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Phonetic Transcription. Phoneme and its Variants

1. Aspects of speech sounds.

2. General characteristics of phonemes.

3. Notation.


1. Aspects of Speech Sounds.Speech sounds are 1) produced by man's organs of speech, 2) travel in sound waves, and 3) are perceived by man's hearing mechanism as 4) sounds of language functioning as units capable of differentiating meanings of the words. It follows that speech sounds differ from each other in their physical/acoustic properties, in the way they are produced by the organs of speech and in their features which take part or do not take part in differentiating the meaning, i.e. it will be possible to distinguish the following four aspects: 1) articulatory 2) acoustic 3) auditory 4) functional (linguistic, social) of speech sounds. Neither of them can be separated in the actual process of communication (in the flow of speech), but each of them can be singled out for linguistic analysis.

1) the articulatory/sound production aspect: from the articulatory point of view every speech sound is a complex of definite coordinated and differentiated movements and positions of speech organs. The movements and positions necessary for the production of a speech sound constitute its articulation.

2) the acoustic aspect:every speech sound is a complex of acoustic effects and has its physical properties − it is a physical phenomenon, a kind of moving matter and energy. The physical (acoustic) properties of speech sounds consist of: 1) frequency (частота), 2) spectrum (спектр), 3) intensity (інтенсивність), 4) duration (тривалість).

3) the auditory/sound-perception aspect involves the mechanism of hearing. It is a kind of psychological mechanism which (i) reacts to the physical properties of speech sounds, (ii) selecting from a great amount of information only the one which is linguistically relevant.

4) the functional/linguistic/social aspect is called so because of the role the sounds of language play in its functioning as medium of human communication.

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2. General Characteristics of Phonemes.When we talk about the sounds of a language, the term 'sound' can be interpreted in two rather different ways. A linguist uses two separate terms: 'phoneme' is used to mean 'sound' in its contrastive sense, e.g.: tie die, seat seed and 'allophone' is used for sounds which are variants of a phoneme. They usually occur in different positions in the word (i.e. in different environments) and hence cannot contrast with each other, nor be used to make meaningful distinctions (різниця, розбіжність).

The phoneme is a minimal abstract linguistic unit realized in speech in the form of speech sounds opposable (чинний стосовно чогось) to other phonemes of the same language to distinguish (розрізняти) the meaning of morphemes and words.

Let us consider the phoneme from the point of view of its three aspects:

· Firstly, the phoneme is a functional unit.Function is usually understood to mean discriminatory (дифференційний; той, що відрізняє) function, that is, the role of the various components of the phonetic system of the language in distinguishing one morpheme from another, one word from another or also one utterance from another. The opposition of phonemes in the same phonetic environment differentiates the meaning of morphemes and words, e.g. said says, sleeper sleepy, bath path, light like.

Sometimes the opposition of phonemes serves to distinguish the meaning of the whole phrases, e.g. He was heard badly He was hurt badly. Thus we may say that the phoneme can fulfill the distinctive function (дифференційна функція).

· Secondly, the phoneme is material, real and objective.That means that it is realized in speech of all English-speaking people in the form of speech sounds, its allophones. The sets of speech sounds, that is the allophones belonging to the same phoneme are not identical in their articulatory content though there remains some phonetic similarity between them. As a first example, let us consider the English phoneme [d], which when not affected by the articulation of the preceding or following sounds is a plosive (проривний), fore-lingual apical (апікальний передлінгвальний), alveolar (альвеолярний), lenis stop (слабкий). This is how it sounds in isolation or in such words as door, darn, down, etc., when it retains its typical articulatory characteristics. In this case the consonant [d] is called the principal (головний) allophone. At the same time there are quite predictable changes in the articulation of allophones that occur under the influence of the neighbouring sounds in different phonetic situations. Such allophones are called subsidiary(допоміжний).[d] is slightly palatalized (трішки пом'якшується, тобто палаталізується) before front vowels (голосні переднього ряду) and the sonorant (сонорний) [j], e.g. deal, day, did, did you. [d] is pronounced without any plosion (не вибуховий) before another stop, e.g. bedtime, bad pain, good dog; it is pronounced with the nasal plosion (носовий вибух) before the nasal sonorants [n] and [m], e.g. sudden, admit, could not, could meet; the plosion is lateral (бічний) before the lateral sonorant [l], e.g. middle, badly, bad light. Followed by [r] the consonant [d] becomes post-alveolar (постальвеолярний) (e.g. dry, dream; followed by the interdental (міжзубний) ([θ], [ð] it becomes dental (зубний), e.g. breadth, lead the way, good thing. When [d] is followed by the labial (губний) [w] it becomes labialized (лабіалізований), e.g. dweller. In the initial position [d] is partially devoiced (частково оглушається), e.g. dog, dean; in the intervocalic (між голосними) position or when followed by a sonorant it is fully voiced (дзвінкий), e.g. order, leader, driver; in the word-final position it is voiceless (глухий), e.g. road, raised old.

Allophones are arranged into functionally similar groups, that is groups of sounds in which the members of each group are not opposed to one another, but are opposable to members of any other group to distinguish meanings in otherwise similar sequences.

Allophones of the same phoneme, no matter how different their articulation may be, function as the same linguistic unit. The native speaker is quite readily aware of the phonemes of his language but much less aware of the allophones: it is possible, in fact, that he will not hear the difference between two allophones like the alveolar and dental consonants [d] in the words bread and breadth even when a distinction is pointed out; a certain amount of ear-training may be needed. The reason is that the phonemes differentiate words like tie and die from each other. Allophones, on the other hand, have no such function.

At the same time native speakers realize, quite subconsciously of course, that allophones of each phoneme possess a bundle of distinctive features, that makes this phoneme functionally different from all other phonemes of the language concerned. This functionally relevant bundle of articulatory features is called the invariant(інваріанта, постійна величина)of the phoneme. Neither of the articulatory features that form the invariant of the phoneme can be changed without affecting the meaning. All the allophones of the phoneme [d], for instance, are occlusive, forelingual (передлінгвальний), lenis (слабкий). If occlusive articulation is changed for constrictive one [d] will be replaced by [z], cf. breed breeze, deal zeal; [d] will be replaced by [g] if the forelingual articulation is replaced by the backlingual one, cf. dear gear, day gay. The lenis articulation of [d] cannot be substituted by the fortis one because it will also bring about changes in meaning, cf. dry try, ladder latter, bid bit.

The articulatory features which form the invariant of the phoneme are called distinctive (характерний, відмінний) or relevant (релевантний, значущий). To extract a relevant feature of the phoneme we have to oppose it to some other phoneme in the same phonetic context. If the opposed sounds differ in one articulatory feature and this difference brings about changes in the meaning of the words the contrasting features are called relevant. For example, the words port and court differ in one consonant only, that is the word port has the initial consonant [p], and the word court begins with [k]. Both sounds are occlusive and fortis, the only difference being that [p] is labial and [k] is backlingual. Therefore it is possible to say that labial and backlingual articulations are relevant in the system of English consonants.

The articulatory features which do not serve to distinguish meaning are called nondistinctive (нехарактерний), irrelevant (той, що не стосується справи) or redundant (надлишковий, надмірний); for instance, it is impossible in English to oppose an aspirated [p] to a non-aspirated one in the same phonetic context to distinguish meanings. That is why aspiration is a non-distinctive feature of English consonants.

If an allophone of some phoneme is replaced by an allophone of a different phoneme the mistake is called phonological, because the meaning of the word is inevitably affected, e.g.: beat – bit.

If an allophone of the phoneme is replaced by another allophone of the same phoneme the mistake is called phonetic. It happens when the invariant of the phoneme is not modified and consequently the meaning of the word is not affected, e.g.: When the vowel [i:] is fully long in such a word as sheep, for instance, the quality of it remaining the same, the meaning of the word does not change.

· Thirdly, the phoneme is abstract (абстрагований) or generalized (узагальнений) and that is reflected in its definition as a language unit. It is an abstraction because we make it abstract from concrete realizations for classificatory purposes.


3. Notation. The abstractional and material aspects of the phoneme have given rise to the appearance of transcription. Transcription is a set of symbols representing speech sounds.

The symbolization of sounds naturally differs according to whether the aim is to indicate the phoneme, i.e. a functional unit as a whole, or to reflect the modifications of its allophones as well.

The International Phonetic Association (IPA) has given accepted values to an inventory of symbols, mainly alphabetic but with additions. The first type of notation, the broador phonemictranscription,provides special symbols for all the phonemes of a language.

The second type, the narrowor allophonictranscription, suggests special symbols including some information about articulatory activity of particular allophonic features.

The broad transcription is mainly used for practical expedience, the narrow type serves the purposes of research work. The narrow or phonetic transcription incorporates as much more phonetic information as the phonetician desires, or as he can distinguish. It provides special symbols to denote not only the phoneme as a language unit but also its allophonic modifications. The symbol [h] for instance indicates aspirated articulation, cf. [kheit] – [skeit].


Answer the questions:

1. How many aspects of speech sounds can be differentiated? Explain the essence of each aspect.

2. Define the phoneme.

3. What is an allophone?

4. What are the three aspects of a phoneme?

5. What allophones are called principal / subsidiary?

6. Define the invariant of the phoneme.

7. What is the difference between distinctive and non-distinctive articulatory


8. What types of transcription do you know?

Література: [2, с. 22-23; 4, c. 25–27].


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