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The system of English phonemes

1. The articulatory habits of a community.

The identical structure of the speech apparatus /æpә'reitәs/ enables people of different nationalities to produce such general types of sounds -vowels and consonants - which are found in all languages. But not a single sound of one language is absolutely identical with a similar sound of another language because of the difference in the articulatory basis of the languages.

Each language has its own articulatory habits. The articulatory habits of a community make up the basis of articulation of this language which may be defined as the sum - итог of all typical of a given language peculiarities of the positions and movements of the speech organs.

2. Articulatory peculiarities within the system of English vowels.

1. In English there are twice as many distinctly differentiated vowel sounds as in Russian. This fact presents considerable difficulties in the production and differentiation of similar qualities, such as /ס/, /: /, / /.

2. Vowels of the gliding (скольжение, промежуточный звук, глайд) quality, such as diphthongs are typical of the English articulatory basis.

3. A flat or mixed (гласные среднего ряда, среднего подъема) position of the tongue characteristic of English central vowels is a peculiar feature of the English articulatory basis. The neutral quality of such vowels in Present-day English has developed as a result of vocalization of the post-vocalic /r/. Such vowel qualities do not exist in Russian.

4. English vowels are characterized by certain articulation. They retain their full articulation, their quality and length both in stressed and unstressed positions.

5. Lip protrusion (выпячивание) does not normally occur in English speech, where as it is common in Russia.

3. Articulatory peculiarities within the system of English consonants.

1. In the system of English consonants there is no opposition between
palatalized (смягченные) and non-palatalized consonants while in Russian
there are 16 pairs of soft and hard consonant phonemes. A soft coloring is
observed in such English consonant phoneme as /1/ - clear, /t∫-ч, dз-дж, ∫-

ш, з-ж/.

2. In English voiced (звонкий) non-sonorous (произносимый без участия голоса, не сонорный) consonants retain their lenis (слабые) voiced articulation in any position in a word, including word-final position. On the other hand English voiceless non-sonorous consonants are fortis (сильные) and they remain voiceless in all positions in a word.

3. One of the characteristic features of English consonants is the apico-alveolar articulation of such forelingual consonants as /t, d, n, 1/ which are articulated by the raised front and side edges of the tongue to the alveolar ridge (хребет), the middle part of the tongue being concave (вогнутый). Corresponding Russian consonants are dorsal (дорсальный, спинной) denti-alveolar, the tongue is con'vex (выпуклый) in their production, the middle or the back part of the tongue is raised in the direction of the palate (нёбо).

4. The English cacuminal sonant /r/ is typical of the system of English consonants. In its production the front edge is raised vertically upright against the back slope of the teeth ridge forming a wide passage for the outgoing air.

5. A peculiar feature of the English basis of articulation is the production of such sounds as the bilabial sonant /w/ as well as /ŋ, θ, ð, h/, which do not occur in Russian.

4. Transcription,

The development of the English language has led to a discrepancy (несоответствие) between the pronunciation and the spelling of English words. In order to represent graphically the sounds of the language two basic types of phonetic transcription were introduced: phonemic or "linguistically broad" and allophonic or "linguistically narrow".

In a phonemic transcription each symbol denotes a phoneme as a whole. It is called "broad" because every symbol represents a great number of

allophones, the greater is the number of allophones, represented by a symbol, and the broader is the transcription. The symbols of phonemic transcription are placed between slanting (косые) lines: /wel/.

An allophonic transcription provides a special sign for each variant of each phoneme. The symbols of allophonic transcription are usually placed between square brackets.

5. Phonetic description of speech sounds.

To describe and classify speech sounds it is important to formulate a method of description and classification of the sound types which occur in English speech. Since the description of the sounds of a language has been commonly used in the teaching of the language to foreigners the emphasis was on the articulatory or physiological aspect. Speech sounds are looked upon as basic meaningful linguistic units, performing distinctive functions in speech. These smallest contrastive units of the phonetic system, which help to recognize and distinguish words of the language, are called phonemes.

Different realizations of a phoneme are known as its allophones.

It is possible to establish the phonemes of a language by means of a process of communication or the discovery of minimal pairs, pairs of words which are different in respect of only one sound. For instance, in the series of words "pin, bin, tin, sin, win" which are distinguished by a change in the first consonantal element of the sound sequence.

6. The total number of English phonemes.

The English language has undergone very striking changes, which have affected every aspect of the language. The pronunciation of the language is also a subject to a continuous and inevitable process of change which influences both qualitative and quantitative features of speech sounds. As a result of such changes some phonemes may even disappear others come into existence. This process accounts for the appearance of the so called facultative phoneme in words spelt by "wh"- "which", "where" and /оә/ in words spelt by some vowel+ "r" - "roar" (рык /го:/).

They are phonemes because they may distinguish words in such minimal pairs as "which" - "witch", "roar" - /гоә/, "raw" - /ro:/.

It is possible to abstract 24 distinctive units which are consonantal both in their function and also in their articulation.

Vowel sounds have a distinctive syllabic function in English. Their qualitative distinctive features and their articulation enable us to single out 20 vowel phonemes.

These two groups give a total number of 44 phonemes.

7. The articulatory aspect of English consonants.

Among 24 consonants of English language there are 17 non-sonorous consonants and 7 sonorous (с участием голоса) consonants. All English voiceless non-sonorous consonants are characterized by a relatively strong muscular tension involved in the articulation - that is there are fortis (сильные). Those English consonants which are usually voiced are articulated with relatively weak muscular tension - that is they are lenis.


Sonorous consonants have no fortis/lenis or voiced/voiceless oppositions, they are always voiced, that is they are sounds of musical tone. The admixture (примесь) of noise is very weak in their production because of wide passages for the outgoing air so that in sonorous consonants tone prevails over nose. For this reason they are generally considered to be sounds intermediate in character between consonants and vowels, while the sounds /w,j/ are even called semi-vowels. But they are included into the consonantal category as having the functional status of consonants.

The plosive (взрывной) phonemes fall into three contrastive groups as far as the place of articulation is concerned, bilabial /p, b/, apico-alveolar /t, d/ and back lingual velar /vi:lә/ (задненёбные велярные) /к, g/. Voiceless /p, t, k/ are fortis, they are also pronounced with a greater force of expiration (выдох). Voiced /b, d, g/ are lenis. They are fully voiced during the central stage of their articulation in positions between voiced sounds. In final positions they remain lenis, but the vibration of the vocal cords may stop before the obstruction (помеха, затруднение произношения) is removed as a voiced off-glide /ә/ after /b, d, g/ is absolutely unusual in English speech.

Occlusive (закрытые) nasal sonorous (звонкие) consonants resemble oral plosives in that a complete closure (смыкание) is made within the mouth cavity but they differ from in that a soft palate in its lowered position, thus adding a nasal resonator. As no audible friction (шум, трение) is produced in their articulation nasal sonorous consonants resemble vowel type sounds.

There nasal phonemes correspond to the three oral plosive areas of articulation: bilabial /m/, apico-alveolar /n/ and back lingual velar /ŋ/.

The nasal sonorous consonants readily perform the syllabic function of vowels: most often apico-alveolar /n/, e. g. "button" /b٨tn/, less commonly /m/, e. g. "rhythm" /riðm/, occasionally /ŋ/, e. g. "bacon" /beikŋ/.

Constrictive (сужающиеся) fricative (фрикативные) consonants is the largest group in the system of English consonants. For example, the voiceless phoneme /h/ which is articulated in the larynx (гортань) outside the mouth cavity.

There are many moot (спорных) points in the system of English phonemes. One of them is the definition of the /h/ - consonant. Most British and American phoneticians, such as Jones and Gimson as well as Prof. Trakhterov consider the phoneme /h/ to be glottal (образованная в голосовой щели).

It is regarded as a strong, voiceless onset (начало) of the vowel. The outgoing air produces some friction (трение) passing through the slightly contracted vocal cords which are ready for vibration.

Shcherba and most Russian phoneticians classify this sound as a "lower-pharyn'geal (глоточный) consonant" but this articulation of the /h/ phoneme may lead to a change in the tongue position for the following vowel.

Fore lingual fricatives /∫,з/ are bicentral phonemes, the primary apicc-alveolar articulation is accompanied by a secondary place of articulation. The

middle part of the tongue is raised to the hard palate forming a narrow resonator thus adding a shade of palatalized quality to the sounds.

Unicentral /θ, ð/ and /s, z/ differ by the place of production within the mouth cavity and by the shape of narrowing: flat in /θ, ð/ and rounded in /s, z/. Labio-dental /f, v/ are characterized by a fortis articulation of /f/ and by lenis articulation of /v/.

Another classificatory 'controversy (спор) is the classification of constrictive sonorous consonants /w, r, 1, j/. They are placed in three different subgroups by many English and American phoneticians, such as Gimson, Jones: /w, j/ in the subgroup of semi-vowels, /1/ among laterals (горизонтальные), /г/ among frictionless continuants (фрикативный согласный звук). The consonants /1, r/ are sometimes called liquids (плавные звуки).

This classification is inconsistent from classificatory point of view, because consonants which have some features in common should belong to one type. Similar articulatory characteristics enable us to group /w, r, 1, j/ together in the subgroup of frictionless continuants or constrictive sonorous consonants.

The English constrictive medial sonant /w, r, j/ which may be called glides are characterized by a considerable amount of musical tone increasing by the end of the sonant.

The medial bicentral sonants /w, r/ are produced with an additional back lingual velar obstruction (помеха, препятствие) which gives an acoustic effect of velarisation (задненебное произношение).

The medial sonant /j/ is Unicentral.

The lateral phoneme /1 / occurs in speech in three main allophones:

1. clear [1] with an additional narrowing formed by the raised middle part of the tongue which gives an acoustic impression of palatalisation -before vowels and /j/, e. g. "lip", "yellow".

2. dark [ ł ] with an additional narrowing formed by the raised back part of the tongue which gives an acoustic effect of palatalisation in word final positions and before a consonant, e. g. "little".

3. Partially devoiced [1] following voiceless non-sonorous consonants mostly /p, k/ and /t/, e. g. "play", "clean".

The first two allophones of the lateral sonant may be syllabic and function as vowels in a word, e. g. "apple".

A shade of palatalisation is observed in such English consonants as / з, ∫, t∫, dз / and clear / 1 /.

8. The articulatory aspect of English vowels.

There are traditional relationships between short and long vowels in English.

20 vowel phonemes which constitute the system of English vowels fall into 12 monophthongs and 8 diphthongs. The monophthongs are traditionally divided into long and short: 5 vowels / i:, а:, о:, u:, з: / are historically long and 7 vowels /1, e, æ, ס,٨, υ, ә / are historically short. However in speech both


long and sort vowels may be equally long. Only in the case of / ә - з: / can there be said to exist an opposition solely of length and even in this case it has to be stated that / ә / occurs only in unstressed syllables whereas /з: / can occur in stressed syllables.

The phoneme /æ/ is not included into the category of short vowels because of the special length associated with it. It appears to be lengthened in RP, especially before lenis consonants. On the other hand short vowels /٨, I/ tend (склонны) to retain their historical brevity (краткость).

The vowels /i: / and /u: / are diphthongized in RP. Their articulation is accompanied by the narrowing of the mouth resonator.

The characteristic feature of English rounded vowels is their flat lip rounding. All English rounded vowels differ by the size of the orifice (устье). There may be close lip rounding with the smallest orifice as in /υ/, open lip rounding with the widest orifice as in /ס/, and medium lip rounding as in /o:/.

The sequences of vocalic elements included under the term "diphthong" are those which form a glide from one quality to another within one syllable. They have the first element (the starting point) and the second element (the point in the direction of which the glide is made).

Most of length and stress associated with the diphthong is concentrated in the 1th element which is syllabic, the 2nd element being only lightly sounded. Diphthongs of this type are said to be "falling". All English diphthongs are referred to this type except [Iә] and [υә].

Lecture #3

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