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Phonetics

I

INTRODUCTION

Phonetics, branch of linguistics concerned with the production, physical nature, and perception of speech sounds. The main fields of study are experimental phonetics, articulatory phonetics, phonemics, acoustical phonetics, and auditory phonetics. Auditory phonetics is the field involved in determining how speech sounds are perceived by the human ear.

   

EXPERIMENTAL

II

PHONETICS

This is the physical science that collects measurable data about the articulatory, acoustic, and auditory properties of vocal sounds.

III

 

ARTICULATORY PHONETICS

This describes speech sounds genetically—that is, with respect to the ways by which the vocal organs modify the air stream in the mouth, nose, and throat in order to produce a sound. Phonetic symbols and their articulatory definitions are abbreviated descriptions of these selected activities. The symbols most commonly used are those adopted by the International Phonetic Association (IPA) and are written in brackets.

The organs of articulation are either movable or stationary. Movable organs such as lips, jaws, tongue, or vocal chords are called articulators. By means of them a speaker modifies the surge of air from the lungs. Stationary parts include the teeth, the alveolar arch behind them, the hard palate, and the softer velum behind it.

The manner of articulation is determined by the way in which the speaker affects the air stream with the movable organs. This action may consist of stopping the air completely (plosive); leaving the nasal passage open during the stopping (nasal); making contact with the tongue but leaving space on either side of it (lateral); making merely a momentary light contact (flap); leaving just enough space to allow a continuing stream of air to produce friction as it passes through (fricative); or permitting the air stream to pass over the center of the tongue without oral friction (vocal). The speaker produces vowels of different quality by varying the position of his or her tongue on its vertical axis (high, mid, low) and on its horizontal axis (front, central, back).

The quality of certain sounds is also affected by whether the speaker keeps the speech organs tense or lax. The vocal cords are vibrated to produce sounds that are voiced. Vowels are voiced, and in English, lax consonants are more or less voiced. When the speaker gives a strong puff of air after the contact, this is called aspiration.

   

PHONEMIC

IV

S

This is a study of the sounds of speech in their primary function, which is to make vocal signs that refer to different things sound different. The phonemes of a particular language are those minimal distinct units of sound that can distinguish meaning in that language. In English, the p sound is a phoneme because it is the smallest unit of sound that can make a difference of meaning if, for example, it replaces the initial sound of bill, till, or dill, making the word pill. The vowel sound of pill is also a phoneme because its distinctness in sound makes pill, which means one thing, sound different from pal, which means another. Two different sounds, reflecting distinct articulatory activities, may represent two phonemes in one language but only a single phoneme in another. Thus phonetic r and l are distinct phonemes in English, whereas these sounds represent a single phoneme in Japanese, just as p h and p in pie and spy, respectively, represent a single phoneme in English although these sounds are phonetically distinct.

Phonemes are not letters; they refer to the sound of a spoken utterance.

   

ACOUSTICAL

V

PHONETICS

This is the study of speech waves as the output of a resonator—that is, the vocal tract coupled to other sources.

HISTOR VI Y
HISTOR
VI
Y

The earliest contributions to phonetics were made more than 2000 years ago by Sanskrit scholars such as the grammarian Panini in the 400s who dealt with articulation to keep the pronunciation of ancient rituals unchanged. The first phonetician of the modern

world was the Dane J. Matthias, author of De Litteris (1586). English mathematician John Wallis, who instructed deaf-mutes, was the first to classify vowels, in 1653, according to their place of articulation. The vowel triangle was invented in 1781 by C. F. Hellwag from Germany. Ten years later, Austrian mechanician Wolfgang von Kempelen invented a machine that produced speech sounds. German physicist Hermann Helmholtz, who wrote Sensations of Tone (1863), inaugurated the study of acoustical phonetics. Frenchman Abbé Jean Pierre Rousselot pioneered in experimental phonetics. Late in the 19th century, the theory of the phoneme was advanced by Jan Baudouin de Courtenay from Poland and Ferdinand de Saussure from Switzerland. In the United States, linguist Leonard Bloomfield and anthropologist and linguist Edward Sapir contributed greatly to phonetic theory. Linguist Roman Jakobson developed a theory of the universal characteristics of all phonemic systems.

Phonetics

What is Phonetics?

Phonetics is the study of the articulatory and acoustic properties of the sounds of human language.

Subglottal System

Sound in human language is produced by the regulation of airflow from the lungs through the throat, nose, and mouth. This airflow is altered in various ways by different aspects of this speech system. The first major segment of the speech system is the subglottal system. This subglottal system comprises the lungs, diaphragm and trachea.

The lungs are basically a pair of balloon-like sacs that inflate or deflate by the action of the diaphragm, a muscle just under the lungs, attached to them. When the diaphragm is lowered, the lungs inflate, and when the diaphragm is raised, air is pressed out of the lungs, allowing them to deflate.

When this air is pressed out of the lungs, air travels up the trachea, or windpipe, to the larynx, the next major segment of the speech system.

The Larynx The larynx is a mass of cartilage at the top of the trachea. It is commonly called the voicebox.

The larynx contains folds of muscle called the vocal folds (sometimes called vocal cords). These vocal folds are connected to the larynx by the arytenoid cartilage at the front, but the other ends are left free. The opening between the vocal folds is known as the glottis. These folds can be relaxed, letting air flow freely through the glottis, or tensed, so that the air vibrates as it passes through the glottis.

Sounds that are produced with relaxed vocal folds are known as voiceless sounds, and sounds that are produced with tensed vocal folds are known as voiced sounds. If the folds are only partially closed, a whispered sound is produced.

Above the Larynx

The area above the larynx consists of three main areas: the pharynx, the nasal cavity, and the oral cavity. The pharynx consists of the area above the larynx and below the uvula. The oral cavity is the area from the back of the throat to the mouth. The major parts of the oral cavity that are used in speech production are the uvula, the velum, the tongue, the hard palate, the alveolar ridge, the teeth, and the lips. The uvula is that fleshy blob that hangs down in the back of the throat. The velum is the soft palate, and the alveolar ridge is a mass of hard cartilage behind the teeth.

Consonants – Voicing and Place of Articulation

Voicing

In the last lesson, you were introduced to the following states of the glottis: voiceless and voiced. These states are determined by the action of the vocal folds in the larynx. If the vocal folds are held apart, the glottis is in a voiceless state, while if the vocal folds are held together, and allowed to vibrate, the glottis is in a voiced state.

Certain consonants in human language are distinguished by which state is active during production of the sound. For example, pronounce the sound [m], as in mat, and hold the sound. While producing this sound, place your fingers at the base of your throat. You should feel the vibration of the vocal folds. Since the sound [m] is vibrating, this is a voiced sound.

Place of Articulation

The term place of articulation, as discussed in the last section, classifies speech sounds in terms of where in the vocal tract the shape of the vocal tract is altered. In this section, we will present the major places of articulation.

Bilabial

Bilabial sounds are those sounds made by the articulation of the lips against each other. Examples of such sounds in English are the following: [b], [p], [m].

Labiodental

Labiodental sounds are those sounds made by the articulation of the upper teeth towards the lower lip. Examples of such sounds in English are the following: [f], [v].

Interdental

Interdental sounds are those sounds made by the articulation of the tongue between the teeth. Examples of such sounds in

English are the following:

, .
,
.

Dental

Dental sounds are those sounds made by the articulation of the tip of the tongue towards the back of the teeth. Such sounds are not present in Standard American English, but in some Chicano English dialects and certain Brooklyn dialects, the sounds [t] and [d] are pronounced with a dental articulation.

Alveolar

Alveolar sounds are those sounds made by the articulation of the tip of the tongue towards the alveolar ridge, the ridge of

cartilage behind the teeth. Examples of such sounds in English are the following: [t], [d], [s], [z], [n], [l],

.
.

Alveopalatal

Alveopalatal sounds are those sounds made by the articulation of the front of the tongue towards the area between the

alveolar ridge and the hard palate. Examples of such sounds in English are the following:

, , , .
,
,
,
.

Palatal

Palatal sounds are those sounds made by the articulation of the body of the tongue towards the hard palate. An example of such a sound in English is [j].

Velar

Velar sounds are those sounds made by the articulation of the body of the tongue towards the velum. Examples of such

sounds in English are the following: [k], [g],

.
.

Uvular

Uvular sounds are those sounds made by the articulation of the back of the tongue towards the uvula. Uvular sounds do not

exist in English, but the French "r" is pronounced by the uvular sounds

Labiodental sounds are those sounds made by the articulation of the upper teeth towards the lower

and

.
.

Pharyngeal

Pharyngeal sounds are those sounds made by the articulation of the tongue root towards the back of the pharynx. Pharyngeal sounds do not exist in Standard American English, but are found in languages such as Arabic and Hebrew.

Glottal

Labiodental sounds are those sounds made by the articulation of the upper teeth towards the lower
Labiodental sounds are those sounds made by the articulation of the upper teeth towards the lower

Glottal sounds are those sounds made at the glottis. Examples of glottal sounds in English are the following: , .

Consonants – Manner of Articulation

However, consonants are further distinguished on the basis of how the articulators alter the shape of the vocal tract. That is, how is the airflow regulated by the tongue or lips.

Plosives

A plosive is formed by the complete obstruction of the vocal tract by the articulators. This obstruction is then released, allowing the air to "explode" out of the mouth.

Fricatives

A fricative is formed by a constriction in the vocal tract by the articulators, such as the tongue or the lips. However, unlike stops, the occlusion (blockage) in the vocal tract is not complete. Some of the air is allowed to come through a very narrow opening. This air becomes turbulent, because of the friction between the airflow and the narrow passage.

Labiodental sounds are those sounds made by the articulation of the upper teeth towards the lower

Fricatives happen in two ways. One way is simply for the air to flow through a narrow opening, like in the sound . Another ways is for the air to be sped up through a narrow passage and then forced across another area, like the teeth, which is the way the sound is formed. In the following diagram, the dots represent moving air particles. The air behind the occlusion is relatively slow, but the air that is forced between the tongue and the roof of the mouth is much faster and more turbulent.

Labiodental sounds are those sounds made by the articulation of the upper teeth towards the lower

Examples of fricatives in English are

, , , , , .
,
,
,
,
,
.

Affricates

An affricate combines the manners of articulation for the plosive and the fricative. Like a stop, the articulation of the affricate begins with a complete closure of the vocal tract by an articulator. However, when the closure is released, the release is somewhat gradual, providing a narrow space between the articulator and the mouth for the airflow to move through. This narrow space creates an environment similar to a fricative, in that the airflow moving out becomes turbulent for a brief period until full release of the closure.

Examples of affricates in English are

, .
,
.

Nasals

A nasal is formed by the obstruction of the vocal tract and the lowering of the velum. This lowering of the velum alows the airflow to flow out through the nasal cavity, rather than through the oral cavity.

An affricate combines the manners of articulation for the plosive and the fricative. Like a stop,
An affricate combines the manners of articulation for the plosive and the fricative. Like a stop,
An affricate combines the manners of articulation for the plosive and the fricative. Like a stop,

Examples of nasals in English are , , .

Approximant

An approximant is formed by the constriction of the vocal tract, but with no obstruction in the vocal tract. Therefore, no turbulent airflow, as in a fricative. Instead, the air is allowed to flow freely through the vocal tract.

Examples of approximants in English are ,

,

,

.

The sound

  • is also known as a lateral approximant, since the articulators do touch at a central point, but the air is allowed to

flow through one or both sides of the contact point.

Other Articulations

There are two other articulations in varieties of English that should be noted here: the tap and the trill.

A tap is formed by a quick contact between an articulator and the vocal tract. In Standard American English, for example,

there is the tap

  • , which can be found in the middle of words such as ladder, and butter.

A trill is formed by the rapid vibration of the tongue tip against the roof of the mouth. This vibration is caused by the motion

of a current of air. This sound, represented by as a "rolled r".

  • , is found, for example, in varieties of British and Scots English. It is also known

Vowels

In this lesson, the goals are discuss how vowel sounds are classified in terms of their use of the speech system.

Vowel Classification

In this lesson, you will be introduced to the classification of vowel sounds. The classifcation of vowels is based on four major aspects: tongue height, tongue backness, lip rounding, and the tenseness of the articulators.

Tongue Height

The first aspect of vowel classification that you will be introduced to is that of tongue height. Vowels are classified in terms of how much space there is between the tongue and the roof of the mouth, which is determined by the height of the tongue.

There are three primary height distinctions among vowels: high, low, and mid.

In English, examples of high vowels are

,
,

, . These are vowels with a relatively narrow space between the tongue

, and the roof of the mouth. Examples of low vowels are , . These are vowels with a relatively wide space between the tongue

and the roof of the mouth. Examples of mid vowels are [e], , , . These are vowels whose tongue positions are roughly between the high and low vowels.

These classifications are quite relative, as different languages have different canonical tongue heights for different classifications.

Tongue Backness

The second aspect of vowel classification that you will be introduced to is that of tongue backness. Vowels are classified in terms of how far the raised body of the tongue is from the back of the mouth, which is called the backness of the tongue.

There are three primary height distinctions among vowels: front, back, and central.

In English, examples of front vowels are

, , , ,
,
,
,
,

, [e],

,
,

. These vowels are articulated relatively forward in the mouth.

..

Examples of central

Examples of back vowels are

. These vowels are articulated relatively far back in the mouth

vowels are

,
,
  • . These are vowels whose tongue positions are roughly between the front and back vowels.

These classifications, like the tongue heights, are quite relative, as different languages have different canonical tongue backnesses for different classifications.

Lip Rounding

Lip Rounding Another aspect of vowel classification is the presence or absence of lip rounding. Some

Another aspect of vowel classification is the presence or absence of lip rounding. Some vowels, such as the vowels and , are formed with a high degree of lip rounding. Such vowels are called rounded vowels. Some vowels, such as and , are formed without such rounding, and are called unrounded vowels.

Tense vs. Lax

Another aspect of vowel classification is commonly characterized in terms of the tenseness or laxness of the articulators. Some vowels, such as the vowels and [e], are formed with a high degree of tenseness. Such vowels are called tense vowels. Some vowels, such as and , are formed without a high degree of tenseness, and are called lax vowels.

Lip Rounding Another aspect of vowel classification is the presence or absence of lip rounding. Some
Lip Rounding Another aspect of vowel classification is the presence or absence of lip rounding. Some

Phonetics is the field of language study concerned with the physical properties of sounds, and it has three subfields. Articulatory phonetics explores how the human vocal apparatus produces sounds. Acoustic phonetics studies the sound waves produced by the human vocal apparatus. Auditory phonetics examines how speech sounds are perceived by the human ear. Phonology, in contrast, is concerned not with the physical properties of sounds, but rather with how they function in a particular language. The following example illustrates the difference between phonetics and phonology. In the English language, when the sound k (usually spelled c) occurs at the beginning of a word, as in the word cut, it is pronounced with aspiration (a puff of breath).

Phonology

What is Phonology?

The study of phonology is the study of the patterned interaction of speech sounds. A fairly obvious observation about human language is that different languages have different sets of possible sounds that can be used to create words.

One of the goals of phonology is to describe the rules or conditions on sounds and sound structures that are possible in particular languages.

Another major goal of phonology is to account for the similarities among human languages. That is, even though the different languages have different sets of sounds and different ways of arranging and patterning those sounds, there are a number of similarities across human languages. The following are a few of these similarities, often called universals:

All consonant inventories have voiceless stops

All languages have syllables

All inventories can be split into vowels and consonants

Diachronic (historical) phonology examines and constructs theories about the changes and modifications in speech sounds and sound systems over a period of time. For example, it is concerned with the process by which the English words “sea” and “see,” once pronounced with different vowel sounds (as indicated by the spelling), have come to be pronounced alike today. Synchronic (descriptive) phonology investigates sounds at a single stage in the development of a language, to discover the sound patterns that can occur. For example, in English, nt and dm can appear within or at the end of words (“rent,” “admit”) but not at the beginning.

It is important to note that the places in which the different pronunciations occur are unique, and do not overlap. That is, you

never find

Lip Rounding Another aspect of vowel classification is the presence or absence of lip rounding. Some

at the end of the word, or

Lip Rounding Another aspect of vowel classification is the presence or absence of lip rounding. Some

at the beginning of the word, or

  • in either place.

Since these different pronunciations never appear at the same place in words, they are said to be in complementary distribution.

The Phoneme

This brings us to the concept of the phoneme. A phoneme is a mental representation of a sound that has predictable variants. Each of the variants of that sound is called an allophone.

Lip Rounding Another aspect of vowel classification is the presence or absence of lip rounding. Some

For example, in the case of the English stops, the sounds

, and

Lip Rounding Another aspect of vowel classification is the presence or absence of lip rounding. Some

are all predictable variants of one sound. They are

, in complementary distribution, as discussed above. Therefore, they must all be allophones of a phoneme.

How do we represent this phoneme? For reasons which will become clearer in later lessons, the phoneme is represented by

the sound which has the broadest distribution, or occurs in the most places. Since

Lip Rounding Another aspect of vowel classification is the presence or absence of lip rounding. Some

and

Lip Rounding Another aspect of vowel classification is the presence or absence of lip rounding. Some

can only appear at the beginning or

end, and

Lip Rounding Another aspect of vowel classification is the presence or absence of lip rounding. Some

appears everywhere else,

Lip Rounding Another aspect of vowel classification is the presence or absence of lip rounding. Some

has the widest distribution.

Therefore, the phoneme is . The // indicates that the representation is a phoneme, not a single sound.

Overlapping Distribution

Sometimes, sounds do appear in at least some of the same contexts. When this happens, the sounds are in overlapping distribution.

Furthermore, if these sounds are in overlapping distribution, they must be variants of separate phonemes. That's an important relationship. Say the following to yourself as a mantra:

complementary distribution = allophones of the same phoneme overlapping distribution = allophones of separate phonemes Another useful term to know is contrastiveness. When sounds are in overlapping distribution, they are contrastive. This is to indicate that the sounds can create lexical contrasts. Basically, it means that you can change the meaning of a word simply by changing one of the sounds to another.

Summary of Phonology Lesson 1: What are Phonemes?

In this lesson, we looked at concepts of sound distribution. If sounds are in complementary distribution, they cannot appear in the same contexts. If sounds are in overlapping distribution.

Furthermore, if sounds are in complementary distribution, they are allophones of the same phoneme. If sounds are in overlapping distribution, they are allophones of different phonemes.

If sounds are allophones of different phonemes, they are contrastive.

Natural Classes

Since there are rules of language that apply to only certain sets of words, it is useful to refer to such sets as being composed of a certain feature or features that are not shared by other consonants in the larger set. These subsets are known as natural classes.

Further, the features that define natural classes are known as distinctive features. The next sections will further elaborate the idea of distinctive features and introduce many of the specific features that have been proposed for human language.

Distinctive Features

The following is a list of proposed distinctive features, compiled in Gussenhoven and Jacobs (1998):

[± consonantal]

Sounds which are [+ consonantal] are those which have some kind of constriction along the center of the vocal tract. This constriction must be at least as narrow as that required for a fricative.

[± sonorant]

Sounds which are [+sonorant] are those which are produced with a constriction in the vocal tract that allows the air pressure both behind and in front of the constriction to be relatively equal. This feature generally divides the sound system into sonorants ([+sonorant] sounds), which are nasals, approximants, glides, and vowels, and obstruents ([-sonorant] sounds), which are oral stops, fricatives, and affricates.

[± approximant] Sounds which are [+approximant] are those sounds whose constriction allows for a frictionless escape of air. [± voice] Sounds which are [+voice] are those which are produced with vibration of the vocal folds. [± spread glottis]

Sounds which are [+spread glottis] are those produced with a glottal configuration that produces audible glottal friction. For example, the aspirated stops in English are [+spread glottis]

[± constricted glottis] Sounds which are [+constricted glottis] are those which are produced with the vocal folds drawn together and tense. [±continuant]

Sounds which are [+continuant] are those which are produced without a central blockage in the vocal tract. For example, fricatives have a central constriction, but there is no complete blockage of the air, and they are therefore, [+continuant].

[±nasal] Sounds which are [+nasal] are produced with nasal airflow. [±lateral]

Sounds which are [+lateral] are produced with airflow passing through one or both sides of the tongue, which is in contact with the central part of the oral cavity.

Place Features

These features, [LABIAL], [CORONAL], [DORSAL], and [RADICAL] are features that are often characterized as not being + or -, but rather, either a consonant has the feature or not.

WHAT ARE SYLLABLES?

In rather basic terms, a syllable is a timing unit for language. Words in language take certain amounts of time to utter. This time can be measured in terms of syllables.

What's in a Syllable?

So, what's in it? Well, there's a

Place Features These features, [LABIAL], [CORONAL], [DORSAL], and [RADICAL] are features that are often characterized as

, a

Place Features These features, [LABIAL], [CORONAL], [DORSAL], and [RADICAL] are features that are often characterized as

, and a

Place Features These features, [LABIAL], [CORONAL], [DORSAL], and [RADICAL] are features that are often characterized as

. If we simplify that a little, there is are two consonants with a vowel in the

middle, or we have a CVC sequence, where C is a consonant, and V is a vowel. Based on this, we know that a syllable can be composed of a consonant followed by a vowel, followed by a consonant.

One fact that one may notice from these structures is that they all contain a vowel. This vowel is known as the nucleus of the syllable.

Another fact is that a syllable may have a consonant or string of consonants before the vowel. These consonants that are before the vowel are called onsets.

Finally, a syllable may have a consonant or string of consonants after the vowel. These consonants that are after the vowel are called codas.

The following diagram is an illustration of a syllable such as the one in cat:

Place Features These features, [LABIAL], [CORONAL], [DORSAL], and [RADICAL] are features that are often characterized as

Pronunciation

Dictionaries are more responsive to usage in the matter of pronunciation than they are in spelling. It is claimed that in the 19th century the Merriam-Webster dictionaries foisted a New England pronunciation on the United States, but in recent years many regional variations have been recorded. Webster's Third New International (1961) went to surprising lengths in its variants; perhaps its record is in giving 132 different ways of pronouncing “a fortiori.”

The former practice of giving pronunciations as if the words were pronounced in isolation in a formal manner represented an artificiality that distorted language in use; recent dictionaries have marked pronunciation as it appears in continuous discourse. Furthermore, there has been a trend toward what has been called “democratization.” In the word “government,” for instance, it is recognized that many people do not pronounce an n, and some people actually say something like “gubb-munt.” There is a constant battle between traditional spoken forms and spelling pronunciations.

Since the alphabet is notoriously inadequate for recording the sounds of English, dictionaries are forced to adopt additional symbols. A system of using numerals over vowels was handed down from the 18th century, but that gave way to the diacritic markings of the Merriam-Webster series. The rise of the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) has offered another possibility, but the general public as yet finds it abstruse. Even more detailed symbols are needed in linguistic atlases and phonetic research. With considerable courage, Clarence L. Barnhart introduced the symbol schwa (ə) into The American College Dictionary (1947) for the neutral midcentral vowel, as at the beginning and end of “America,” and the symbol has now become widely accepted. Although some systems are clumsier than others, the key does not matter much if it is applied consistently.

Spelling

Alphabetic writing is not and cannot be an exact representation of the sequence of sounds or even of the sequence of distinctive sounds in the spoken forms of words and sentences. “Consonant” and “vowel” mean different things when applied to letters and to sounds, though there is, of course, much overlap. The y at the beginning of “yet” stands for a consonant sound; at the end of “jetty” it stands for a vowel sound. In “thick” and “thin” the sequence th represents a single sound, not a t sound followed by an h sound. In “kite” the e represents no sound directly but distinguishes the vowel between k and t from the vowel in “kit.” These disharmonies arise from a number of causes. Economy in the use of letters is one factor. In addition, spoken forms are always changing over the centuries, whereas writing, particularly since the invention of printing, is very conservative. At one time the e at

the end of words such as “kite” did stand for a vowel sound. This sound was lost between the 14th and 16th centuries, a time when other changes in the pronunciation of such words also occurred. The notorious ough spellings in English, standing for different sounds and sound sequences in “rough,” “cough,” “dough,” “plough,” “ought,” and other such words, have arisen from historical changes that have driven spelling and pronunciation further apart.

This, of course, does not mean that spelling reforms are out of the question. Spelling reform has been talked of in relation to English for many centuries without much effect; but in some countries—for example, Norway and Holland—official action has prescribed certain reforms to be made, and these have then been taught in school and have gradually found their way into printed works. The sheer volume of printed matter preserved for use and consultation in the modern world adds much weight against the convenience otherwise accruing from reforms designed to correct the historically produced disharmonies between spelling and pronunciation.

Moreover, it is not always most useful for spellings to represent exactly the sound sequences in a word and nothing else; this is the task for which phoneticians have devised transcriptions. As far as the sounds themselves are concerned, the plural signs of “cats,” “dogs,” and “horses” are different: the final sound of “cats” is like the initial sound of “sink,” that of “dogs” like the initial sound of “zinc,” and the plural of “horse” is indicated by a sound sequence rather like that in “is.” But they are all indicated in writing by one and the same letter and always have been, because only one grammatical distinction, that of singular as against plural, is involved, and at this point in the language the actual differences in the sounds, important elsewhere, are irrelevant.

Letters, insofar as they stand for sounds, stand for consonants and vowels. But other sound features are involved in languages. In English words the location of the stress is important, and the words “import” as a noun and “import” as a verb are distinguished by this alone. All languages make use of sequences of rises and falls in pitch, called intonation, as part of spoken communication. These phenomena are unrepresented in orthography except for certain punctuation marks such as ? and ! and sometimes by italicization and underlining.

This is not a weakness in orthography. Writing is normally intended to be read and when necessary read aloud by people who already know the language and are therefore able to supply from their own competence the required detail. For specific purposes such as foreign-language teaching, as well as for the specific study of pronunciation and speech sounds in phonetics and phonology, various forms of transcription have been devised to indicate unambiguously by written signs the precise form of the spoken utterance, without regard to other considerations.

(IPA), an alphabet developed with the intention of enabling students and linguists to learn and record the pronunciation of languages accurately, thereby avoiding the confusion of inconsistent, conventional spellings and a multitude of individual transcription systems. One aim of the IPA was to provide a unique symbol for each distinctive sound in a language—that is, every sound, or phoneme, that serves to distinguish one word from another.

IPA primarily uses Roman characters; other letters are borrowed from different scripts (e.g., Greek) and are modified to conform to Roman style. Diacritics are used for fine distinctions in sounds and to show nasalization of vowels, length, stress, and tones. The concept of IPA was first broached by Otto Jespersen in a letter to Paul Passy of the International Phonetic Association and was developed by A.J. Ellis, Henry Sweet, Daniel Jones, and Passy in the late 19th century.

The IPA can be used for broad and narrow transcription. For example, in English, there is only one t sound distinguished by native speakers. Therefore, only one symbol is needed in a broad transcription to indicate every t sound. If there is a need to transcribe narrowly in English, diacritic marks can be added to indicate that the t's in “tap,” “pat,” and “stem” differ slightly in pronunciation.

The International Phonetic Alphabet has not had the overwhelming success that its designers intended, and it is used less commonly in America than in Europe. Despite its acknowledged failings as a universal system for phonetic transcription, it is more widely employed than any other. One of its principal disadvantages when used in printing and typing is its utilization of a large number of special symbols in addition to the letters of the Roman alphabet that constitute its core. Modifications and substitutions are often made for reasons of economy and convenience.

Homonyms Homonyms—words that are pronounced the same but have different spellings and meanings—are often confused in written English.

aid, aide

aid: to give assistance

aide: an assistant

all ready, already

all ready: completely prepared already: by a specified time

all together, altogether

all together: all at once, collectively altogether: completely

A homophone is a word that is pronounced the same as another word but differs in meaning. The words may be spelled the same, such as rose (flower) and rose (past tense of "rise"), or differently, such as carat, caret, and carrot, or your and you're. A homophone is a specific type of homonym. The term may also be used to apply to units shorter than words, such as letters or group of letters which are pronounced the same as another letter or group of letters. Homophones are often used to create puns and to deceive the reader (as in crossword puzzles) or to suggest multiple meanings. The last usage is common in poetry and creative literature. An example of this is seen in Dylan Thomas' radio play Under Milk Wood: "The shops in mourning" where mourning can be heard as mourning or morning. Another vivid example is Thomas Hood's poem "Faithless Sally Brown":

A homograph is one of a group of words that share the same spelling but have different meanings. When spoken, the meanings are sometimes, but not necessarily, distinguished by different pronunciations. A homograph is a specific type of homonym.

Example:

shift n. (a change) shift n. (a period at work) shift v. (slang for 'move it')

Accent or Stress (language), in language, special stress emphasis or relative force or loudness given to one syllable of a word, thereby making that syllable more prominent than the others. The strongest accent is called primary stress; the next most prominent is called secondary stress. In some languages tertiary and weaker stresses are also recognized. In many dictionaries the accents are indicated by such symbols as ‘ for primary or main stress and “ for secondary stress. Almost every English word of two or more syllables has at least one stressed syllable. Frequently the secondary stress is placed on an early syllable of a word, as in rec” om mend' and res” to ra' tion; sometimes it falls on the last, as in down' pour” and drum' head”. By changing the accent, many nouns may be made verbs, as an ob' ject but to ob ject'. Stress accent is more complex in the English language than in many other languages. The meters of English poetry are determined entirely by accent, rather than by the quantities of vowels.

In poetry, the patterned recurrence, within a certain range of regularity, of specific language features, usually features of sound. Although difficult to define, rhythm is readily discriminated by the ear and the mind, having as it does a physiological basis. It is universally agreed to involve qualities of movement, repetition, and pattern and to arise from the poem's nature as a temporal structure. Rhythm, by any definition, is essential to poetry; prose may be said to exhibit rhythm but in a much less highly organized sense. The presence of rhythmic patterns heightens emotional response and often affords the reader a sense of balance.

Intonation - the rising or falling pitch of the voice when somebody says a word or syllable, or the rising and falling pattern of speech generally