Phonetics is the study of how human beings produce and perceive speech sounds. These sounds are called phonemes. There are literally hundreds of them used in different languages. Even a single language like English requires us to distinguish about 40! The key word here is distinguish. We actually make much finer discriminations among sounds, but English only requires 40. The other discriminations are what lets us detect the differences in accents and dialects, identify individuals, and differentiate tiny nuances of speech that indicate things beyond the obvious meanings of the words. --Dr. C. George Boeree, Shippensburg University of Pennsylvania


Phonetics - Phonology - English Pronunciation - Official Website - BenjaminMadeira
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The field of articulatory phonetics is a subfield of phonetics. In studying articulation, phoneticians explain how humans produce speech sounds via the interaction of different physiological structures.



Generally, articulatory phonetics is concerned with the transformation of aerodynamic energy into acoustic energy. Aerodynamic energy refers to the airflow through the vocal tract. Its potential form is air pressure; its kinetic form is the actual dynamic airflow. Acoustic energy is variation in the air pressure that can be represented as sound waves, which are then perceived by the human auditory system as sound.


The two classes of sounds



Sounds of all languages fall under two categories: Consonants and Vowels.

Consonants

All consonants may be classified as either voiced or voiceless. In articulating a voiced consonant, the vocal cords are vibrating. (The vibration may easily be felt by gripping the larynx--the "Adam's apple"--between the fingers and the thumb while articulating the consonant.) In articulating an unvoiced consonant, the vocal cords are not vibrating.

Present-Day English has several consonant pairs that are articulated alike except that one is voiced and the other is unvoiced. Some examples are the phoneme spelled b in bat (voiced) and the phoneme spelled p in pat (unvoiced); the phoneme spelled d in dab (voiced) and the phoneme spelled t in tab (unvoiced); the phoneme spelled th in this (voiced) and the phoneme spelled th in thistle (unvoiced).

Consonants may also be classified according to the manner of articulation and the point of articulation: that is, how and where the flow of air is stopped or impeded when the consonant is articulated. Thus, we get the following systems of classification.


Vowels

Nasal vowel / Oral vowel

Previous Vowel / Later Vowel

Rounded vowel / Unrounded vowel

Open vowel / Closed vowel


Place or point of articulation


One of the differences between consonants and vowels is that when we articulate vowels, the airstream flows out freely along the middle of the tongue. When we articulate consonants on the other hand, we make some kind of obstruction in the speech organs, which prevents the air from flowing out freely. These obstructions may be made with for example some part of the tongue touching or approaching the roof of the mouth, or with the lips touching each other or the upper teeth, or by making an obstruction between the vocal chords. The parts of the speech organs which are involved in articulating consonants (tip of the tongue, lips, palate, teeth, vocal chords etc.) are called articulators.

Bilabial consonants


Bilabials are consonants for which the flow of air is stopped or restricted by the two lips. Bilabials may be voiced (vocal cords vibrating during the articulation of the consonant) or voiceless (vocal cords not vibrating during the articulation of the consonant). Here is a list/examples of the bilabial sounds in Present-Day English.

1. /p/ (the phoneme spelled p in pat): voiceless bilabial stop/plosive.


2. /b/ (the phoneme spelled b in bat): voiced bilabial stop/plosive.


3. /m/ (the phoneme spelled m in mail): (voiced) bilabial nasal.


4. /w/ (the phoneme spelled w in wet): (voiced) bilabial semivowel




Phonetics - Bilabial consonants - English Pronunciation - Official Website - BenjaminMadeira
The parts of the human vocal apparatus
that are relevant to the description of English phonemes






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