics: The Sounds of English and Spanish.

Airstream and phonation

In order to speak you need air. This airflow can be produced at different places and it can go in to directions - outwards, i.e. egressive, or inwards, i.e. ingressive. In English, as in many other languages, the sounds are produced with air moving out of the lungs. But how do we actually manage to produce sounds? It all starts in our larynx or the voice box:

(Image source: http://hyperphysics.phy-astr.gsu.edu/hbase/music/voice.html)

  1. vocal folds are being drawn together fairly tightly;
  2. air pressure builds up from below and forces the vocal folds apart;
  3. sudden release of the vocal folds reduces the pressure and the vocal folds are pulled back together (Bernoulli effect);
  4. pressure builds up again and the cycle repeats itself (many times per second).

The whole process of the vocal folds closing and opening is called phonation (for a detailed and animated illustration of how phonation works, check the phonetics websites of the Uni Bremen). The pitch (frequency) of the speech sound perceived depends on the muscle tension of the vocal cords. Still, the air flowing through the vocal folds are not as such speech sounds we can "understand." In order to identify speech sounds we have to use our oral cavity.

Task:Try and speak while you are exhaling and then try and speak while you are taking in air!

In the oral cavity the air flow is shaped in to identifiable speech sounds. The cavity can be opened and closed and its shape can be manipulated. There are active and passive articulators. The active articulators are those that you can willingly move (e.g. tongue, lower jaw, lips) and the passive articulators are those that you cannot willingly move (e.g. hard palate).

Phonation modes

Let us look in more detail at phonation first. Phonation describes whether a sound is voiceless or voiced or, more generally, it describes all the means by which the larynx functions as a source of sound. Phonation really is the single most important function of the larynx as a sound source. There are basically six modes of phonation.

 

Mode Description
voiceless absence of any vocal fold vibration
vocal folds far enough apart to allow a laminar (= non-turbulent) airflow through the glottis
voiced normal vocal fold vibration occuring along most or all of the length of the glottis
aspiration glottis is open (cf. voicelessness), but moves towards closure of larynx
closing movement causes aspirated sound
whisper greater constriction of the vocal folds than with voicelessness
narrowed glottal airflow path
significant turbulence at the glottis
breathy voice normal vocal fold vibration accompanied by some continuous turbulent airflow ("air leakage") which occurs when glottal closure during the vibratory circle is not complete
creaky voice low frequency vibration of the vocal folds, folds open for a very short time and often quite irregularly

(Sound source: http://www.ims.uni-stuttgart.de/phonetik/EGG/page10.htm.)

Phonation modes - which one is which?

Task A: Can you (according to the features above) describe how the following phonation mode is created?

Task B: Take a guess at which illustration fits the four phonation modes:

  • voiced articulation,
  • voiceless articulation,
  • breathy voice,
  • creaky voice.

 

 

Airstream and phonation

In order to speak you need air. This airflow can be produced at different places and it can go in to directions - outwards, i.e. egressive, or inwards, i.e. ingressive.
In English, as in many other languages, the sounds are produced with air moving out of the lungs. But how do we actually manage to produce sounds? It all starts in our larynx or the voice box:

  1. vocal folds are being drawn together fairly tightly;
  2. air pressure builds up from below and forces the vocal folds apart;
  3. sudden release of the vocal folds reduces the pressure and the vocal folds are pulled back together (Bernoulli effect);
  4. pressure builds up again and the cycle repeats itself (many times per second).

The whole process of the vocal folds closing and opening is called phonation. The pitch (frequency) of the speech sound perceived depends on the muscle tension of the vocal cords. Still, the air flowing through the vocal folds are not as such speech sounds we can “understand.” In order to identify speech sounds we have to use our oral cavity.

Task:Try and speak while you are exhaling and then try and speak while you are taking in air!

In the oral cavity the air flow is shaped in to identifiable speech sounds. The cavity can be opened and closed and its shape can be manipulated. There are active and passive articulators. The active articulators are those that you can willingly move (e.g. tongue, lower jaw, lips) and the passive articulators are those that you cannot willingly move (e.g. hard palate).

Task: Exhale and manipulate the shape of your oral cavity. Don'’t necessarily try to produce “real” sounds but play around a little using different shapes.

Random note:

  • whisper:
    • not part of any normal set of sounds in all the languages studied so far
    • particularly interesting wrt voiced sounds, but of course all other sounds can be whispered as well
  • creaky voice (laryngealization):
    • very low vibration frequency (between 90 and 40 Hz) - can usually be felt when touching one's adam's apple (try it!!)
    • can be a feature of a person's regular voice

For a more detailed discussion of phonation modes, read Clark and Yallop pp. 19-22.

:::Think::: How come men tend to have a deeper voice than women and children?

For a more detailed discussion of phonation modes, read Chapter 4 on "Voicing and consonants" in Roach's (1983) English Phonetics and Phonology!.

Places of articulation

The place of articulation defines both the area of the oral-pharyngeal vocal tract where the constriction is made and the part of the tongue used to form the constriction. This gives us the following places of articulation:

  • bilabial
  • labial
  • dental (apico-dental; lamino-dental)
  • alveolar (apico-alveolar; lamino-alveolar; lamino-postalveolar; sublaminopostalveolar)
  • palatal (apico-palatal; lamino-palatal)
  • velar
  • uvular
  • pharyngeal
  • glottal

Task:Which of these places of articulation do you think are used in English (German)?

Click here to see a cartoon on the articulation of both voiced and voiceless apico-alveolar fricatives. Sounds complicated?? You're going to enjoy this, I promise!

Manners of articulation

Clark and Yallop use two features to describe the manner of articulation of consonants: constriction and articulation. The degree of constriction decreases from total closure via partial constriction to a fully open vowel like manner. Articulation divides into dynamic and stable. Altogether, there are seven recognized manners of articulation: stop, fricative, approximant, nasal, flap, tap and trill.

The manners of articulation are described as follows:

Manner Description
Stop formation and rapid release of a complete closure at any point in the vocal tract from the glottis to the lips, dynamic articulation (e.g. egressive pulmonic stops: plosives)
Fricative potentially stable articulation produced by a constriction in the vocal tract that is narrow enough to create a turbulent airflow
Approximant potentially stable articulation in which the constriction is normally greater than in a vowel but not great enough to produce turbulence at the point of constriction
Nasal stoppage at some point in the oral cavity, velum is lowered to allow airflow through the nasal cavity, stable articulation
Tap dynamic articulation where there is a brief occlusion in the vocal tract, a single deliberate movement to create a closure, equivalent to a very short stop
Flap dynamic articulation where there is a brief occlusion in the vocal tract, one articulator strikes the other in passing not so much to create a brief closure but more as the incidental effect of the articulatory gesture
Trill a dynamic articulation produced by the vibration of any articulator, a series of vibrations

Task: Try and produce two sounds that you have never produced before! Teach them to your neighbor and practice those sounds together.

 

 


Vivian Gramley, last modified April 2010