Part 2 – auxiliary and modal verbs
Part 3 – regular and irregular main verbs
this part goes in here
1 – The basic sounds of English
Standard English uses 44 basic sounds (phonemes). They all occur in the following sentence:
Catching weary waterfowl on thin ice gives surly polar bears huge pleasure and ensures they enjoy good meat unharmed.
(This sentence was written by Richard Gunton and posted to the blog Literal Minded.)
meat; unharmed — on; thin; and; ensures; enjoy; unharmed — catching
polar — bears — waterfowl; meat — and; good; unharmed — catching — gives; good
catching — huge; enjoy
thin — they — waterfowl — gives — ice; surly — gives; bears; ensures — ensures — pleasure — huge; unharmed
weary; waterfowl — waterfowl; surly; polar; pleasure — weary — h(y)uge
catching; thin; gives — pleasure; ensures; enjoy — catching; and — unharmed — on — good — polar; pleasure
weary; surly; meat — surly — unharmed — waterfowl — huge
they — ice — enjoy — weary — bears — ensures — waterfowl — polar
These sounds can be divided into larger and smaller groups.
The first 24 sounds are consonants. These are pronounced with the mouth completely or partly closed.
The second 20 sounds are vowels. These are pronounced with the mouth open.
The sounds in meat, on and catching are pronounced with some part of the mouth closed.
The sounds in polar, bears, meat, and, catching and gives are pronounced starting with the mouth closed followed by a sudden opening.
The sounds in catching and huge are pronounced starting with the mouth closed followed by a more gradual opening.
The sounds in thin, they, waterfowl, gives, ice, gives, ensures, pleasure and huge are pronounced with two parts of the mouth close together and with a noisy, airy sound.
The sounds in weary, waterfowl, weary, h(y)uge are pronounced with two parts of the mouth close together but no noisy, airy sound.
The sounds in catching, pleasure, and, unharmed, on, good and polar are short.
The sounds in meat, surly, unharmed, waterfowl, huge are long.
The sounds in they, ice, enjoy, weary, bears, ensures, waterfowl, polar change (slightly but enough) during the sound.
2 – The International Phonetic Alphabet
Language writers, teachers and students use the International Phonetic Alphabet to write about the sounds of all languages. Many of the symbols for consonants are based on English and other European languages:
meat /m/ — on /n/
polar /p/ — bears /b/ — meat /t/ — and /d/ — catching /k/ — gives /g/
waterfowl /f/ — gives /v/ — ice /s/ — gives /z/ — huge /h/
weary /w/ — waterfowl /l/ — weary /r/
Others use special symbols, which must be learned individually:
catching /tʃ/ — huge /dʒ/
thin /θ/ — they /ð/ — ensures /ʃ/ — pleasure /ʒ/
The symbols for vowels look very different:
catching /ɪ/ — pleasure /ɛ/ — and /æ/ — unharmed /ʌ/ — on /ɒ/ — good /ʊ/ — polar /ə/
meat /i:/ — surly /ɜ:/ — unharmed /ɑ:/ — waterfowl /ɔ:/ — huge /u:/
they /eɪ/ — ice /aɪ/ — enjoy /ɔɪ/ — weary /ɪə/ — bears /eə/ — ensures /ʊə/ — waterfowl /aʊ/ — polar /oʊ/
Note the difference between spelling and pronunciation symbols. The first sound in catching is /k/. The last sound in gives, bears and ensures is /z/. The small extra sound in h(y)uge is /j/. (/c/ and /y/ represent different sounds which are not used in English.) Pronunciation symbols are placed between / / lines to show that we are talking about pronunciation and not spelling. Some sounds are associated with different spellings (ice and surly) and some spellings with different sounds (surly, gives, ensures and pleasure).
Many dictionaries use their own pronunciation symbols, but students should learn IPA symbols, for both English and their own language, to see the similarities and differences.
3 – Consonants
Consonants are made by the “big” parts of the mouth and throat – the lips, teeth, tongue, top of the mouth and vocal cords. Descriptions like “/m/, /n/ and /ŋ/ and are pronounced with some part of the mouth closed” refer to manner of articulation, or how two parts of the mouth interact to shape the sound.
/m/, /n/ and /ŋ/ are nasals — some part of the mouth is closed and air passes through the nose.
/p/, /b/, /t/, /d/, /k/ and /g/ are stops — some part of the mouth is closed then suddenly opened.
/tʃ/ and /dʒ/ are affricates — some part of the mouth is closed then more gradually opened.
/f/, /v/, /θ/, /ð/, /s/, /z/, /ʃ/, /ʒ/ and /h/ are fricatives — two parts of the mouth are close together and there is a strong airy sound.
/w/, /l/, /r/ and /j/ are approximates — two parts of the mouth are close together (or, with /l/, touching) but there is no noisy, airy sound. /w/ and /j/ are almost like the vowels /u:/ and /i:/.
Almost all languages have nasals, especially /m/ and /n/, and stops, especially /p/, /t/ and /k/, possibly /b/, /d/ and /g/ and sometimes both. Most languages have fricatives, especially /s/, /ʃ/ and /h/, and slightly fewer have affricates, especially /tʃ/. Many languages have /w/ and /j/ and one of /l/ and /r/. These common sounds are generally the easiest for students, while uncommon sounds such as /f/, /v/, /θ/, /ð/, /z/ and /ʒ/ are generally the hardest, as well as the difference between /l/ and /r/.
The second description of English consonants is the place of articulation, or where two parts of the mouth interact to shape the sound.
/m/, /p/, /b/ and /w/ are made with the lips — they are bilabial sounds.
/f/ and /v/ are made with the top teeth and the the bottom lip — they are labio-dental sounds.
/θ/ and /ð/ are made with the tip of the tongue between the teeth — they are dental sounds.
/n/, /t/, /d/, /s/, /z/, /l/ and /r/ are made with the tip or front of the tongue and area behind and above the teeth (sometimes the tongue is touching there, sometimes it is just very close) — these are alveolar sounds (the name for that part of the mouth is the alveolar ridge).
/tʃ/, /dʒ/, /ʃ/ and /ʒ/ are made with the front of the tongue and the area slightly further up and back from the top of the teeth, near the round part of the top of the mouth (sometimes the tongue is touching there, sometimes it is just very close) — these are palato-alveolar sounds.
/ŋ/, /k/, /g/ and /j/ are made with the back of the tongue and the soft area at the back of the top of the mouth — these are velar sounds.
/h/ is made with the top of the throat — it is a glottal sound.
These descriptions can be combined. /m/ is a bilabial nasal, /n/ is an alveolar nasal and /ŋ/ is a velar nasal. But /p/ and /b/ are both bilabial stops, which means we need one more description.
The third description of English consonants is voicing — there are voiced and unvoiced consonants. A voiced sound is one in which the vocal cords vibrate; an unvoiced sound is one in which they don’t. This can most clearly be heard using the sounds /s/ (as in hiss) and /z/ (as in buzz). It can even even be felt by placing your fingers at the front of your throat or one finger in each ear. Try it — sssszzzzsssszzzz.
/s/ is an unvoiced alveolar fricative and /z/ is a voiced alveolar fricative. Similarly, /f/, /θ/, /tʃ/, /ʃ/ and /h/ are unvoiced and <v>, /ð/, /dʒ/ and /ʒ/ are voiced.
Stops are more complicated, but at this level we can call /p/, /t/ and /k/ unvoiced and /b/, /d/ and /g/ voiced. All the other sounds (/m/, /n/, /ŋ/, /w/, /l/, /r/ and /j/, and all the vowels) are voiced.
In English, voicing is distinctive — it makes a difference between sounds and words: hiss and his, and bus and buzz are different words. But sometimes voicing can happen (or not) without making a difference to the word — things and times both have a /z/ sound at the end. /ŋ/ and /m/ are both voiced, and it is easier for the voicing to stay “on”, so that the /s/ turns into a /z/. But English speakers think of it and spell it as a /s/. (Though some joke spellings use z — I Can Has Cheezburger? (ignore the other mistakes – it’s meant to be a joke!))
4 – Vowels
Vowels are made by shaping the open mouth, especially the tongue and lips. The three most important descriptions of vowels can be found by comparing /i/ (as in peat), /a/ (as in part) and /u/ (as in boot).
/i/ and /u/ are high (or close) vowels — the jaw is slightly open and the sounds “feel” as if they are coming from near the roof of the mouth. /a/ is a low (or open) vowel — the jaw is further open and the sound “feels” as if it coming from near the tongue.
/i/ is a front vowel — it sounds as if it is coming from near the front (and top) of the mouth. /a/ is a central vowel — it sounds as if it is coming from the centre (and bottom) of the mouth. /u/ is a back vowel — it sounds as if it is coming from the back (and top) of the mouth.
/i/ and /a/ are unrounded vowels — the lips are flat. /u/ is a rounded vowel — the lips are rounded.
So, /i/ can be described as high, front, unrounded, /a/ as low, central, unrounded, and /u/ as high, back, rounded.
Almost every language has those three vowels, but English has a moderately high number of other vowels, and many students have difficulty hearing and speaking some of them (for example, the ones in beer, bear and pure), or the difference between two of them (for example, those in peat and pit, or pert and port).
The other English vowels can be placed on the “triangle” of /i/, /a/ and /u/.
The vowels in peat, pit, pet, pat and part form a “line” from “top” to “bottom” at the front of the mouth, those in boot, put, port, pot, putt and part form a “line” from “top” to “bottom” at the back, and those in pert and apart are “mid-central”.
At this level, the vowels in pit, pet, pat, putt, pot, put and apart are often called “short” vowels, and those in peat, pert, part, port and boot are often called “long” vowels. It is very difficult to extend “short” vowels, but we can say “long” vowels very quickly.
The third group of vowels is the diphthongs, a combination of two vowels within the same syllable. Saying bay, buy, boy, beer, bear, pure, bout and boat very slowly shows a starting position and sound, a glide of the tongue, and a finishing position and sound. Diphthongs are automatically “long”, but we can say them very quickly.
Another important distinction can be heard (and seen) in part, pert, port, beer, bear and pure. Most American, Canadian and Irish speakers include a small “rr” in the sound, while most English, Australian and New Zealand speakers don’t. But many English, Australian and New Zealand speakers do include an “r” sound in beer and wine. Some speakers from all those countries even include an “rr” sound in law(r) and order. But “r-colouring” never makes a difference to the word.
Pingback: Grammarbites part 8 – Building words, prefixes and suffixes | Never Pure and Rarely Simple
Pingback: Grammarbites part 11 – passive voice | Never Pure and Rarely Simple