I have based this essay on the following sources:
– Roach, P. English Phonetics and Phonology. A Practical Course.
– O’Connor, J. Better English Pronunciation.
– Stockwell. The Sounds of English and Spanish.
In this essay I will deal with the following issues:
Firstly, with the main characteristics of vowels compared to consonants.
Secondly with the classification of vowels.
Thirdly, with the English short vowels, long vowels, diphthongs and triphthongs.
To end up comparing the English and the Spanish and Catalan vowel systems.
The vowels are sounds in which there is no obstruction to the flow of air, as it passes through the larynx to the lips. But in this is also true for some English sounds that we think of as consonants, such as the sounds at the beginning of the words “hay” and “way”. Another problem is that different languages have different ways of dividing their sounds into vowels and consonants.
That is why it is better to say that the main difference between a vowel and a consonant is their distribution. The study of distribution looks at the different contexts and positions in which a particular sounds can occur.
1. THE VOWELS
The English cardinal vowels can be classify according to:
- SHAPE: A vowel sound can be close, half-close, half-open or
- POSITION: A vowel sound can be front, central or back.
- LIPS: A vowel sound can be rounded /u/, spread /i/ or neutral
And divided into:
- PRIMARY: Represented between / /
- SECONDARY: Represented between [ ]
The following DIAGRAM shows the difference between primary and secondary vowels depending on their shape, position and lips.
FRONT CENTRAL BACK
CLOSE [ ]
/ / / /
/ / / /
1.1 ENGLISH SHORT VOWELS.
The phonetic representation of the 6 English short vowels is:
/I/ ‘bit’, ‘pin’, ‘fish’.
This vowel is in the close front area, compared with cardinal vowel [I], it is more open and nearer to the centre. The lips are slightly spread.
/e/ ‘bet’, ‘men’, ‘yes’.
This is a front vowel between cardinal vowel [e] and [ ]. The lips are slightly spread.
/ / ‘bat’, ‘man’, ‘gas’.
This vowel is front, but not quite as open as cardinal vowel [a]. The lips are slightly spread.
/۸/ ‘but’, ‘some’, ‘rush’.
This is a central vowel, more open than the half-open tongue height. The lip position is neutral.
/ / ‘pot’, ‘gone’, ‘cross’.
This vowel is not quite fully back, and between half-open and open in tongue height. The lips are slightly rounded.
/ / ‘pull’, ‘put’, ‘push’.
The nearest cardinal vowel is [u], but / / is more open and nearer to the centre. The lips are rounded.
/ / ‘about’, ‘suppose’, ‘perhaps’.
This vowel is called ‘schwa’ and it is always found in unstressed syllables.
1.2 ENGLISH LONG VOWELS.
Long vowels tend to be longer than the short vowels in similar contexts. The phonetic representation of the 5 long vowels is:
/I:/ ‘beat’, ‘mean’, peace’.
This vowel is nearer to the cardinal vowel [I] than the short vowel and the lips are slightly spread.
/ :/ ‘bird’, ‘fern’, ‘purse’.
This central vowel is well known in most English accents as the hesitation sound. The lip position is neutral.
/ :/ ‘half’, ‘car’, ‘pass’.
This is an open vowel, but not as bask as the short one. The position of the lips is neutral.
/ :/ ‘board’, ‘torn’, ‘horse’.
The vowel is almost fully back and has quite strong lip rounding.
/u:/ ‘food’, ‘soon’, ‘loose’.
It is not so back, nor so close as cardinal vowel [u], and the lips are only moderately rounded.
1.3 ENGLISH DIPHTHONGS.
They consist of a movement from one vowel to another. In terms of length, diphthongs are like long vowels. The first part is much longer and stronger than the second part. Foreigners do not usually make this distinction, and they should remember it. The total number of diphthongs is 8:
beard aired tour
fierce moored /ei/ /ai/ / i/ /a / / /
paid time voice home house
The centring diphthongs glide towards a schwa / /, and the closing ones have the characteristic that they all end with a glide towards the closer vowel. The second part of the diphthong is weak. The glide from a relatively more open towards a relatively more close vowel is produced.
The most complex English sounds of vowel type are the TRIPHTHONGS. A triphthong is a glide from one vowel to another and then to a third, all produced rapidly and without interruption. The triphthongs can be looked on as being composed of the five closing diphthongs described in the last section, with a schwa added on the end.
/ei / player
/ai / fire
/ i / royal
/ u / lower
/au / hour
2. COMPARISON: ENGLISH, SPANISH AND CATALAN VOWEL SYSTEM.
In the three languages vowels are defined by considering three aspects:
· The tongue height: close / open
· The part of the tongue which is raised: front / back / open
· The lips: rounded / spread / neutral.
and are voiced and oral sounds. All Spanish vowels must be considered as short, whereas in Catalan are divided between open and close and there is also a “neutral” vowel sound similar to that of the schwa.
· SPANISH: /a, e, i, o, u/
· CATALAN: /a, e, , i, o, , u, ∂ /
FRONT CENTRAL BACK ANTERIOR CENTRAL POSTERIOR
In the three languages diphthongs have a starting point and a second element. The starting point is longer and stronger. In English diphthongs are centralising and closing, in Spanish they can be: crecientes and decrecientes (vowel + semivowel) and in Catalan . As the way diphthongs are formed is different in both languages, only the “diptongos decreceintes” can stand comparison.
SPANISH: aire, bien, hoy, causa, bou
ENLGLISH: fly, day, royal, how, no
As far as the triphthongs are concerned there is no possible comparison because they are formed in a total different way.
SPANISH: /iai/, /iei/, /uai/, /uei/
ENGLISH: ei / /ai / / i / / u / /au /
In terms of foreign language instruction pronunciation must play an important role in our classes. Pronounce words correctly it is really important. Students may find difficulties pronouncing the diphthongs because, as I have said before, the first part is much longer and stronger than the second part. Another cause of difficulty for foreign learners is the pronunciation of the middle vowel in triphthongs, which can hardly be heard. To improve their pronunciation many things can be done such as: minimal pair, odd the wrong one, chants, songs.