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The Organs of Speech. The Articulatory Base of English.

The Subject-Matter of Phonetics. The Phonetic Structure of English.



1. Phonetics as a branch of linguistics.

2. The work of the organs of speech.

3. Methods of investigating the sound matter of the language.

4. The Phonological structure of the English language.


1. Phonetics as a branch of linguistics.Phonetics is a study of speech sounds. Phonetics deals with the production, transmission, and perception of spoken language. At each level, phonetics overlaps with some other sciences, such as anatomy, physiology, acoustics, psychology, and linguistics. In each case, phonetics focuses on phenomena relevant to the study of spoken language. Phonetics is a basic branch − many would say the most fundamental branch − of linguistics; neither linguistic theory nor linguistic practice can do without phonetics, and no language description is complete without phonetics, the science concerned with the spoken medium ['miːdɪəm] of language. That is why phonetics claims to be of equal importance with grammar and lexicology.

Phonetics is subdivided into practical and theoretical. Practicalor normativephonetics studies the substance, the material form of phonetic phenomenain relation to meaning. Theoretical phonetics is mainly concerned with the functioning ofphonetic units in the language.

The first phoneticians were Indian scholars (c. 300 BC) who tried to preserve the pronunciation of Sanskrit holy texts. The Classical Greeks are credited as the first to base a writing system on a phonetic alphabet. Modern phonetics began with Alexander Melville Bell (1819 – 1905), whose Visible Speech (1867) introduced a system of precise notation for writing down speech sounds. In the 20th century linguists focused on developing a classification system that can permit comparison of all human speech sounds. Another concern of modern phonetics is the mental processes of speech perception.

Three traditional branches of the subject are generally recognized:

1. Articulatory phonetics (артикуляторна фонетика) is the study of the way speech sounds are made ('articulated') by the vocal organs, i.e. it studies the way in which the air is set in motion, the movements of the speech organs and the coordination of these movements in the production of single sounds and trains of sounds;

2. Acoustic phonetics (акустична фонетика) studies the physical properties of speech sound, as transmitted between the speaker’s mouth and the listener’s ear;

3. Auditory phonetics (аудитивна фонетика) studies the perceptual response to speech sounds, as mediated by ear, auditory nerve and brain, i.e. its interests lie more in the sensation of hearing, which is brain activity, than in the psychological working of the ear or the nervous activity between the ear and the brain. The means by which we discriminate sounds – quality, sensations of pitch, loudness, length, are relevant here.

The fourth branch – 'functional phonetics' (функціональна фонетика) – is concerned with the range and function of sounds in specific languages. It is typically referred to as phonology. What is the main distinction between phonetics and phonology?

Phonetics is the study of how speech sounds are made, transmitted, and received, i.e. phonetics is the study of all possible speech sounds. The human vocal apparatus can produce a wide range of sounds; but only a small number of them are used in a language to construct all of its words and utterances.

Phonology is the study of speech sound types and prosodic (intonation) features which have a differential value in the language. It studies the way in which speakers systematically use a selection of units – phonemes or intonemes in order to express meaning. It investigates the phonetic phenomena from the point of view of their use.

In such a wayphonetics has two main divisions: on the one hand, phonology, the study of the sound patterns of languages, of how a spoken language functions as a 'code', and on the other, the study of substance, that carries the code.

Before analysing the linguistic function of phonetic units we need to know how the vocal mechanismacts in producing oral speechand what methods are applied in investigating the material form of the language, that is its substance.

Human speech is the result of a highly complicated series of events. The formation of the concept takes place at a linguistic level, that is in the brain of the speaker; this stage may be called psychological. The message formed within the brain, is transmitted along the nervous system to the speech organs. Therefore we may say that the human brain controls the behaviour of the articulating organs which effects in producing a particular pattern of speech sounds. This second stage may be called physiological.The movements of the speech apparatus disturb the air stream thus producing sound waves. Consequently the third stage may be called physical or acoustic.Further, any communication requires a listener, as well as a speaker. So the last stages are the receptionof the sound waves by the listener's hearing physiological apparatus, the transmissionof the spoken message through the nervous system to the brain and the linguistic interpretation of the information conveyed.


2. The work of the organs of speech. Although not a single one of the organs involved in the speech mechanism is used only for speaking we can, for practical purposes, use the term 'organs of speech' in the sense of the organs which are active, directly or indirectly, in the process of speech sound production.

In accordance with their linguistic function the organs of speech may be grouped as follows:

The respiratory or power mechanism furnishes the flow of air which is the first requisite for the production of speech sounds. This mechanism is formed by the lungs, the wind-pipe and the bronchi.

From the lungs through the wind-pipe the air-stream passes to the upper stages of the vocal tract. First of all it passes to the larynxcontaining the vocal cords. The function of the vocal cords consists in their role as a vibratorset in motion by the air-stream sent by the lungs. At least two actions of the vocal cords as a vibrator should be mentioned.

The opening between the vocal cords is known as the glottis. When the glottis is tightly closed and the air is sent up below it the so-called glottal stop is produced. It often occurs in English when it reinforces or even replaces [p], [t], or [k] or even when it precedes the energetic articulation of vowel sounds. The most important speech function of the vocal cords is their role in the production of voice. The effect of voice is achieved when the vocal cords are brought together and vibrate when subjected to the pressure of air passing from the lungs. This vibration is caused by compressed air forcing an opening of the glottis and the following reduced air-pressure permitting the vocal cords to come together again.

The height of the speaking voice depends on the frequency of the vibrations. The more frequently the vocal cords vibrate the higher the pitch is. The typical speaking voice of a woman is higher than that of a man because the vocal cords of a woman vibrate more frequently. We are able to vary the rate of the vibration thus producing modifications of the pitchcomponent of intonation. More than that, we are able to modify the size of the puff of air which escapes at each vibration of the vocal cords, that is we can alter the amplitudeof the vibration which causes changes of the loudnessof the sound heard by the listener.

From the larynx the air-stream passes to supraglottal cavities, that is to thepharynx, the mouth and the nasal cavities. The shapes of these cavities modify the noteproduced in the larynxthus giving rise to particular speech sounds.

3. Methods of investigating the sound matter of the language. It is interesting now to consider the methodsapplied in investigating the sound matter of the language.

From the beginning of phonetics the phonetician has relied mainly on what he could feel of his own speech and on what he could hear both of his own and the informant's speech. By training and practice he gains a high degree of conscious control over the muscular functioning of his vocal apparatus, and by experience he may acquire considerable skill in associating the qualities of the heard sound with the nature of the articulations producing it. These skills are obligatory for phoneticians and make phonetics an art rather than a science, an art which must be specially learned.

Instrumentalmethods deriving from physiology and physics were introduced into phonetics in the second half of the last century in order to supplement and indeed to rectify (вивіряти) the impressions deriving from the human senses, especially the auditory impressions, since these are affected by the limitations of the perceptual mechanism, and in general are rather subjective.

The use of instruments is valuable in ascertaining the nature of the limitations and characteristics of the human sensory apparatus by providing finer and more detailed analysis against which sensory analysis can be assessed. In a general way, the introduction of machines for measurements and for instrumental analysis into phonetics has resulted in their use for detailed study of many of the phenomena which are present in the sound wave or in the articulatory process at any given moment, and in the changes of these phenomena from moment to moment. This is strictly an instrumental method of study. This type of investigation together with sensory analysis is widely used in experimental phonetics.

The results available from instrumental analysis supplement those available from sensory analysis. Practically today there are no areas of phonetics in which useful work can and is being done without combining these two ways of phonetic investigation.

Articulatory phonetics borders with anatomy and physiology and the tools for investigating just what the speech organs do are tools which are used in these fields: direct observation, wherever it is possible, e.g. lip movement, some tongue movement; combined with X-ray photography or X-ray cinematography; observation through mirrors as in the laryngoscopic investigation of vocal cord movement, etc.

Acoustic phonetics comes close to studying physics and the tools used in this field enable the investigator to measure and analyse the movement of the air in the terms of acoustics. This generally means introducing a microphone into the speech chain, converting the air movement into corresponding electrical activity and analysing the result in terms of frequency of vibration and amplitude of vibration in relation to time. The use of such technical devices as spectrograph, intonograph and other sound analysing and sound synthesizing machines is generally combined with the method of direct observation. The methods applied in auditory phonetics are those of experimental psychology.


4.The phonological structure of the English language. English phonology is the study of the sound system of the English language. Like many languages, English has wide variation in pronunciation, both historically and from dialect to dialect. In general, however, the major regional dialects of English are mutually intelligible.

Although there are many dialects of English, the following are usually used as prestige or standard accents: Received Pronunciation for the United Kingdom, General American for the United States, and General Australian for Australia.

A phoneme is a sound or a group of different sounds which is/are all perceived to have the same function by speakers of the language or dialect in question. For example, the word 'sound' has four phonemes: the [s], the vowel diphthong [аu], the [n], and the [d]. Note that a phoneme is a feature of pronunciation, not of spelling.

The modern English alphabet is a Latin alphabet consisting of 26 letters, but the number of speech sounds in English varies from dialect to dialect, and any actual tally (підрахунок) depends greatly on the interpretation of the researcher doing the counting. The Longman Pronunciation Dictionary by John C. Wells, for example, denotes 24 consonants and 23 vowels used in Received Pronunciation, plus two additional consonants and four additional vowels used in foreign words only. For General American, it provides for 25 consonants and 19 vowels, with one additional consonant and three additional vowels for foreign words. The American Heritage Dictionary, on the other hand, suggests 25 consonants and 18 vowels for American English, plus one consonant and five vowels for non-English terms.


Answer the questions:

1. What does phonetics deal with?

2. Is phonetics as a branch of linguistics more important than grammar and lexicology? Why?

3. Name and specify the three traditional branches of phonetics.

4. What is phonology?

5. Name the two main methods of investigating the sound matter of the language.

6. How many standard accents of English do you know? Name them.

7. How many letters are there in the English alphabet? How many speech sounds are there in the sound system of English? Why can't we name the exact number? What does it depend on?

Література: [2, с. 8-10; 3, c. 30-33; 4, c. 5-16].


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