VOWEL SOUNDS A) STRUCTURAL / TRADITIONAL CLASSIFICATION OF FEATURES OF PRONUNCIATION SUPRASEGMENTAL FEATURES HEIGHT TONGUE MONOPHTHONG OPEN

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1 VOWEL SOUNDS A) STRUCTURAL / TRADITIONAL CLASSIFICATION OF FEATURES OF PRONUNCIATION SUPRASEGMENTAL FEATURES PITCH RHYTHM INTONATION CONSONANTS SEGMENTAL FEATURES CLOSE HEIGHT TONGUE HALF CLOSE HALF OPEN MONOPHTHONG OPEN VOWELS PART TONGUE CENTRE BACK DIPHTHONG CLOSING ENDING IN ɪ ENDING IN ʊ CENTRING ENDING IN ə TRIPHTHONG CLOSING DIPHTHONGS + ə B) VOWEL SOUNDS When studying vowel sounds, both their phonetic nature and the phonological distributional possibilities can be considered. Generally as nucleus of the syllable structure, vowels may occupy the peak position and be preceded and/or followed by marginal consonant elements. Unlike consonants, vowel sounds do not produce any type of obstruction of the airflow coming from the lungs. This may seem an advantage, but the vowellike quality of some approximant consonants poses certain problems for the foreign learner of English. Although an articulatory description may be beneficial, an auditory and acoustic approach may help us discriminate vowel sounds from one another more effectively. Therefore, the change in the shape of the oral cavity due to the movements of the tongue may produce different modifications in the acoustic effect of sound production and in vowel quality. Lip position and lower jaw movement may also contribute to this effect. C) THE CARDINAL VOWELS AND THE VOWEL CHART 1

2 In 1917, Daniel Jones devised the vowel chart, a quadrilateral graph containing the most distinctive vowel sounds of a language in different positions, to represent the vowel area inside the oral cavity. The Vowel chart is closely related to the system of Cardinal vowels, also proposed by Jones, consisting in eight representative vowel sounds. According to Finch and Ortiz Lira (1982), they do not belong to any particular language, but can be used as reference points. The vowel sounds of any language can be identified with this system. The advantage of Cardinal Vowels is that their quality is invariable and permits accurate comparison The Cardinal Vowels are on the limits of the vowel diagram, i.e. they occupy the peripheral, extreme positions If the tongue exceeds this limit, frictions will be heard. CVs 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5 are pronounced with spread or open lips, and the last three with lip rounding. D) CLASSIFICATION OF VOWEL SOUNDS In English, vowel classification as to the place and manner of articulation or voicing may not be relevant, since vowel sounds are voiced and they do not show any type of modification of the outcoming stream of air. Other distinctive features are employed, which involve height of the tongue within the oral cavity, part of the tongue involved, lip rounding and tenseness or laxness, among others. Height of the tongue: Four classes can be distinguished according to the degree of height to which the tongue is raised or not: a) Close vowels are those in which the tongue is raised as high as possible consistently with the sounds remaining vowels; b) Half-close vowels are those in which the tongue occupies a position about one-third of the distance from close to open ; c) Half-open vowels are those in which the tongue occupies a position about two-thirds of the distance from close to open. d) Open vowels are those in which the tongue is as low as possible. (Jones: 1980) Part of the tongue: Out of the five parts of the tongue, only three are involved in vowel sound production: the front, the centre and the back. Vowels articulated in each part are called front, central and back vowel sounds, respectively. Lip position: Three main types can be found, and their acoustic and auditory differentiation is perceptible to the trained ear. When pronouncing vowels, the lips may be: a) Rounded, with a slight lip protrusion and approximation of the corner of the lips, as in ɔː b) Neutral, with the lips neither rounded or spread, as in ə c) Spread, like for a smile, teeth are visible and lips are parted from each other and the corners are lengthened, as in iː Both neutral and spread lip positions may also be known as unrounded. English vowel sounds articulated with the front of the tongue have a spread or neutral lip position, and those produced with the back part have a more rounded lip position, with the exception of ɑː, as in park. Tenseness and Laxness According to Jones (1980), those who consider that vowels may be differentiated by degrees of muscular tension distinguish two classes, tense vowels and lax vowels. Tense vowels are those which are supposed to require considerable muscular tension on the part of the tongue; lax vowels are those in which the tongue is supposed to be held loosely. The difference in quality between the English vowels in seat siːt and in sit sɪtis ascribed by some writers to a difference of tension (the vowel in seat being considered tense and the vowel in sit lax). 2

3 Length A traditional classification divides pure vowel sounds into two: long and short. Long vowels show a certain extension in tempo and include iː, ɑː,ɔːuː, ɜː. Short vowels, on the other hand, are uttered with a small amount of time, and they include ɪ, e,ʌɒ, ʊə. A vowel sound which cannot be classified as either long or short is æ. When discriminating long sounds from short ones, length is not a convenient category, since long vowel sound may be clipped (i.e. shortened) if followed by voiceless sounds and they can keep their length if followed by voiced sounds or due to stress. Kelly (2000) reports that short vowels are actually more likely to be longer before certain types of voiced consonants. However, a length mark is conventionally used to distinguish them in transcription. Although diphthongs can be included under the long-vowels category, they suffer the same processes of length change just mentioned. E) DESCRIPTION OF VOWEL SOUNDS iː This vowel sound has a close resemblance to Cardinal Vowel N 1, since it occupies the close position, though not so close. The part of the tongue used to produce it is the front and the rims make a firm contact with the upper molars. The lips are slightly spread and the opening of the jaw is from narrow to medium. It is considered to be relatively long and almost never unstressed. In certain dialects (Cockney and Birmingham), the pronunciation of this vowel implies a diphthongisation, beginning with the vowel and then gliding to a closer position. The result is ɪi. ɪ In consonance with iː, this sound is produced with the same type of lip position and jaw aperture. However, it is retracted from front and in the half-close position. The rims of the tongue make a slight contact with the upper molars, so the airflow passes more freely. The production of ɪ is laxer than for iː. It is considered a short vowel sound and almost always monophthongal. e Intermediate between Cardinal Vowels N 2 and N 3, i.e. mid between half-close and half-open positions, this sounds implies the raising of the front part of the tongue. The tongue rims may make contact with the upper molars. The lips may take a spread or neutral position. It is considered to be a relatively short vowel sound. æ This phoneme is pronounced with the front part of the tongue, almost at rest, between Cardinal Vowels N 3 and N 4, i.e. halfway between half-open and open positions. The position of the lips may be spread or neutral, with a medium to wide jaw opening. It is normally short, but it may be long in other contexts. ɑː For the production of this sound, the back, though more centralized, part of the tongue is used in a fully open position. It is nearest to Cardinal Vowel N 5 than to N 4. The lips are in a neutral position and the jaw opening is from medium to wide. Notice that this vowel sound is generally replaced for the vowel sound æ in words such as father, aunt, etc. 3

4 This vowel sound is relatively long. ɒ When pronouncing this phoneme, the back part of the tongue is used, with a close approximation to Cardinal Vowel N 5, although the lip rounding for this sound makes the difference. The tongue is raised above the open position and no contact is made between the tongue rims and the upper molars. This phoneme is not part of the phonemic inventory of AmE, in which it is replaced by either the cardinal sound ɑor the sound ɔː. This sound is considered to be relatively short. ɔː For the production of ɔː, the back part of the tongue is raised between Cardinal Vowels N 6 and N 7, i.e. between the half-open and half-close positions. Unlike ɒ, the lips are more closely rounded and the gap flanked by them is smaller. The jaw aperture is medium to wide. It is considered to be a relatively long vowel. ʊ The articulation of this phoneme involves the more advanced area of the back part of the tongue, placed in half-close position, closer than for Cardinal Vowel N 7. It has a slight lip-rounding and the opening between the jaws is medium. For some authors, it is the lax correspondent for uː, and a relatively short vowel sound. uː Unlike Cardinal Vowel N 8, this phoneme is a little more advanced from back and not so close. The lips are closely or moderately rounded and the jaws have a narrow to medium opening. There exists a diphthongal variant used in some dialects, especially in final position. This sound is considered to be tense and relatively long. ʌ This central vowel phoneme is pronounced just above the open position, with neutrally open lips. There is a wide opening of the jaws. This sound is relatively short. ɜː Halfway between the half-open and half-close position, this phoneme is central and pronounced with unrounded lips. The opening of the jaws is narrow. It is considered a relatively long vowel and for some authors, a variety of ə. ə The height to which the tongue is raised for the production of this sound is difficult to establish, mainly covering the whole area between the half-close and half-open positions. There are two main variants: a closer variety in which the central part of the tongue is raised towards a half-close position, as for the initial vowel sound in about, and non-final vowel sounds, as in standard. The second variant is used for word final vowel sounds, as in sailor, sofa, among others. This phoneme is a relatively short vowel sound and never pronounced in stressed position. 4

5 THE VOWEL CHART DIPHTHONGS F) DEFINITION According to Roach (1991), RP has a large number of diphthongs, sounds which consist of a movement or glide from one vowel to another In terms of length, diphthongs are like long vowels Perhaps the most important thing to remember about all the diphthongs is that the first part is much longer and stronger than the second part the total number of diphthongs is eight. For Cruttenden (1994), diphthongs are those vocalic elements which form a glide within one syllable. They may be said to have a first element (the starting point) and a second element (the point in the direction of which the glide is made. G) CLASSIFICATION OF DIPHTHONGS Diphthongs can be classified into two groups, according to the height or part of the tongue of the last element: Closing and Centring diphthongs. The first element in a closing diphthong is opener than the final close element. In a centring diphthong, the first element is either a front or back vowel and the last element is central ( schwa ). Auditorily, diphthongs may also be termed as either rising or falling. Falling diphthongs consist of two elements and the first element is more prominent than the second. In rising diphthongs, the second element is more prominent. English diphthongs are all falling. The RP diphthongs have as their first element sounds in the general region of ɪ, e, a, ə, u and for their second element ɪ, ʊ, ə. Diphthongs may also undergo clipping, i.e. shortening, when followed by a voiceless sound. H) DESCRIPTION OF DIPHTHONGS eɪ This diphthong starts in a position between cardinal vowels ɛand eto the vowel sound ɪ. The lips are spread. aɪ The starting point of this diphthong is nearer than. The lips move from a neutral to lightly spread position. ɔɪ With a starting point nearer ɔthan ɒ, and ending near ɪ. The lips may change from a rounded or to a slightly spread position. əʊ This diphthong starts in the position for schwa and then glides towards ʊ. The lips change from a neutral to a rounded position. 5

6 aʊ For the production of this sound, a more centralized back part of the tongue, as for ɑ, initiates the glide. The finishing point of this diphthong does not completely reach the ʊ area. The lips are slightly rounded. ɪə When pronouncing this phoneme, the back part of the tongue is used, with a close approximation to Cardinal Vowel N 5, although the lip rounding for this sound makes the difference. The tongue is raised above the open position and no contact is made between the tongue rims and the upper molars. This phoneme is not part of the phonemic inventory of AmE, in which it is replaced by either the cardinal sound ɑor the sound ɔː. This sound is considered to be relatively short. eə For the production of this diphthong, the starting point is a vowel in the half open front position and moving almost horizontally to the opener variety of schwa when in final position and a closer position when followed by a consonant. The lips are neutrally open throughout. Nowadays a long monophthong ɛː is a completely acceptable alternative in General RP. (Cruttenden: 1994) ʊə The diphthong glides from a half close position to a more open variant of schwa. The lips are neutrally rounded at the beginning, becoming spread in the final element. This diphthong is nowadays being levelled to ɔː by many speakers. DIPHTHONGS CENTRING CLOSING ending in ə ending in ɪ ending in ʊ ɪə eə ʊə eɪ aɪ ɔɪ əʊ aʊ DIPHTHONGS AND THE VOWEL CHART TRIPHTHONGS OR DIPHTHONGS + ə I) DEFINITION With the exception of centring diphthongs, closing diphthongs may allow the possibility of the addition of ə in slow, formal style and only on rare occasions. The vocalic cluster is produced as part of one syllable. Therefore, the combinations with schwa may produce the following triphthongs (Roach) or closing diphthongs + ə (Cruttenden: 1994): eɪə, aɪə, ɔɪə, əʊə, aʊə. 6

7 J) PHONOLOGICAL POSSIBILITIES There are three possibilities for a diphthong to take place: 1) As an inseparable part of the word: 2) As a suffix (morpheme) appended to the root: 3) As a separable element in a compound: K) SMOOTHING OR LEVELLING In rapid or colloquial speech, these triphthongs may be reduced an allophonic diphthongal variant, in which one element is omitted, and when the triphthong is felt to contain an inseparable morpheme. The most common processes of smoothing include the following: Omission of ɪ: aɪə aːə eɪə eːə ɔɪə ɔːə Omission of ʊ: aʊə ɑːə ( əʊə ɜː) TRIPHTHONGS AND THE VOWEL CHART 7

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