Tema 48- El sistema fonológico de la lengua inglesa (1): variedades. Correspondencia entre sonidos y grafías

Tema 48- El sistema fonológico de la lengua inglesa (1): variedades. Correspondencia entre sonidos y grafías

Allophone and phoneme:

Phoneme can be defined as the smallest contrastive phonological unit which can produce a difference of meaning. We can identify phonemes by finding words which differ by the smallest element possible: f.i: kit, cat, cart, cot, caught, cut. /I, ae, a:, o, o:, Λ/ are examples of phonemes in English because when susbstituted for each other they produce different words.

Allophone can be defined as the variants of each phoneme. For example, let us consider the four lateral articulations symbolized [l⊓, l₀, l, ɫ]. None of these sounds can function contrastively in English because they can never occur in the same phonetic environment. Every time we articulate [l⊓] a dental sound must follow it (health), [l₀] occurs only if a fortis plosive precedes it (class), we produce a clear [l] before vowel sounds (leaf) and a dark or velarized variety [ɫ] before consonant sounds and pauses (milk, wheel). The four sounds share basic phonetic characteristics and the English native speaker feels that they function as and the same entity.

In more technical terms we may say that they constitute the same phonological unit in English. They are just realizations or allophones of the same abstract sound unit called phoneme.

We have to remember that allophones are always represented by symbols enclosed in square brackets [ ], while phonemes between slant lines / /.

Phonetics and Phonology:

Whereas phonetics deals with allophones, phonology deals with the phonemes of a language.

It is essential to know which sounds produce differences in meaning between words (phonological study) and to establish how the various phonemes are actually realized (phonetic study).

– Phonetic level (allophones): [l, l₀, l, ɫ]

– Phonological level (phonemes): /l/

Allophones which can never occur in the place of another are said to be in complementary distribution. They are mutually exclusive because whenever one occurs no other can. F.i: the four lateral homophones are said to be in complementary distribution since none of them can occur in place of another.

Not all allophones, though, are conditioned by the context. Sometimes their use depends just on habit or preference, such is the case of the English fortis plosive before a pause. In “all right” the final /t/ may be realized either with release (exploded) or without it (unexploded) or accompanied by a glottal stop, among other possibilities. No matter which oe is used, the meaning will not change, nor will it sound foreign. When the allophones of a phoneme occur in the same environment without being in contrast they are said to be in free variation.

Variations in place of articulation:

We have seen how sounds influence one another when put together in words and sentences. A sound may influence one that follows as with aspiration, or one preceding it, as with length.
Place of articulation may also be conditioned by the phonetic environment: the diacritics [ַ] and [+] are used in allophonic transcription to indicate fronter and backer variants respectively.

We hall note the following cases:

1. The velars /k, g/ are articulated further front in the mouth when followed by affront vowel or /j/ and further back when followed by a back vowel or /w/. keep quiet [k+h iּpkַw₀aּƏt]. /ŋ/ is affected by preceding vowels: sing-song[siŋ+soŋ-]

2. The alveolars /t, d, n, l/ are articulated dentally when followed by /Θ, đ/ wealth and in the pos-velar region when /r, tr, dr/ follow: interest [inַ t ̲⌟₀Əst].

3. The nasals /n, m/ are normally articulated labio-dentally when /f, v/ follow, the resulting variant is assigned the symbol [ɱ]: in forests and valleys [iɱ`fo⌟˛istsƏɱ`vaeliz₀].

The English consonants in detail:

We are going to list the 26 English consonant phonemes with their main allophones:


1. /p/ voiceless-fortis bilabial plosive

– [ph] aspirated: part, pure, apart

– [p] weakly aspirated or unaspirated: participate, sport

– [p ̮] with non-audible or delayed release: napkin, top people

– [p ̮]with nasal release: step-mother

2. /b/ voiced-lenis bilabial plosive

– [b] voiced: husband, probably

– [b₀] devoiced: bribe, obtain

– [b ̮]with non-audible or delayed release: rob Peter

– [b ̮]with nasal release: submit, abnormal

3. /t/ voiceless-fortis alveolar plosive

– [th] aspirated: talk, tube

– [t] weakly aspirated or unaspirated: tenacity, story

– [t ̮] with non-audible or delayed release: football, outdoor

– [t ̮]with nasal release: written, atmosphere

– [t ̮]with lateral release: gentle, outline

– [t⊓]dental: eight

– [t_]post- alveolar : try, night train

4. /d/ voiced-lenis alveolar plosive

– [d] voiced: ladder

– [d₀] devoiced: dead

– [d ̮] with non-audible or delayed release: bedtime

– [d ̮]with nasal release: garden, admire

– [d ̮]with lateral release: medal

– [d⊓]dental: hundredth

– [d_]post- alveolar : bad dream

5. /k/ voiceless-fortis velar plosive

– [kh] aspirated: card, quite

– [k] weakly aspirated or unaspirated: whisky, school

– [k ̮] with non-audible or delayed release: baked

– [k ̮]with nasal release: thickness

– [k_] pre-velar: key, queue

– [k+] post-velar: cool, question

6. /g/ voiced-lenis velar plosive

– [g] voiced: again

– [g°] devoiced: gag, egg-shell

– [g ̮] with non-audible or delayed release: egg-cup

– [g ̮]with nasal release: ignore

– [g_] pre-velar: geese

– [g+] post-velar: lagoon


1. /ʧ/ voiceless-fortis palato-alveolar affricate.

2. /ʤ/ voiced-lenis palato-alveolar affricate.

– [ʤ] voiced: larger, enjoy

– [d₀Ʒ],[ʤ°] devoiced: misjudge, vegetable

3. /tr/ voiceless-fortis post-alveolar affricate.

4. /dr/ voiced-lenis post-alveolar affricate. d ̲⌟₀, d ̲⌟,

– [d ̲⌟] voiced: hundred, fedral

– [d ̲⌟₀] devoiced: bus-driver


1. /f/ voiceless-fortis labio-dental fricative.

2. /v/ voiced-lenis labio-dental fricative

– [v] voiced: living, seven

– [v₀] devoiced: front view

3. / Θ/ voiceless-fortis dental fricative

4. / đ/ voiced-lenis dental fricative

– [đ] voiced: rather

– [đ₀]devoiced: since then

5. /s/ voiceless-fortis alveolar fricative

6. /z/ voiced-lenis alveolar fricative

– [z] voiced: busy, puzzle

– [z₀]voiced: hosepipe, zone

7. / S/ voiceless-fortis palato-alveolar fricative

8. /Ʒ/ voiced-lenis palato-alveolar fricative

– [Ʒ] voiced: measure, vision

– [Ʒ°] voiced: genre

9. /h/ voiceless glottal fricative

– [h] voiceless: high, who

– [h] voiced: alcohol


1. /m/ voiced bilabial nasal

– [m] voiced: memory

– [m₀] slightly devoiced: smell

– [ɱ] labio-dental: comfort, some value

2. /n/ voiced alveolar nasal

– [n] voiced: noun, sudden

– [n₀] slightly devoiced: snow

– [n⊓] dental: synthesis

– [nַ] post-alveolar: unreal

– [ɱ] labio-dental: rainfall, invite

3. /ŋ/ voiced velar nasal ŋ-

– [ŋ+] pre-velar: king

– [ŋ-] post-velar: wrong


1. /l/ voiced alveolar lateral

– [l] clear (before vowels and /j/: lovely, steelyard

– [ɫ] dark (before consonants, pauses and /w/: fulfil

– [l₀] devoiced: place

– [ɫ⊓] dental: wealth

– [ɫַ] post-alvelar: children


1. /r/ voiced post-alveolar approximant

– [⌟˛] approximant (mainly before and between vowels): road, very

– [⌟] voiced fricative (after /d/): drive

– [⌟₀] voiceless fricative (especially after fortis plosives): prize

– [r] alveolar tap (after /Θ/): three


  1. /j/ voiced palatal semi-vowel.

– [j] voiced: yes, beyond

– [j₀]devoiced: pure, tube

  1. /w/ voiced velarized bilabial semi-vowel.

– [w] voiced: wild, await

– [w₀]devoiced: tweed, queen

Variations in vowels and diphthongs:

There are allophonic variations of quantity in vowels. Long vowels will be half long when unaccented, f.i: seminar[`seminaּ], when accented and followed by fortis consonants f.i: insert [`ins3ּt]and when accented and followed by an unaccented syllable in the same word f.i: harder[`haּdƏ].





[i:] tea

[iּ] seat


[a:] star

[aּ] part


[o:] door

[oּ] caught


[u:] blue

[uּ] boot


[3:] fur

[3ּ] first


[e:i] pay

[eּi] activate


[Ə:u] low

[Əּu] goat


[Ə:u] eye

[Əּu] advice


[a:u] vow

[aּu] outhouse


[o:i] toy

[oּi] voice


[i:Ə] clear

[iּƏ] fierce


[e:Ə] rare

[eּƏ] scare


[u:Ə] poor

[uּƏ] during

Features of connected speech:

1. Elision:

It is the omission of sounds, omitting either a vowel or a consonant

a) Word internal:

1) Elision of vowels mainly affects the weak, centralised ones /Ə, i,u/ when they are precede and followed by consonants in unaccented syllables f.i: /-tn/ certain, /-Sn/ caution, /-Ʒn/ vision, /-kl/ clasical, /-Sl/ commercial, /-sl/ cancel, /-ml/ animal, /-tn/ barrel.

When any of the nasals precedes the sequences –dƏn, tƏn, schwa must not be elided, with the exception of acquaintance.

2) Elision of /Ə/ allows the formation of affricates in /-tri/ /-dri/: secretary, secondary.

3) Elision of consonants inside words mainly affects alveolars, especially when preceded and followed by other consonants: handsome, postpone, postcard, grandma, grandpa.

b) At word boundary:

1) The word final alveolars /t, d/ are generally elided when preceded and followed by a consonant, especially when the following is a stop: send two, first day, last talk.

2) /h/ is elided in unaccented, non-initial he, his, her(self), him(self), have, has, had.

2. Assimilation

It is the process by which sounds are influenced by neighbouring sounds and come to share some or all of their phonetic characteristics. Assimilation is the result of an unconscious propensity towards ease of articulation and economy of effort.

a) Word internal: In the following examples, the non-assimilated variant may be regarded as belonging to a more studied, conservative style of speech.

/tS/ – /tj/ / ʤ/ -/dj/ /S/- /sj, si/

mature education glacial

accentuate individual appreciation


b) At word boundary: The English consonant sounds most easily influenced by adjacent sounds in connected speech are the alveolars /t, d, s, z, n/

1) /t, d, n/ may be assimilated to /p, b, m/ respectively under the influence of the bilabials /p, b, m/: that plan /đaep`plaen/, on purpose /om `p3pƏs/

2) /t, d/ may be assimilated to/tS,ʤ/ respectively when immediately followed by /j/ : last year /lastSiƏ/, behind you /bi`hainʤu/

3) /s, z/ may be assimilated to /S, Ʒ/ respectively when /S, j/ follow: her voice shook /h3`voiS`Suk/

4) /t, d, n/ may be assimilated to /k, g, ŋ/ respectively when in contact with /k, g/ hot cakes /`hok`keiks/.

According to the direction of the change, assimilation can be regressive when the initial sound of a word affects the final sound of the previous word: not possible /-pp-/ or progressive when the initial sound of the second word is affected: bookish style /-SS-/. Of the two, regressive assimilation is mucho more common in English than progressive.

3. Compression:

It occurs when a given articulation, either vowel or consonant is performed in a shorter space of time:

a) Word internal: Pronunciations with /Ə/ rather than /Əu/ could be said to represent a more casual style in words such as mobility, November, romantic, automobile. The forms with either /u/ or /Ə/ instead of /uƏ/ in the central syllables of actually, usually and valuable constitute the normal citation form for many speakers.

b) At word boundary: in all cases the compressed forms denote a fast style, f. i: the apple of my eye / ` đjaeplƏv ma(i)`ai/