Phonetics and phonology - Introduction

Goals

Lesson Plan

This lesson plan is split into sections, and includes enough material for around 3 hours of teaching: (1) a starter activity (group discussion); (2) an explanation of phonetics and phonology; (3) vowels; (4) consonants; (5) a transcription exercise; (6) exploring the sounds of poetry.

Materials

You will need a copy of the English phonetic alphabet (available as an attachment to this page).

Full Preview

This is a full preview of this page. You can view one page a day like this without registering. But if you wish to use it in your classroom, please register your details on Englicious (for free) and then log in!

Phonetics and phonology - Terminology

What do phoneticians and phonologists do?

Phonetics and phonology are the branches of linguistics that deals with speech sounds. This broad ranging definition is indicative of the broad type of work that phoneticians/phonologists do:

Phonetics vs. phonology

Something that is often misunderstood is the difference between phonetics and phonology. In short:

To extend this a little further, is is helpful to use an analogy. Consider the way that buildings are designed and made. Glass makes good windows, but makes poor floors. Bricks make good walls, but poor windows. This relates to the study of phonetics - the ways that sounds are made and their relative properties.

But, the materials to make a house aren't much good by themselves - they must be fitted together in some way. This is related to the study of phonology - how speech sounds are put together to form complete structures. So, phonetics is the raw materials and phonology is the design principles and decisions in bringing those materials together.

 

 

Full Preview

This is a full preview of this page. You can view one page a day like this without registering. But if you wish to use it in your classroom, please register your details on Englicious (for free) and then log in!

Phonetics and phonology - Starter

Group discussion questions

You could start the lesson by asking students questions such as:

 

  1. How many different speech sounds does the English language have?
  2. How can we categorise and label speech sounds? E.g. how would you describe the difference between the ch and the t sound in chat? Or the vowel sounds in keep and kip?
  3. How can we write down speech sounds? I.e. how can we capture the difference between a northern British accent saying bath and a southern British accent saying bath?

The 'answers' are as follows:

  1. Roughly 44 - but this depends on an individual's accent. It's important to stress the difference between written and spoken language here - the written system of English has 26 letters (or graphemes); the spoken system of English has 44 speech sounds (which we can call phonemes). Because there is a 'mismatch' between the number of graphemes and phonemes, meaning that we can say that English is a non-phonetic language. The way that graphemes and phonemes relate to each other is called the grapheme-phoneme correspondence system.
  2. There are various ways of categorising speech sounds. At a basic level, we can seperate sounds into vowels and consonants. Vowels are 'open' sounds, meaning there is no constriction or obstructions present in their articulation - just open your mouth and say 'ahhh'! Consonants are formed by various narrowings or constrictions in the vocal tract, as different vocal articulators (teeth, lips, tongue, etc.) combine. We will see that there are further ways of categorising and labelling sounds.
  3. We use the international phonetic alphabet for this. This is a system for writing down all the known sounds of the world's languages. Each sound has a different written symbol - for example, the phonetic alphabet symbol for the vowel sound in cat is /æ/. The next activity looks at this in more detail.

Full Preview

This is a full preview of this page. You can view one page a day like this without registering. But if you wish to use it in your classroom, please register your details on Englicious (for free) and then log in!

Phonetics and phonology - Vowels

In the starter activity, we asked the question 'How can we write down speech sounds? For example, how can we capture the difference between a northern British accent saying bath and a southern British accent saying bath?

The answer is by using the international phonetic alphabet, or IPA for short. This is an internationally recognized system for transcribing the sounds of a language. The full IPA captures all the known sounds across the world's languages and includes 107 sounds (with more being added, as new sounds are discovered!). 

To make things easier, we will only be looking at the phonetic alphabet for English, which has 44 sounds.

Inidividual speech sounds are called phonemes. A single phoneme may be represented in writing by one, two, three or four letters. To demonstrate, let's see how cat, catch and caught are transcribed. Note that we use slashed brackets when transcribing speech sounds in the phonetic alphabet:

Let's now look at the English phonetic alphabet. We'll do this by grouping sounds into vowels and consonants, and then exploring their various sub-groups.

Vowels

Vowels are made by pushing air up from the lungs and allowing it to pass through the vocal tract without obstruction. They are normally voiced, that is, their production involves vibration of the vocal folds (this contrasts with unvoiced, where there is no vibaration of the vocal folds). The easiest way to know if a sound is voiced is to place your fingers and thumb on your throat and produce a sound. If you feel the throat vibrating or 'buzzing', then it is a voiced sound. Try it now with a range of vowels. 

Vowels can sub-grouped according to their length - they can be short or long.

Short vowels

There are seven short vowels in English:

Long vowels

There are five long vowels in English:

Diphthongs 

Diphthongs are 'gliding vowels', where one vowel sound glides into an other one, as a result of the lips or tongue moving. A diphthong is a change in vowel quality, whose sound changes within the same syllable.

There are eight diphthongs in English:

Beware that a diphthong is not just a combination of two vowels. For example, in the two-syllable word seeing, /i:/ becomes /ɪ/ but it is not a diphthong because /i:/ and /ɪ/ are not in the same syllable.

Full Preview

This is a full preview of this page. You can view one page a day like this without registering. But if you wish to use it in your classroom, please register your details on Englicious (for free) and then log in!

Phonetics and phonology - Consonants

Consonants

Consonants are produced by pushing air up from the lungs and out through the mouth and/or nose. Airflow is disrupted by obstructions made by various combinations of vocal articulator movements, so that audible friction is produced. 

They are described in terms of (1) voicing, (2) place of articulation and (3) manner of articulation.

Voicing

Voicing refers to the presence or absence of vocal vibration during speech sound production. In a voiced sound, there is vocal fold vibration and an audible 'buzzing' sound. In an unvoiced sound, there is no vocal fold vibration. 

Compare the first consonant in thimble (represented by /θ/ with the first sound in this (represented by /ð/). Again, try placing your finger and thumb on your throat whilst producing the sound. In thimble the consonant /θ/ is unvoiced because there is an absence of vocal fold vibration. In this, the consonant /ð/ is voiced because there is a presence of vocal fold vibration.

Now take the following pairs of phonemes (you may need to look at your copy of the phonetic alphabet). In each pair, one sound is voiced and one sound is unvoiced. Which is which?

Place of articulation

The place of articulation is the physical location in the vocal tract that a phoneme is produced in, and the kinds of articulatory movements that are involved in producing a sound. Here is a diagram of the vocal tract:

A diagram of the vocal tract

Manner of articulation

So far we have said that consonants can be defined by (1) their voicing, and (2) their place of articulation. Our final level of classification is to do with the manner or process of articulation. This is related to the degree of closure (complete closure → close approximation → open approximation). 

Bringing it all together

The table below shows us the three ways of defining vowel sounds. For each cell, voiceless sounds are on the left, and voiced sounds are on the right. The columns show the place of articulation and the rows show the manner of articulation. So, we can use the table and work out that /s/ is a voiceless alveolar fricative!

 

Bilabial

Labio-dental

Dental

Alveolar

Post-alveolar

Palatal

Velar

Plosive

p        b

 

 

t       d

 

 

k       g

Fricative

 

f       v

θ        ð

s       z

ʃ       ʒ

 

 

Approximant

 

 

 

r

 

j

w

Nasal

    m

 

 

n

 

 

ŋ

Affricate

 

 

 

ʧ              ʤ

 

 

 

Full Preview

This is a full preview of this page. You can view one page a day like this without registering. But if you wish to use it in your classroom, please register your details on Englicious (for free) and then log in!

Phonetics and phonology - Transcribing spoken language

Transcribing sounds

In this activity, you'll be using your knowledge of articulatory phonetics to transcribe spoken language. To do so, you'll be using the phonetic alphabet - a system designed by linguists to represent speech sounds on the page.

We've seen that each different speech sound can be represented by a phoneme. Let's transcribe a word together first. Take the word sing. How many different sounds does this word have? Say it out loud, thinking very carefully about the way that the vocal articulators move to create different sounds. 

You'll have noticed three distinct sounds: 

  1. an unvoiced alveolar fricative consonant, which we can represent using /s/
  2. a short vowel, which we can represent using /ɪ/
  3. a voiced velar nasal consonant, which we can represent using /ŋ/

The three phonemes combine to create:

/sɪŋ/

Note how we only need brackets around the whole string of phonemes, not each individual one.

Now it's your turn!

Remember: think about sounds not spelling. Say the word out loud and reflect on what the vocal articulators are doing during the process of speech production. 

Transcribe the following:

  1. Your full name
  2. Your country of birth
  3. Your age
  4. Your favourite food

Now transcribe the following words

  1. lost
  2. rich
  3. apple
  4. very
  5. watermelon
  6. department
  7. bathtub
  8. buttercup
  9. thistle
  10. groaning

Compare you results with a partner. Are there any differences that you can account for in terms of your accent? Look especially at numbers 7, 8 and 9 here.

Which words are transcribed here?

  1. /brəʊkən/
  2. /lɪŋwɪstɪks/
  3. /lɒŋ/
  4. /drægənz/
  5. /i:meɪl/
  6. /edju:keɪʃən/
  7. /θɪnkɪŋ/
  8. /ɪstæblæʃmənt/
  9. /kəlaɪdəskəʊp/
  10. /ʊnesəseri:/

For each of the following transcriptions, there is at least one mistake in each of them. Can you find them, and provide a correct transcription?

  1. water  /wɔ:tɑ:/
  2. geography  /ʤɒgrəphi:/
  3. seeing /sɪəŋ/
  4. machine /mɪʧi:n/
  5. bottle /bɒttəl/
  6. university /yu:nɪvɑ:rsɪtɪ/
  7. precise /prɪsaɪz/
  8. symbol /sɪmbæl/
  9. moonlight /mu:ŋleɪt/
  10. syllable /sɪllʊbʊl/

 

Full Preview

This is a full preview of this page. You can view one page a day like this without registering. But if you wish to use it in your classroom, please register your details on Englicious (for free) and then log in!

Phonetics and phonology - The sounds of poetry

Sound patterns in poetry

Here are two extracts from the poem Digging by Seamus Heaney. In the poem, a son talks openly about his perceived failures in following in his father's footsteps, namely because of his lack of skill with a spade and as a farmer.

Read them out loud:

Under my window, a clean rasping sound   
When the spade sinks into gravelly ground:   
My father, digging. I look down 

The cold smell of potato mould, the squelch and slap
Of soggy peat, the curt cuts of an edge

Now discuss the following questions:

Aswell as your own ideas, you might like to explore the following points:

Next, try doing a similar anlaysis of the sounds in a different poem, Privacy of Rain by Helen Dunmore, which you can find here.

Full Preview

This is a full preview of this page. You can view one page a day like this without registering. But if you wish to use it in your classroom, please register your details on Englicious (for free) and then log in!