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THEORY: Articulatory phonetics (was Re: THEORY: unergative)

From:Herman Miller <hmiller@...>
Date:Sunday, February 22, 2004, 19:32
Trebor Jung wrote:
> Merhaba! > > This doesn't have much to do with ergativity or whatever, but since Philippe > is asking about some things he doesn't understand, I'd like to ask about > X-Sampa: Could anyone teach it to me? It's so confusing! And the IPA sound > files won't help, because (1) they'd all sound the same (esp. the vowels; > Etak said this, and I'm sure I'll have the same problem) and (2) I wouldn't > know how they're written in X-Sampa anyway or what to call 'em. > > --Trebor >
Linguists describe speech sounds by identifying how the sound is produced in the mouth, throat, and nose. Don't worry if you can't figure out the whole chart all at once; there are whole books written about the subject. But here's a brief overview to get you started. It would be helpful to have a copy of the chart to look at: There are different categories of sounds and different points of articulation. Stops, or plosives, are produced by a complete blockage of the air stream in the mouth; the English "t", "d", "k", and so on are examples of stops. The passage to the nose is blocked off at the back of the mouth by the velum (part of the soft palate). Nasals (sometimes called nasal stops) are similar except the passage to the nose is open, and the air stream exits through the nose. The English sounds "m", "n", and "ng" are nasals. Trills are produced by rapid vibrations of the tongue, uvula, or lips; Spanish "rr" is an example. Taps or flaps are like very rapidly articulated stops, like the "tt" in a typical American pronunciation of "butter". Fricatives are noisy sounds produced by putting the speech organs in close proximity without touching. There are different kinds of fricatives; "hissing" sounds like English "s" are described as sibilants. Lateral fricatives are produced by stopping the airflow only in the middle and allowing it to escape through one or both sides. Welsh "ll" is an example of a lateral fricative. Approximants are sounds produced by putting the articulators in close proximity without getting close enough to produce a fricative; English "y" is an example. Some approximants are called "semi-vowels" since they tend to sound like briefly pronounced vowels. Lateral approximants are like the most typical varieties of English "l" (although some dialects have something that sounds more like a velar approximant); the center of the tongue touches the top of the mouth and air escapes around the side of the tongue without being close enough to produce a fricative sound. Now on to the points of articulation. This category describes which speech organs are in contact, or close contact, in producing a sound. Bilabial sounds are produced by putting the two lips together, as in English "m", "b", or "p". Labiodental sounds are produced by putting the lower lip in contact with the upper front teeth, as in English "f" or "v". Dental, alveolar, and postalveolar sounds involve the tip or very front part of the tongue in contact with the teeth, the "alveolar ridge" just behind the teeth, or the part of the mouth just back of the alveolar ridge. Retroflex sounds are produced by curling the tip of the tongue back and touching it to the roof of the mouth. Palatal sounds involve contact of the middle part of the tongue with the hard palate. Velar sounds involve contact of the back part of the tongue with the soft palate, like English "k" or "g". Uvular sounds are like velar sounds, but farther back. Pharyngeal sounds are produced by making a constriction in the throat. Glottal sounds are produced by stopping or restricting the flow of air in the glottis, where the vocal cords are. For many of these sounds it helps to be familiar with the sounds of a variety of languages. You can get language learning tapes (and CDs now) for languages like Hindi or Tamil (which will help with the retroflex sounds), Arabic (pharyngeal fricatives), Greek (palatal fricatives), and so on. For vowels, it would be useful to listen to German, Korean, Swedish, Thai, Vietnamese, ... the list goes on. Basically, listen to as many languages as you can find samples of. Every language has its own sounds, and even something as basic as "t" is pronounced differently from one language to another. So far the symbols have all represented "pulmonic" sounds, produced by air from the lungs. The consonants in the "non-pulmonic" part of the chart are produced by different airstream mechanisms. Clicks involve making a stop in the back part of the mouth (either velar or uvular) and using the tongue to suck air inwards. Implosives and ejectives are produced by closing the glottis and moving the larynx down or up to control the air flow. These are all sounds that require a bit of practice to be able to produce if they aren't in your native language. Now the vowels. "Close", "mid", and "open" (or alternatively, "high", "mid", "low") refer to the closeness of the tongue in the mouth when producing the vowel sound. "High" or "close" sounds, like "ee" and "oo" in English, are produced with only a small gap between the tongue and the roof of the mouth, while "low" or "open" sounds have the tongue as far down as it will go. "Front", "central", and "back" refer to the position of the highest part of the tongue in the mouth. For each pair of vowels on the chart, the left one is unrounded (produced without any rounding of the lips) and the right one is rounded. English vowels are especially variable from one dialect to another, so English equivalents are essentially useless here. German vowels are pretty close to some of the main vowels on the chart; here's some German examples from the IPA handbook: /i/ bieten "to offer" /I/ bitten "to request /e/ beten "to pray" /E/ Betten "beds" /y/ hüten "to guard" /Y/ Hütten "huts" /2/ Goethe (name) /9/ Götter "gods" /a/ hatten "had" (1 pl.) /u/ sputen "to hurry" /U/ Butter "butter" /o/ boten "offered" (1 pl.) /O/ Botten "clogs" Then you start getting into the miscellaneous symbols that didn't fit anywhere else on the main charts. /W/ is like "wh" in some dialects of English that still distinguish it from "w". /w/ is like English "w". /H/ is like French "u" in "nuit". The epiglottal sounds are similar to the pharyngeal sounds, but produced with the epiglottis, which is the thing above your larynx that closes off the air passage while you swallow. Alveolo-palatal fricatives are part-way between alveolar and palatal sounds; Polish "si" and "zi" are examples. A lateral flap would be a very rapidly articulated lateral sound. /x\/ is a sound that occurs in some Swedish dialects. Then there's all the suprasegmentals and diacritics. These describe finer levels of detail, and some of them are more frequently used than others. I still haven't figured out just how to produce the distinction between "advanced tongue root" and "retracted tongue root" sounds. But this is getting to be a lengthy post as it is, so I'll get back to these later.


Benct Philip Jonsson <bpj@...>