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English Consonants as the Units of Phonological System.

The Classification of Consonants.

1. The subdivision of the English sounds.

2. General characteristics of consonants.

1. The subdivision of the English sounds. If speech sounds are studied from the point of view of their production by man's organs of speech, it is the differences and similarities of their articulation that are in the focus of attention. A speech sound is produced as a result of definite coordinated movements and positions of speech organs, so the articulation of a sound consists of a set of articulatory features.

Grouping speech sounds according to their major articulatory features is called an articulatory classification.

According to the specific character of the work of the speech organs, sounds in practically all the languages are subdivided into two major subtypes: vowels and consonants.

There are 1) articulatory, 2) acousticand 3) functionaldifferences between vowels and consonants.

1. The most substantial articulatorydifference between vowels and consonants is that in the articulation of vowels the air passes freely through the mouth cavity, while in making consonants an obstruction is formed in the mouth cavity and the airflow exhaled from the lungs meets a narrowing or a complete obstruction formed by the speech organs.

2. Consonants articulations are relatively easy to feel, and as a result are most conveniently described in terms of place and manner of articulation.

3. Vowels have no place of obstruction, the whole of speech apparatus takes place in their formation, while the articulation of consonants can be localized, an obstruction or narrowing for each consonant is made in a definite place of the speech apparatus.

4. The particular quality of vowelsdepends on the volume and shape of the mouth resonator, as well as on the shape and the size of the resonator opening. The mouth resonator is changed by the movements of the tongue and the lips.

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5. The particular quality of consonantsdepends on the kind of noise that results when the tongue or the lips obstruct the air passage. The kind of noise produced depends in its turn on the type of obstruction, on the shape and the type of the narrowing. The vocal cords also determine the quality of consonants.

6. From the acousticpoint of view, vowels are called the sounds of voice, they have high acoustic energy, consonants are the sounds of noise which have low acoustic energy.

7. Functionaldifferences between vowels and consonants are defined by their role in syllable formation: vowels are syllable forming elements, consonants are units which function at the margins of syllables, either singly or in clusters.

These differences make it logical to consider each class of sounds independently.


2. General characteristics of consonants. Consonants are made with air stream that meets an obstruction in the mouth or nasal cavities. On the articulatory level the they change:

1. In the degree of noise.

2. In the manner of articulation.

3. In the place of articulation.


1. The degree of noise. According to the degree of noise English Cs are divided into two big classes:

Class A: Noise consonants.

Class B: Sonorants


Class A. In the production of noise consonants there is a noise component characteristic. Noise consonants vary:

(1) in the work of vocal cords,

(2) in the degree of force of articulation.

(1) According to the work of vocal cords they may be voiceless or voiced. When the vocal cords are brought together and vibrate we hear voice. If the vocal cords are apart and do not vibrate we hear only noise and the consonants are voiceless.

Voiceless consonants are: [p, t, k, f, θ, s, ʃ, tʃ, h]

Voiced consonants are: [b, d, g, v, ð, z, ʒ, dʒ]

(2) According to the force of articulation noise consonants are of two types:

Strong (fortis) noise consonants are produced with more muscular energy and stronger breath effort. They are [p, t, k, f, θ, s, h, ʃ, tʃ]

Weak (lenis) noise consonants are produced with a relatively weak breath effort. They are: [b, d, g, v, ð, z, ʒ, dʒ]


Classification of English consonants according to the degree of noise

Class A. Noise Cs
  b, d, g, v, ð, z, ʒ, dʒ p, t, k, f, θ, s, ʃ, tʃ, h
According to the work of vocal cords voiced voiceless
According to the force of articulation weak (lenis) strong (fortis)

Class B. Sonorants are made with tone prevailing over noise because of a rather wide air passage. They are [m, n, ŋ, w, l, r, j].


2. The manner of articulation. The manner of articulation of consonants is determined by the type of obstruction. The obstruction may be complete, incomplete and momentary. According to the manner of articulation consonants may be of four groups:

1. Occlusive.

2. Constrictive.

3. Occlusive-constrictive (affricates).

4. Rolled.

1. Occlusive consonants are sounds in the production of which the air stream meets a complete obstruction in mouth. Occlusive noise consonants are called stops because the breath is completely stopped at some point of articulation and then it is released with the slight explosion, that's why they are also called plosives. According to the work of the vocal cords stops may be voiced and voiceless. Occlusive voiced consonants are: [b, d, g]. Occlusive voiceless consonants are: [p, t, k].

The particular quality of a sonorant depends on the position of the soft palate. Occlusive sonorants are also made with a complete obstruction but the soft palate is lowered and the air stream escapes through the nose, so they are nasal. The English occlusive nasal sonorants are: [m, n, ŋ,].

2. Constrictive consonants are those in the production of which the air stream meets an incomplete obstruction in the resonator, so the air passage is constricted. Both noise consonants and sonorants may be constrictive.

Constrictive noise consonants are called fricatives, i.e. the consonant sounds in the articulation of which the air passage is constricted and the air escapes through the narrowing with friction.

The English fricatives are: [f, v, θ, ð, s, z, ʃ, ʒ, h]. They can differ:

‒ in the work of the vocal cords: they can be voiced or voiceless. The voiced fricatives are [v, ð, z, ʒ]. The voiceless fricatives are [f, θ, s, ʃ, h].

‒ in the degree of force of articulation: they can be weak (lenis) or strong (fortis).

Constrictive sonorantsare also made with an incomplete obstruction but with a rather wide air passage; so tone prevails over noise. Constrictive sonorants are [w, r, l, j]. They are all oral, because in their production the soft palate is raised.

3. Occlusive-constrictive consonants or affricates are noise consonant sounds produced with complete obstruction which is slowly released and the air escapes from the mouth with some friction. There are only two occlusive-constrictives in English: [tʃ, dʒ]. [dʒ] is voiced and weak, [tʃ] is voiceless and strong.

Noise Cs Sonorants
Occlusive stops (plosives) Constrictive fricatives Occlusive-constrictive (affricates) Occlusive Constrictive
p, b t, d k, g f, v θ, ð s, z ʃ, ʒ h tʃ, dʒ m n ŋ w r l j


4. Rolled consonants are sounds pronounced with periodical momentary obstructions when the tip of the tongue taps quickly several times against the teeth ridge and vibrates in the air stream. In Ukrainian they are [р, р']. There are no rolled consonants in English.


3. The place of articulation. According to the position of the active organ of speech against the point of articulation (i.e. the point of articulation) consonants may be:

1. Labial.

2. Lingual.

3. Glottal.

1. Labial consonants are made by the lips. They may be bilabial and labio-dental. Bilabial consonants are produced when both lips are active. They are: [p, b, m, w]. Labio-dental consonants are articulated with the lower lip against the edge of the upper teeth. They are: [f, v].

2. Lingual consonants are classified into forelingual, mediolingual and backlingual.

Forelingual consonants are articulated with the tip or the blade of the tongue. They differ in the position of the tip of the tongue. According to its work they may be:

apical, if the tip of the tongue is active as in the case of [t, d, s, z, ʃ, ʒ, θ, ð, tʃ, dʒ, n, l]

dorsal, if the blade of the tongue takes part in the articulation, the tip being passive and lowered as in the case of the Ukrainian [т, т', д, д', н, н', с, с', з, з', ч', ц']; in English there are no dorsal consonants.

cacuminal (ретрофлексний), if the tip of the tongue is at the back part of the teeth ridge, but a depression is formed in the blade of the tongue as in the case of [r].


The classification of English forelingual consonants according to the position of the tip of the tongue

Appical Dorsal Cacuminal
t, d s, z θ, ð ʃ, ʒ tʃ, dʒ n l r


According to the place of obstruction forelingual consonants may be:






Interdental consonants or interdentals are made with the tip of the tongue projected between the teeth. There are two of them in English: [θ, ð].

Dental consonants or dentals are produced with the blade of the tongue against the upper teeth. There are no dental consonants in English.

Alveolar consonants or alveolars are articulated with the tip against the upper teeth ridge: [t, d, s, z, n, l].

Post-alveolar consonants or post-alveolars are made when the tip or the blade of the tongue is against the back part of the teeth ridge or just behind it: [r].

Palato-alveolar consonants or palato-alveolars are made with the tip or the blade of the tongue against the teeth ridge and the front part of the tongue raised towards the hard palate, thus having two places of articulation; both narrowings are flat: [ʃ, ʒ, tʃ, dʒ].

Mediolingual consonants are produced with the front part of the tongue. They are always palatal. Palatal consonants or palatals are made with the front part of the tongue raised hih to the hard palate: [j].

Backlingual consonants are also called velar, because they are produced with the back part of the tongue raised towards the soft palate (Lat. velum). They are: [k, g, ŋ].

3. The glottal consonant [h] is articulated in the glottis.


The Classification of English Cs According to the place of Articulation

Labial Lingual Glottal
Bilabial Labio-dental Forelingual Medio-lingual Back-lingual  
interdental alveolar post-alveolar palato-alveolar palatal velar  
p, b m w f, v θ, ð   t, d, s, z, n l r ʃ, ʒ tʃ, dʒ   j   k, g, ŋ h


Answer the questions

1. What does the articulation of a sound consist of ?

2. What is an articulatory classificationof speech sounds?

3. According to what are speech sounds divided into vowels and consonants?

4. What differences are there between vowel and consonant?

5. Explain the essence of:

a. articulatory differencesbetween vowels and consonants,

b. acoustic differencesbetween vowels and consonants,

c. functional differencesbetween vowels and consonants.

6. Classify English RP consonants.

Література:[2, с. 24-64; 4, c. 25–34].

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