English phonology

From Simple English Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

English is a language with many ways to pronounce things. Pronunciation changes both through history and from dialect to dialect. Mostly, however, English has a mostly similar phonological system throughout the world. Most dialects are different from one another because they have different types of stress in syllables. Stops, affricates, and fricatives are also changed in consonants in different dialects.

There is also lots of research done on prestige(more formal) or standard(more common). These can mean Received Pronunciation for England, General American for the United States and General Australian for Australia.

Many dialects will grow independently from other dialect which make them different from others.

Consonants[change | change source]

Most dialects in English use the shown 24 consonants. /x/ is a little less common.[1] There are, of course, exceptions to all of these in accents such as Hiberno English, New York, South Asian, etc.

Labial Dental Alveolar Post-
Palatal Velar Glottal
Nasal m n ŋ
fortis p t k
lenis b d ɡ
Fricative fortis f θ s ʃ xr Xhosa (such as gogga /ˈxɒxə/ 'insect').[2][3] h
lenis v ð z ʒ
Approximant l r j w

Consonant examples[change | change source]

The table below shows common examples of words in English that start with these letters.

Fortis Lenis
/p/ pit /b/ bit
/t/ tin /d/ din
/k/ cut /ɡ/ gut
// cheap // jeep
/f/ fat /v/ vat
/θ/ thigh /ð/ thy
/s/ sap /z/ zap
/ʃ/ mesher /ʒ/ measure
/x/ loch
/h/ ham
/m/ Tim
/n/ tin
/ŋ/ ting
/j/ your
/w/ wore
/r/ rump
/l/ lump

Vowels[change | change source]

English has an unusually large number of vowels. In English, vowels in different dialects change a lot. These vowels can also be written differently throughout different dialects. For example, the vowel in LOT is /ɒ/ in Received Pronunciation but /ɑ/ in General American.

John C. Wells made a popular lexicon set that shows the pronunciation in Received Pronunciation(RP) and General American(GA). It is shown below.

BATH ɑː æ
CLOTH ɔ, ɑ
NURSE ɜː ɜr
START ɑː ɑr
NORTH ɔː ɔr
FORCE ɔr, oʊr
NEAR ɪə ɪr
SQUARE ɛː ɛr
CURE ʊə, ɔː ʊr

The next three tables show the vowel phonemes in Received Pronunciation, General American and General Australian.

Received Pronunciation[5][6]
Front Central Back
short long short long short long
Close ɪ ʊ ɔː
Mid e ɛː ə ɜː ɒ
Open æ ʌ ɑː
Diphthongs eɪ   aɪ   ɔɪ   aʊ   əʊ   ɪə   ʊə
Triphthongs (eɪə   aɪə   ɔɪə   aʊə   əʊə)
General American
Front Central Back
lax tense lax tense lax tense
Close ɪ i ʊ u
Mid ɛ ə (ɜ)
Open æ ʌ ɑ (ɔ)
Diphthongs aɪ   ɔɪ   aʊ
General Australian
Front Central Back
short long short long short long
Close ɪ ʉː ʊ
Mid e ə ɜː ɔ
Open æ æː a
Diphthongs æɪ   ɑɪ   oɪ   æɔ   əʉ   ɪə   (ʊə) is often omitted from descriptions of Australian, as for most speakers it has split into the long monophthong /oː/ (e.g. poor, sure) or the sequence /ʉːə/ (e.g. cure, lure).[7]
Short vowel Long vowel
i (bit) ii (beet)
e (bet)
a (cat) aa (cart)
o (cot) oo (caught)
u (pull) uu (pool)
ə (collect) əə (curl)

Some of the short vowels may also be combined with /i/ (/ei/ bay, /ai/ buy, /oi/ boy), with /u/ (/au/ bough, /ou/ beau) or with /ə/ (/iə/ peer, /eə/ pair, /uə/ poor). The vowel inventory of English RP in MacCarthy's system therefore totals only seven phonemes. Analyses such as these could also posit six vowel phonemes, if the vowel of the final syllable in comma is considered to be an unstressed allophone of that of strut. These seven vowels might be symbolized /i/, /e/, /a/, /o/, /u/, /ʌ/ and /ə/. Six or seven vowels is a figure that would put English much closer to the average number of vowel phonemes in other languages.[8]

A radically different approach to the English vowel system was proposed by Chomsky and Halle. Their Sound Pattern of English (Chomsky & Halle 1968) proposed that English has lax and tense vowel phonemes which are operated on by a complex set of phonological rules to transform underlying phonological forms into surface phonetic representations. This generative analysis is not easily comparable with conventional analyses, but the total number of vowel phonemes proposed falls well short of the figure of 20 often claimed as the number of English vowel phonemes.

Related pages[change | change source]

References[change | change source]

Citations[change | change source]

  1. Rogers (2000), p. 20.
  2. Wells (1982), pp. 389, 619.
  3. Bowerman (2004), p. 939.
  4. Wells (1982), pp. 140, 147, 299.
  5. Roach (2004), p. 242.
  6. Cruttenden (2014).
  7. Cox & Palethorpe (2007).
  8. Roach 2009, pp. 99–100.

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Further reading[change | change source]

  • Bacsfalvi, P. (2010). "Attaining the lingual components of /r/ with ultrasound for three adolescents with cochlear implants". Canadian Journal of Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology. 3 (34): 206–217.
  • Ball, M.; Lowry, O.; McInnis, L. (2006). "Distributional and stylistic variation in /r/-misarticulations: A case study". Clinical Linguistics & Phonetics. 2–3 (20).
  • Campbell, F., Gick, B., Wilson, I., Vatikiotis-Bateson, E. (2010), “Spatial and Temporal Properties of Gestures in North American English /r/”. Child's Language and Speech, 53 (1): 49–69
  • Cercignani, Fausto (1981), Shakespeare's Works and Elizabethan Pronunciation, Oxford: Clarendon Press
  • Crystal, David (1969), Prosodic Systems and Intonation in English, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
  • Dalcher Villafaña, C., Knight, R.A., Jones, M.J., (2008), “Cue Switching in the Perception of Approximants: Evidence from Two English Dialects”. University of Pennsylvania Working Papers in Linguistics, 14 (2): 63–64
  • Espy-Wilson, C. (2004), “Articulatory Strategies, speech Acoustics and Variability”. From Sound to Sense June 11 – June 13 at MIT: 62–63
  • Fudge, Erik C. (1984), English Word-stress, London: Allen and Unwin
  • Gimson, A.C. (1962), An Introduction to the Pronunciation of English, London: Edward Arnold
  • Hagiwara, R., Fosnot, S. M., & Alessi, D. M. (2002). “Acoustic phonetics in a clinical setting: A case study of /r/-distortion therapy with surgical intervention”. Clinical linguistics & phonetics, 16 (6): 425–441.
  • Halliday, M.A.K. (1970), A Course in Spoken English: Intonation, London: Oxford University Press
  • Hoff, Erika, (2009), Language Development. Scarborough, Ontario. Cengage Learning, 2005.
  • Howard, S. (2007), “The interplay between articulation and prosody in children with impaired speech: Observations from electropalatographic and perceptual analysis”. International Journal of Speech-Language Pathology, 9 (1): 20–35.
  • Kingdon, Roger (1958), The Groundwork of English Intonation, London: Longman
  • Locke, John L., (1983), Phonological Acquisition and Change. New York, United States. Academic Press, 1983. Print.
  • O'Connor, J. D.; Arnold, Gordon Frederick (1961), Intonation of Colloquial English, London: Longman
  • Pike, Kenneth Lee (1945), The Intonation of American English, Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press
  • Sharf, D.J., Benson, P.J. (1982), “Identification of synthesized/r-w/continua for adult and child speakers”. Donald J. Acoustical Society of America, 71 (4):1008–1015.
  • Wise, Claude Merton (1957), Applied Phonetics, Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

Other websites[change | change source]