Tema 50- El sistema fonológico de la lengua inglesa (3): las consonantes. Correspondencia entre sonidos y grafías

Tema 50- El sistema fonológico de la lengua inglesa (3): las consonantes. Correspondencia entre sonidos y grafías


Consonant sounds are those in which the air-stream meets a stricture of complete oral closure (plosives, affricates and nasals) or one of intermittent closure (rolls) or one of partial oral closure (laterals) or a stricture of close approximation (fricatives).

Consonant sounds tend to be non-syllabic or marginal in the syllable.

There are a number of points to be answered:

1. Are the vocal folds in action or not?

2. How strong are the breath force and muscular effort involved in the articulation?

3. Is the velum up or down?

4. Where does the interference of the air-flow occur?

5. What kind of interference is it?

1. Vocal fold activity determines whether consonant sounds are voiced or voiceless. Voiced consonant sounds are produced with the vocal folds in light contact and voiceless ones with the vocal folds wide apart, so that only breath goes through.

2. Consonant sounds produced with greater force are called fortis and those produced with less force are called lenis. So both voiced and devoiced consonant sounds are lenis and voiceless ones are fortis.

3. The position of the velum causes consonant sounds to be mainly oral (when it is raised) or nasal (when it is lowered)

4. There is a classification according to the place of articulation:

a) Glottal: [ʔ]

b) Velar: [k, g, ŋ]

c) Palatal: [Л]

d) Palato-alveolar: [S, Ʒ, ʤ, tS]

e) Post-alveolar: [⌟, t ̲⌟₀, d ̲⌟, n ̲]

f) Alveolar: [t, d, n₀, n, r, s, z, l₀, l, ɫ]

g) Dental: [t⊓, d⊓, n⊓, ɫ⊓, đ, Θ]

h) Labio-dental: [ɱ, k, g,]

i) Bilabial: [p, b, m]

5. Another way of classifying consonant sounds is according to the manner of articulation, that is, to the type of stricture made between each pair of articulators.







g) Nasals: In a nasal sound the velum must be lowered and there must be a stricture of complete closure somewhere in the mouth so that the air escapes through the nose

The English consonants can be grouped according to the fortis/ lenis opposition:
























No opposition







The remaining phoneme /h/ constitutes a special case, since it does not participate in the opposition, nor does it share the voicing feature of group (C).


1. Consonants in (B) and (C) are voiced between vowels or other consonants of the same group.

2. Lenis consonants are devoiced after and before pauses and fortis consonants

3. [l, r, w, j] are devoiced when preceded by a fortis plosive in an accented syllable.


When The English fortis plosives /p, t, k/ precede vowel sounds in an accented syllable, the voicing of the vowel does not begin together with the release stage of the plosive but some time later. When the lips separate after the stop, the tongue is already in position for the vowel, but only breath comes out before the vocal folds start vibrating. This voiceless interval between the release of a plosive and the voicing of a following vowel is called aspiration.

There are various degrees of aspiration:

1. /p, t, k/ are strongly aspirated in accented syllables: “Come at ten past eleven”

2. They are weakly aspirated in unaccented syllables and in final position: “The upper lip”

3. They are unaspirated when /s/ precedes them: “The school staff”.

When /p, t, k/ are followed by /l, r, w, j/ especially in accented syllables, the aspiration of the former makes the latter devoiced. Whenever aspiration is manifested as devoicing it will be shown as [₀]: “Please try to clean quickly”

Types of release:

English plosives are not always released in the same way. We have the following alternatives

1. Oral release: When followed by vowels or semi-vowels either with or without the aspiration period.

2. Non-audible release: Final plosives have a lack of audible release caused by a weak opening of the stop or absence of release. In clusters formed by 2 consecutive plosives, or plosive and affricate, the first one normally has non-audible release.

3. With glottal reinforcement: The fortis plosives and affricates can be reinforced with a glottal stop. Glottalization of /p, t, k/ is made before pauses and consonants, though not between vowels. With / tS, tr/ glottalization is also possible between vowels. In all these cases a glottal closure and its corresponding release is made either before or simultaneously with the oral closure for the plosive or affricate.

4. Nasal release: When a plosive is followed by a nasal, the release stage is not performed orally, but nasally. The air compressed behind the oral stop escapes through the nose

5. Lateral release: When /t, d/ are followed by /l/, both plosives are normally released laterally. Lateral release is marked [ ̮]

The English consonants in detail:

1. Plosives:

– [p] voiceless-fortis bilabial plosive

– [b] voiced-lenis bilabial plosive

– [t] voiceless-fortis alveolar plosive

– [d] voiced-lenis alveolar plosive

– [k] voiceless-fortis velar plosive

– [g] voiced-lenis velar plosive

2. Affricates:

– [ʧ] voiceless-fortis palato-alveolar affricate

– [ʤ] voiced-lenis palato-alveolar affricate

– [tr] voiceless-fortis post-alveolar affricate

– [dr] voiced-lenis post-alveolar affricate

3. Fricatives:

– [f] voiceless-fortis labio-dental fricative

– [v] voiced-lenis labio-dental fricative

– [Θ] voiceless-fortis dental fricative

– [đ] voiced-lenis dental fricative

– [s] voiceless-fortis alveolar fricative

– [z] voiced-lenis alveolar fricative

– [S] voiceless-fortis palato-alveolar fricative

– [Ʒ] voiced-lenis palato-alveolar fricative

– [h] voiceless glottal fricative

4. Nasals:

– [m] voiced bilabial nasal

– [n] voiced alveolar nasal

– [ŋ] voiced velar nasal

5. Laterals:

– [l] voiced alveolar lateral

6. Approximant:

– [r] voiced post-alveolar approximant

Spellings and pronunciation:

1. /t/

– Spelling th only in discotheque, thyme, Anthony, Esther, Thailand, Thames, Theresa, Thomas, Thompson

2. / ʧ /

– Spelling c in cello, concerto

– Exceptional spellings. Czech, putsch

3. /dƷ /

– Spelling ch only in sandwich, spinach, Greenwich, Harwich, Norwich

4. /f/

– Spelling gh only in cough, draught, enough, laugh(ter), rough, tough, trough

5. /v/

– Spelling ph only in nephew, Stephen

6. /s/

– Spelling se in some nouns and adjectives: abuse, close, diffuse, excuse, house, use. When these words function as verbs all are pronounced with /z/. Exceptions: fuse, surprise always with /z/; decrease, increase, promise, release always with /s/

– In used to when it means accustomed; with /z/ when it means employed

– Spelling s: base, case, chase, cease, geese, dose, exclusive, expensive

– Spelling z only in eczema, quartz, ritzy, waltz, Switzerland

7. /z/

– Spelling ss only in dessert, dissolve, hussy, hussar, possess, scissors, Missouri

– Spelling x mainly in Xerox, xylophone

– Spelling s: disease, erase, phase, pause, resemble, positive, result etc.

8. /S/

– Spellings Csion and tion: expulsion, tension, version, fiction, caution

– Spelling sch mainly in schedule, schmaltz, schwa

– Exceptional spelling: fuchsia

9. /Ʒ/

– Spellings -Vsion, -Vsure and –Vsual. Cnfusion, closure, casual.

– Spelling g in French loanwords: camouflage, collage, espionage, beige, rouge etc.

The following letters stand for more than one pronunciation and consequently tend to cause difficulty:

1. –ED: past tense and past participle suffix of regular verbs

– /d/ when the last sound of the infinitive form is a vowel or /b, g, dƷ, v, đ z, Ʒ, m, n, ŋ, l/

– /t/ when the last sound is /p, k, ʧ, f, Θ, s, S/

– /id/ when the last sound is /t, d/

2. –(E)S: plural, genitive case, third person singular and reduced forms of is and has

– /z/ when the last sound of the infinitive form is a vowel or /b, d, g, v, đ z, m, n, ŋ, l/

– /s/ when the last sound is /p, t, k, f, Θ/

– /is/ when the last sound is /dƷ, Ʒ, ʧ s, z, S/

3. –X-

– /ks/ when x is followed by an unaccented vowel: exercise, exit

– /gz/ when x is followed by an accented vowel: exact, exam, example

– /kS/ in anxious, complexion, luxury, sexual

– /gƷ/ in luxuriant, luxuriate, luxurious

– /z/ mainly in Xerox, xylophone

4. –NG

– /ŋ/: in final position: king, wrong and in inflected forms: hanger, singer. Also in hangar, gangway

– /ŋg/: in medial position: anger, finger, hunger and in the comparatives and superlatives of long, strong, young

– /ndƷ/: change, danger, stranger

Silent letters:

There are a number of silent letters, i.e. those which do not represent any sound at all.

1. b in –mb and –bt: lamb, climb, bomb, comb, debt, doubt

2. c in corpuscle, muscle, Connecticut, indict, victual(s). Note ch in schism, yacht

3. g in –gm, -gn: diaphragm, reign, gnaw

4. h in heir, honest, hour, honour, in rh: rhetoric, rhythm also in annihilate, vehicule, vehement; in proper names in –ham: Graham, Durham.

5. k in kn- knee. Note ck in blackguard

6. l in –lk and –lm: chalk, folk, talk, almond, calm also in half, calf, could, should, would

7. n in –mn: autumn, column

8. p in coup: cupboard, raspberry, receipt. Note ps in corps

9. s in aisle, apropos, chassis, debris, island, isle, Louis, viscount

10. t in –stle, -sten: apostle, castle; chasten, fasten also in French loanwords: ballet, cabaret; mortgage, often, postpone and the is asthma

11. w in wr- wh-: wrap, whole, in proper names in -wich and –which: Norwich, Greenwich, Harwich; also in answer, sword.