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Sound-spelling Discrepancies

There are five principal reason for the discrepancy between the written representation of
many English words and their actual pronunciation:
1. English orthography had several diverse origins with different spelling
1. The system that had evolved in Wessex before the Norman Invasion of
1066 gave us such spellings as ee for the sound in words like deed and
2. The system that was overlaid on the Old English system by the Normans,
with their French orthographic customs, gaves us such spellings as queen
(for the earlier cween) and thief (for earlier theef).
3. A Dutch influence from Caxton, the first English printer, who was born in
England but lived in Holland for thirty years, gave us such spellings as
ghost (which replaced gost) and ghastly (which replaced gastlic).
4. During the Renaissance, an attempt to reform spelling along etymological
(that is, historically earlier) lines gaves us debt for earlier det or dette and
salmon for earlier samon.
2. A spelling system established several hundred years ago is still used for a
language that continues to change and develop its spoken form. Thus the initial k
in knock, know, knee, and certain other words was once pronounced, as was the
gh in knight and thought, among others. As to vowels, change in progress when

the system was developing and continuing change in pronunciation have led to
such matched spelling for mismatched pronunciations as beat/great and
3. English is spoken differently in different countries throughout the world (and in
different regions within a single country), despite a relatively uniform standard for
written orthography. Though this orthographic uniformity certainly facilitates
international communication, it also increases the disparity between the way
English is written and spoken in any given place.
4. Words (and their meaningful subparts) alter their pronunciation depending on the
adjacent sounds and stress patterns. For example, in electric the second c
represents the sound [k] as in kiss, but in electricity it represents the sound [s] as
in silly. Compare also the pronunciation of i in senile (pronounced like the i of I'll)
with its pronunciation in senility (in which it has the i of ill).
5. Spoken forms differ from one set of circumstances to anotherfor example, in
formal and informal situations. While some degree of such variation is
incorporated into the written system (do not/don't; was/'twas), there is relatively
little tolerance for such spelling variation as gonna ('going to'), wanna ('want to'),
gotcha ('got you'), and jeat yet? ('did you eat yet?'). Such variable spelling of
variable speech would force readers to determine the pronunciation of the
represented speech before arriving at meaning, instead of directly for meaning,
as adult readers normally do, with the necessity of silent pronunciation.

Articulators above the larynx

All the sounds we make we speak are the result of muscles contracting the muscles in
the chest that we use for breathing produce the flow of air that is needed for almost all
speech sounds; muscles in the larynx produce many different modifications in the flow
of air from the chest to the mouth. After passing through the larynx the air goes through
what we call the vocal tract, which ends at the mouth and nostrils. Here the air from the
lungs escapes into the atmosphere. We have a large and complex set of muscles that
can produce changes in shape of the vocal tract, and in order to learn how the sounds
of speech are produced it is necessary to become familiar with the different parts of the
vocal tract. These different parts are called articulators and the study of them is called
articulatory phonetics.

Fig. 1 is a diagram that is used frequently in the study of phonetics. It represent s the
human head, seen from the side, displayed as though it had been cut in half. You will
need to look at it carefully as the articulators are described.

The pharynx is a tube which begin just above the larynx. It is about 7cm long
in women and about 8cm in men, and its top end it is divided into two, one
part being the back of the mouth and the other being the beginning of the way


through the nasal cavity.

The velum or soft palate is seen in the diagram in a position that allows air to
pass through the mouth. Yours is probably in that position now, but often in
speech it is raised so that air cannot escape through the nose. The other
important thing about the velum is that it is the one of the articulators that can
be touched by the tongue. When we make the sounds k and g the tongue is
in contact with the lower side of the velum, and we call these velar


The hard palate is often called the roof of the mouth. You can feel its smooth


curved surface with your tongue.

The alveolar ridge is between the top front teeth and the hard palate. You can
feel its shape with your tongue. Its surface is really much rougher than it feels
and is covered with little ridges. Sounds made with the tongue touching here


such as t and d are called alveolar.

Fig. 2 shows the tongue on a larger scale with these parts shown: tip, blade,


front, back, and root.

The tongue is in contact with the upper side teeth for many speech sounds.
Sounds made with the tongue touching the front teeth are called dental.


The lips are important in speech. They can be pressed together (when we
produce the sounds p, b), brought into contact with the teeth (as in f, v) or
rounded to produce the lip-shape for vowels like u: . sounds in which the lips
are in contact with each other are called bilabial, which those with lip-to-teeth
contact are called labiodentals.

Vowels and Consonant

If we say that the different between vowels and consonants is a difference in the way
that they are produced, there will inevitably be some cases of uncertainty of
disagreement ; this is problem that cannot be avoided. It is possible to establish two
groups of sound(vowels and consonants) in another way. Consider English words
beginning with the sound h, what sounds come next after this h? we find that most of
the sound we normally think as vowels can follow(for example e in the word hen)but
practically none of the sounds we class as consonants.
We need to know in what ways vowels differ from each other. The first matter to
consider is the shape and position of the tongue. It is usual to simplify the very complex

possibilities by describing just two things: firstly the vertical distance between the upper
surface of the tongue and the palate. And secondly the part of the tongue, between front
and back, which is raised highest. Lets look at some examples:

Make a vowel like the i: in the English word see and look in a mirror, if you tilt
your head back slightly you will able to see that the tongue is held up close to
the roof of the mouth. Now make an vowel as in the word cat. And notice
how the distance between the surface of the tongue and the roof of the mouth
is now much greater. The difference between i: and is a difference of
tongue height and we would describe i: as arelatively close vowel and as a
relatively open vowel. Tongue height can be changed by moving the tongue
up or down or moving the lower jaw up or down. Usually we use some
combination of the two sorts of movement. It is usually found simpler to
illustrate tongue shapes for vowels as if tongue heights was altered by tongue
movement alone without any accompanying jaw movement. So, we would


illustrate the tongue height difference between i: and as in Fig.3.

In making the two vowels describe above, it is the front part of the tongue that
is raised. We could therefore describe i: and as comparatively front vowels.
By changing the shape of the tongue we can produce vowels in which a
different part of the tongue is the highest point. A vowel in which the back of
the tongue is the highest point is called a back vowel.

The idea of cardinal vowels

So far, we have been treating the IPA vowel symbols as standing for the sounds that
occur in certain English words.
This doesn't make it very easy for us to compare vowels between languages or dialects.
How do we write the difference between monophthongal [o] in Winnipeg English and a
monophthongal [o] in Scottish English or a monophtongal [o] in Italian?
The IPA symbols for vowels are better seen as similar to international standards for
things like colour names. "Red" paint has to be of a certain hue and intensity, otherwise
modifiers have to be added: "dull brick red". Similarly, the symbol [o] refers to a vowel
made with the tongue body in a relatively exact place (and which will therefore have the
formants at certain frequencies). A very narrow transcription would record any deviation
from this place.

So the symbol [

] does not stand for the vowel in English father. It stands for the

vowel that is the furthest back and the lowest possible vowel in the vowel space (the
vowel with the highest F1 and the closest F2 to F1). Period. Canadian English just
happens to have the vowel in father very close to this position. When we make
statements about other dialects, for example, when we say that the typical

pronunciation of the vowel of father in the northern U.S. is more front than [

aren't saying that the Canadian pronunciation is more deserving of the symbol [

], we


because it is somehow better, we are merely saying that the northern U.S.
pronunciation is not in the lowest, backest part of the vowel space.
The idea of cardinal vowels originated with Daniel Jones.
The cardinal vowel chart organizes the vowel space between the two most extreme

tongue body positions: high front [i] and low back [


The high/low dimension is divided into four equally spaced levels. These correspond to
the vowels we have been describing as:
1. high tense
2. mid tense
3. mid lax
4. low

The four back cardinal vowels are [u], [o], [

], and [


The equal spacing between the height levels can be determined articulatorily (make
your tongue body move in four equal steps from high to low) or acoustically (divide the
F1 dimension into four levels from lowest to highest). Jones' original proposal only
considered the articulatory definition.
Other vowels are placed on the vowel chart using these cardinal vowels as landmarks.
The eight vowels seen so far are called the primary cardinal vowels. The secondary
cardinal vowels are obtained by using the opposite lip-rounding on each primary
cardinal vowel. The primary and secondary cardinal vowels are often referred to by a
number as well as by their symbols.
Short Vowels
English has a large number of vowel sounds, the first ones to be examined are short
vowels. The symbols of these short vowels are , e, , , , . Short vowels are only
relatively short. Each vowels is described in relation to the cardinal vowels.



Consonant Chart
The IPA features 58 standard consonant symbols, only a fraction of which are used in
any given language. For this reason, I will not describe every consonant here. Rather,
this guide defines the phrases used on the top and left-hand side of the standard IPA
consonant chart:

The top row of phrases on this chart refer to the Consonant positions: that is, what part
of the mouth or throat is used to create the consonant. The phrases on the left side of
the chart are the manners of articulation of those consonants: that is, the type of
sound that is created.
Here are some definitions of the phrases used on this chart:







English Example: b in bed















English Example: v in very









English Example: th in thing

Alveolar: Made with the tip of the tongue and the area just behind the top teeth
English Example: t in Tom
Post-Alveolar: Made with the tip of the tongue and the are just behind where the




English Example: sh in short

Retroflex: Made with the tip of the tongue curved backward behind the alveolar ridge.
English Examples: r in some dialects of American English











English Examples: y in yes

Velar: Made with the back of the tongue and the velum (the back of the mouth).
English Examples: c in cat













English Examples: No English examples. This is how the French r is usually made.

Made with the root (far back) of the tongue and the pharynx.

English Examples: None. Arabic is the most well know language with Pharyngeals.
Glottal: Made with the glottis (see definition in the glossary). In essence glottal






English Example: h in hat

Now lets look at a rundown of the manner of articulation or qualities that
consonants can have:
Plosive: Part of the vocal tract or mouth is closed, then air is released with a sharp
English Examples: p in pet, t in Tom
Nasal: Made with the back of the mouth closing up so that air passes through the nasal
English Examples: n in nose, m in me












English Examples: None in standard English. The trilled r in Spanish and Italian.


Tap or Flap: Basically like it sounds. The consonant is made with the tongue quickly






English Examples: The t in better in American English. The r in Spanish cara

Fricative: Made by closing some part of the mouth or vocal tract and pushing air



English Examples: The f in free, the s in silly

Lateral Fricative: Made with the tip of the tongue placed against the top teeth, and
creating a fricative consonant using the sides of the mouth. If youre confused about
this, dont worry. Its used in very few languages.
Lateral Approximant: Made with the tip of the tongue placed against the top teeth, and
air coming out the small space between the sides of the tongue and the top of the
English Example: l in lake
The best way to learn what sounds are which is to find the IPA symbol you dont know
on the chart, then cross reference the manner of articulation with the consonant


Diphthongs are types of vowels where two vowel sounds are connected in a
continuous, gliding motion. They are often referred to as gliding vowels. Most languages
have a number of diphthongs, although that number varies widely, from only one or two
to fifteen or more.
A vowel is a specific type of sound, characterized by a lack of full obstruction to
the air flow. Vowels can be contrasted with consonants, where there is such an
obstruction. As air comes out when you are speaking a consonant, there is a build up of
pressure as the air flow is constricted. When speaking a vowel, there is no built up
pressure, the sound is simply shaped by the position of the tongue.
Vowels are generally characterized by three different criteria: the position of the
tongue in the mouth relative to the roof of the mouth (height), the position of the tongue
in either the front or back of the mouth (backness), and the shape of the lips as the
vowel sound is being made (roundedness). There are other things that may
characterize vowels, but they are not very common in English things such as the
position of the root of the tongue, for example, rarely affect English vowels, though they
affect the vowels in many African languages.
When vowels come together, they may either be two distinct syllables, or may
merge into one syllable. When they merge, they form what are known as diphthongs. If
they stay separate they are simply two monophthongs. An example of two single
syllable vowels can be seen in the word triage, in which the i and the a are both
pronounced on their own. An example of a diphthong can be seen in the word mouse, in

which the ou part of the word obviously consists of two distinct vowels, but there is no
syllabic break between the two.
Diphthongs can usually be seen as having two distinct parts the nucleus, and
the off-glide. The nucleus of the diphthong is the vowel that is most stressed, and forms
the center of the sound, while the off-glide is the vowel which seems to flow into or off of
the nucleus vowel.
There are eight English diphthongs altogether. To make diphthongs, your tongue,
lips (and your jaw on occasions!) have to move. Sometimes the journey your tongue
makes is short and very controlled; in some of the diphthongs, it has to move a long










Learners find diphthongs difficult because producing them is a motor skill (like body
building!) which has to be practised in order to obtain a good result. You cannot succeed
in English pronunciation by understanding alone. The muscles you have to train to
make English diphthongs are unlikely to be identical to those you use in production of
vowel sounds in your first language.
The three major diphthongs in Standard English, which are known as phonemic
diphthongs, are ai, aw, and oy. All three of these diphthongs are very common, and
many people simply think of them as single vowels in some contexts. For example, in
the English word ride, the i would be transcribed phonetically as ai. Although it appears
as a single letter in our writing, it actually consists of two vowels if you say the word


you should be able to hear the two. Similarly, the word how contains the diphthong aw
at the end, and the word boy contains the diphthong.
In English, there are two main types of diphthongs: centring and closing. Theclosing
diphthongs are further subdivided into two as indicated in the chart below:

Centring diphthongs end with a glide towards //. They are called centring
because / / is a central vowel.


hear //
pear /e/
poor //

Closing diphthongs end with a glide towards // or towards //. The glide is
towards a higher position in the mouth. bail /e/ row //
right /a/ owl /a/
toy //
Other diphthongs in Standard English are the ei sound in the word fame or the
pronunciation of the letter a, and the ou sound in the word phone. Other languages
have many more diphthongs aside from these, and other dialects of English may have
more diphthongs as well. Languages such as Finnish have nearly twenty diphthongs,
while the Received Pronunciation dialect of English has an extra five or so diphthongs
not found in Standard English.
In addition to diphthongs and monophthongs, there are also what are called
triphthongs. These are similar to diphthongs, but instead of moving simply from one
vowel sound to another, a third sound is also added.

Definition of triphthong
A triphthong is a glide from one vowel to another and then to a third, all producedrapidly
and without interruptions (Roach, 2010). For e.g., a careful pronunciation ofthe word
our starts with a vowel similar to /a:/ which then glides towards the backclose rounded
area (as represented by the symbol //) then ends with a mid-centralvowel (schwa, // ).
our is transcribed as /a/.
The triphthongs are composed of the 5 closing diphthongs described earlier butthey end
with a schwa //. Thus, we get:
/e/ + / / = /e/ as in mayor, payer
/a/ + / / = /a/ as in tire, dryer
// + / / = // as in royal, loyal
// + // = // as in buoyant, follower
/a/ + / / = /a/ as in sour, flower


Whether triphthongs (and tetraphthongs) actually exist is also somewhat debated: the
issue is, as with diphthongs, what status/difference is there between the glides (semivowels) /j/ and /w/ and "true" vowels
Some people argue that the accent of English has, in addition to diphtong, some
triphtong, or vowels which have three distinct qualities. If you say the words fire very
slowly and carefully, you may notice that it starts with an open vowel, moves to a close
vowel, and then moves again to a more central vowel. However, it is not clear if this
should be regarded as triphthong or as a diphthong, followed by a monophthong. The
issue can be illustrated by comparing fire with higher. Many people consider that fire
has just one syllable , which suggest that it has single vowel. But higher has two
It would be thus be theoretically possible for English to have distinction between
triphthong, a single syllable, and a diphthong followed by monophthong, two syllable.
However there is no evidence that anyone really makes this distinction in English.


The consonants
Plosives are defined as consonant sounds which involve, first, a stricture of the mouth
that allows no air to escape from the vocal tract and, second, the compression and
release of the air. So, there are four phases in the production of plosives: closure, hold,
release and post-release.
English has six plosive consonants, p, t, k, b, d, g. /p/ and /b/ are bilabial, that is, the lips
are pressed together. /t/ and /d/ are alveolar, so the tongue is pressed against the
alveolar ridge. /k/ and /g/ are velar; the back of the tongue is pressed against an
intermediate area between the hard and the soft palate.
/p/, /t/ and /k/ are voiceless. /b/, /d/ and /g/ are normally voiced. The release of the
voiceless plosives is followed by audible plosion and in the post-release phase, by an
aspiration. So, the most noticeable difference between the voiceless and the voiced
plosives is this aspiration. In VC position, the vowels preceding the voicelessplosives
are much shorter. Place of articulation


Fricatives and Affricates

Fricatives are characterised by a hissing sound which is produced by the air
escaping through a small passage in the mouth. Affricates begin as plosives
and end as fricatives. These are homorganic sounds, that is, the same
articulator produces both sound, the plosive and the fricative. Place of

Voiceless fricatives have the effect of shortening the preceding vowel, in the same way
as voiceless plosives.