Topic 8 – Phonological system of the english language ii: consonants. Phonetic symbols. Comparison with the language of your communityEscribir un título de entrada

Topic 8 – Phonological system of the english language ii: consonants. Phonetic symbols. Comparison with the language of your communityEscribir un título de entrada

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 production and main characteristics of English consonants.

Secondly with English consonants in detail: plosives, fricatives, affricates, nasals, laterals and approximants.

To end up comparing the English, Spanish and Catalan consonant 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”. 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.


When a consonant sound is uttered, the vocal cords inside the larynx can adopt four different states and the glottis, which is the opening between the vocal cords changes.

1. WIDE APART: usually during voiceless consonants such as /p, f, s/.

2. NARROW GLOTTIS: produces a fricative sound /h/. The sound is similar to a whispered vowel. It is called voiceless glottal fricative.

3. POSITION FOR VOWEL CORD VIBRATION: when the edges of the vowel cords are touching each other or nearly touching, and the air passing through the glottis usually cause vibration /b, d, g, z, v/.

4. VOCAL CORDS TIGHLY CLOSED: The vocal cords are firmly pressed together so that the air cannot pass through them. When this happens in speech it is called glottal stop or glottal plosive. Its symbol is:? /a? a? a?/.

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We can obstruct the flow of air by making strictures or obstructions in the vocal track and in the larynx. If the vowel cords vibrate in the larynx one will hear a sound that is called voicing or phonsyion. Vowels, diphthongs and triphthongs and voiced consonant vibrate.

There are several sorts of voicing: normal talking, screaming, whispering, singing, crying. All these differences are made by the larynx.

The pressure of the air below the vocal cords can also vary in:

· Intensity. High intensity: shouting.

Low intensity: speaking quietly.

· Frequency. Rapid vibration: high pitch.

Slow intensity: low pitch.

· Quality: Harsh, breathy, murmured.

Depending on the place of articulation a consonant can be:

· Bilabial

· Labiodental

· Dental

· Alveolar

· Palatal-alveolar (post alveolar)

· Palatal

· Retroflex

· Velar

· Glottal.

Depending on the manner of articulation it can be:

· Plosive

· Affricate

· Nasal

· Lateral

· Fricative

There are also semi-vowels, they are phonetically vowels but phonologically consonants /r/, /j/.

And finally consonants can be fortis or lenis, that is voiceless or voiced.

According to all the factors above mentioned there are different types of consonants:

1.1 THE PLOSIVE /p, t, k, b, d, g/

Articulators are moved one against the other, so we produce a stricture. After the stricture has been formed and the air has been compressed behind it, it is relaxed and air is allowed to escape. When the air is allowed to escape and the air behind the stricture is still under pressure there is a plosion.

The six plosive can occur in initial, medial and final position. The main difference between /p, t, k/ and /b, d, g/ is the aspiration. The first group suffers a strong face of articulation, that is why they are called fortis consonants; whether the articulation in the second group is weak and they are known as lenis consonants.

Description of the plosives:

· /p/ voiceless, fortis, bilabial, plosive.

· /b/ voice, lenis, bilabial, plosive.

· /t/ voiceless, fortis, velar, plosive.

· /d/ voiced, lenis, velar, plosive.

· /k/ voiceless, fortis, alveolar, plosive.

· /g/ voiced, lenis, alveolar, plosive.

1.2 THE FRICATIVES: /f, , s, , v, , z, , h/

They are produced when the air escapes through a small passage and makes a hissing sound. They are continuant because one could continue making then without interruption as long as one would have air in the lungs.

Description of the fricatives:

· /f/ voiceless, fortis, labiodentals, fricative.

· /v/ voiced, lenis, labiodentals, fricative.

· / / voiceless, fortis, dental, fricative.

· / / voiced, lenis, dental, fricative.

· /s/ voiceless, fortis, alveolar, fricative.

· /z/ voiced, lenis, alveolar, fricative.

· / / voiceless, fortis, palatal-alveolar, fricative.

· / / voiced, lenis, palatal-alveolar, fricative.

· /h/ glottal, fricative. (Phonetically voiceless vowel with the quality of a vowel that follows it /h/. Phonologically is a consonant /hj/.

The fortis fricatives have the effect of shortening the proceeding vowel as plosives do.

1.3 THE AFFRICATES /t, d /

They begin as a plosive and end as a fricative. They are the result of a plosive plus a homorganic fricative.

Description of affricates:

· /t / voiceless, fortis, palatal-alveolar, affricate.

· /d / voiced, lenis, palatal-alveolar, affricate.

At the final syllable they shorten the preceding vowel.

1.4 THE NASALS /m, n, n /

The air escapes through the nose. The soft palate is lowered while in the case of the vowels and other consonant is rise.

Description of nasals:

· /m/ bilabial, nasal.

· /n/ alveolar, nasal.

· /n / velar, nasal.


The passage of the air through the mouth does not go along the centre of the tongue. There is a complete closure between the centre of the tongue and the plate, so that the only way for the air to escape is along the fides of the tongue.

Description of lateral:

· /l/ alveolar, lateral.

1.6 THE APPROXIMANTS /r, w, j/

The articulators approach each other but do not get sufficiently close to each other to produce a complete consonant, plosive, nasal or fricative. The tip of the tongue approaches the alveolar area like /t/ and /d/, but never makes the contact with any part of the roof of the mouth. Lips are slightly rounded.

Description of approximants:

· /r/ palatal-alveolar, approximant.

· /w/ bilabial, approximant.

· /j/ palatal, approximant.

Phonetically /l/ and /w/ are considered vowels, but phonologically consonants. From the point of view of articulation /j/ is practically the same as /i:/ and /w/ is closely similar to /u:/.

/r/ is retroflex. The tongue is similar curled backwards with tip raised. In RP occurs before vowels only: red, carrot, hearing. After vowel there is no pronunciation of /r/: car, card, ever.

In Rothic accents the /r/ in final position or before a consonant is pronounced and in non-rothic accents only occurs before vowels.













p b

t d

k g



s z



t d













The English consonant system has 24 phonemes, whether the Spanish has 26.

ENGLISH: /p, t, k, b, d, g, f, v, ,, s, z, t , d , h, m, n, n, l, r, h, j, w/

SPANISH: /p, t, k, b, d, g, . , , f, , s, z, x, , ,t , m, n, n, ñ, , l, r, rr, j, w/

· As far as PLOSIVES /p, t, k, b, d, g/ are concerned, in general the two phonetic systems are equivalent. Both languages have the same phonemes, although Spanish has got /d, g/ in word-final position. There are differences in articulation. /p, t, k/ are aspirated in English but not in Spanish and /t, d/ are alveolar in English and dental in Spanish.

Spanish also has the sound / / as in ‘cueva’, ‘apto’.

· The FRICATIVES /f, , s, z/ are similar, but in Spanish are voiceless. Spanish has also the /j, x/ sound as in ‘mayo’, caja’.

· The AFFRICATE /d / does not exist in Spanish and the /t / is voiceless.

· The NASAL /m, n,n/ occurs in both languages. The Spanish system also has the / / as in ‘año’, not found in English.

· The APPROXIMANTS /l, r, j, w/ are in both languages. Apart from these, Spanish has an additional palatal lateral / / as in ‘silla’, but it lacks the dark /l/. The Spanish /r/ is a vibrant sound and the /r/ is a multiple vibrant ‘perro’


English has 24 consonant phonemes, whereas Catalan has 28.

ENGLISH: /p, t, k, b, d, g, f, v, , , s, z, t , d , h, m, n, n, l, r, h, j, w/

CATALAN: /p, t, k, b, d, g, , , , f, s, z, , , , ts, tz, t , d , m, n, n, n, , l, r, rr, w/ .

· As far as the PLOSIVES are concerned, in genera, the two phonetic systems are equivalent. But Catalan has an extra sound / / as in ‘faba’, ‘cova’ and / / as in ‘vagó’, ‘cargol’.

· The FRICATIVES / , / do not exist in Catalan, but there is another sound /j/ as in ‘iode’, ‘joia’.

· Apart from the two AFFRICATIVES /t ,d / the Catalan phonological system also has /ts, tz/ as in ‘potser’, ‘dotze’.

· The NASAL consonant sounds /m, n, n/ are also found in Catalan, but also the /n/ as in ‘any’.

· The LATERAL sound /l/ Catalan also has / / as in ‘lliri’, ‘callar’.

· Concerning the APPROXIMANTS the /r/ sound is more vibrant than the English one, but less than the Spanish. And /w/ and /j/ in initial position are closer to the English semi-vowels.

In terms of foreign language instruction pronunciation must play an important role in our classes. Pronounce words correctly it is really important.

Students may found difficulties in the pronunciation of some fricative and affricate consonant sounds because some of them are voiceless in Spanish and Catalan. Another problem may be the pronunciation of the /r/ sound, because it is a vibrant sound, both in Spanish and Catalan.

To improve pronunciation many things can be done such as: minimal pair, odd the wrong one, chants, songs.