How To Learn English Pronunciation 2 (Video Transcript)
Note 10/06/2022: This is an older video posted before the release of our language learning products..
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Before we begin, you can watch the video right here. The blog post I wrote about this video can be found here.
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Hi, this is Gabe from Towerofbabelfish.com.
This is the second tutorial on English pronunciation and the IPA, and it’s a fun one, now that you’ve learned voicing and place.
We’re going to learn about what you can do with each of these places, and in the process, I’ll try to make as many of these sounds as I can. I’m doing a video feed of my face so you can see what my lips are doing.
So, without further ado, here’s the IPA consonant chart.
You’ll see that places are on top – there are 12 of them total. We skipped retroflex, which isn’t used very often – it’s like alveolar, but with the underside of the tongue, here. I’ll do them, but I don’t promise perfect accuracy. I don’t speak any languages that use them, so we’ll see what happens.
Also, we skipped epiglottal, which I won’t do. Almost no one uses and it’s really hard to do. It’s like pharyngeal, but even further down in the throat. You use the epiglottis, which is a piece of cartilage that prevents food from going down your windpipe. I’m not going to demonstrate because I don’t have any experience with it at all!
So, manner is on the left side – you’ll see we have 9 of them.
You’ll remember from the last video that a consonant is caused by closing the airflow somewhat. The manners are arranged very roughly in order of how closed off they are in the mouth. The top one, nasal, is closed off completely in the mouth, but it comes out the nose. Fricative is closed almost completely, and approximants are closed just a little bit. You’ll get the idea.
We’ll start at the top: nasal. As you might have guessed, this involves air coming out your nose. You’ll recognize a lot of these consonants, and they all block the path of air out of the mouth, so it travels out of the nose making an n- or m-type sound. Here they are in order: /m/, /ɱ/, /n/, /ɳ/-ret, /ɲ/-pal, /ŋ/-vel, /ɴ/-uvular.
You’ll notice they’re all voiced. This doesn’t have to be the case; there is a symbol in IPA that unvoices things – it’s a little circle underneath. But the problem with nasal consonants is that if your mouth is closed and you’re not making any sound with your vocal cords, then all you get is air coming out of your nose. But some languages do use this.
Icelandic – we’re going to keep coming back to Icelandic because they have all these cool consonants in Icelandic – Icelandic uses unvoiced nasal consonants, and so you have this awesome word for knife, which is hnivr. You’ll also notice the R should be unvoiced. Hnivr.
Let’s move on to plosives. Plosives stop the air completely, and then air comes through and pops it open in a little explosion of air. You’ll notice that they come in pairs. There’s one on the left that’s voiceless, and there’s one on the right that’s voiced. Here the are in order. You have: /p/ /b/, /t/ /d/, /ʈ/ /ɖ/-ret, /c/ /ɟ/-pal, /k/ /ɡ/, /q/ /ɢ/, and the glottal stop /ʔ/.
Now, for the hardest one: fricatives. There are a lot of fricatives. Fricatives are when you close the articulators most of the way, and air blows through in a turbulent, sort of raspy sound. Again, you have unvoiced ones on the left, and voiced ones on the right. So, here goes: /ɸ/ /β/, /f/ /v/, /θ/ /ð/, /s/ /z/, /ʃ/ /ʒ/, /ʂ/ /ʐ/ (ich), /ç/ /ʝ/, /x/ /ɣ/, /χ/ /ʁ/, /h// /ɦ/.
OK, now for approximants. These should be easier for me; there’s just five of them on this chart. Approximants are made by…you close the airflow a little bit but not enough to make sort of a turbulent, fricative sound. It’s just enough to change the sound a little bit. And so you get: /ʋ/, /ɹ/,/ ɻ/, /j/, /ɰ/.
Now, there’s one missing here – a really important one – which is /w/. This is the English w. The reason it’s missing from this chart is because it’s an approximant, but it’s in two places at once. The tongue is raised in the back, like the velar approximant ɰ, but also your lips are rounded in a sort of ooh shape, so you get /wa/.
And now for trills. In a trill, you take the active articular and you put it against the passive articulator, like any sort of plosive thing, but you blow it open and close it rapidly. And so it vibrates against there. So let’s say you have the tongue and the alveolar ridge. The tongue will vibrate against the alveolar ridge, and you’ll get a sort of repeated plosive sound.
There are three of them in IPA. You have: /ʙ/, /r/, /ʀ/. These three are voiced, but again, if you stick a little circle underneath, you’ll get the unvoiced version. And again, in Icelandic and Welsh, you’ll find this. They have the unvoiced alveolar trill /r/.
If trills are like repeated plosives, then taps or flaps are the opposite. It’s just one quick contact between two articulators. So IPA has three of them: /ⱱ/, /ɾ/, /ɽ/.
Now for the lateral consonants. Lateral consonants is where the tongue comes up in the front and closes off in the front of the mouth, but air is allowed to escape over the sides, and so you get L-type sounds. There are two lateral fricatives – unvoiced and voiced – you’ll find unvoiced ones in, surprise, Icelandic and Welsh. These are: /ɬ/, /ɮ/.
There are four approximants – lateral approximants – which are more common. In order, you get: /l/, /ɭ/, /ʎ/, /ʟ/.
The English or the American standard L is actually a combination of two of these. You get the tongue raised in the front, like the alveolar /l/, and you get the tongue raised in the back, like the velar /L/, so you get them both together. There’s one lateral flap, /ɽ/, and that’s it for the IPA.
You’ve seen that you can get more sounds if you combine some of these, like in our W – which is a velar approximant with rounded lips – or our L, which is an alveolar and velar lateral approximant. Or you can add these diacritics, like the devoicing thing for all these Icelandic consonants. If your target language uses one of these, you’ll find it in that language’s phonology article on Wikipedia.
Let’s go over the English consonants.
We have the voiced bilabial nasal /m/, the voiced alveolar /n/, and sometimes the velar nasal /ŋ/ in words like king.
Our plosives are all in voiceless/voiced pairs. We have the bilabial /p/ and /b/, the alveolar /t/ and /d/, and the velar /k/ and /g/. You’ll notice that the voiceless ones /p/, /t/, and /k/ are all aspirated, meaning that there’s a big puff of air that comes out. The voiced ones /b/, /d/, and /g/ are not really aspirated – there’s a lot less air that comes out.
The last plosive in English is the glottal stop; this is where the vocal cords shut completely. You’ll find it before words that start with vowels – like in uh-oh or nuh-uh – and it sometimes replaces T, like button or catnip, instead of button or catnip.
In terms of fricatives, they’re almost all in voiceless/voiced pairs. We have the labiodental f/v, the dental θ/ð, the alveolar s/z, the post-alveolar ʃ/ʒ, and the unvoiced glottal fricative /h/.
We have three approximants: the alveolar /ɹ/, the palatal /j/, and the labio-velar (meaning lips rounded, back of tongue up) /w/.
Last but not least, there’s the lateral approximant /l/, which, if you’re American, is usually velarized too.
That’s it! I’ll have an Anki deck on the website with all of this info if you want to memorize it easily, or you can make your own using the IPA article on Wikipedia.
We’ll start vowels next. Until then!
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