Deciphering English Language Sounds: The Realm of Phonetics and Phonology
In this blog post, weâll will delve into phonetics and phonology as described in George Yule's book, "The Study of Language." Phonetic and phonology are two branches of linguistics focused on the sound system. They are critical to understanding how speech sounds are produced, which, in turn, shapes language and communication. This discussion will explore various aspects of phonetics and phonology, breaking down the complex world of sounds in the English language.
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Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this blog post are solely those of the author, an alumni of ITTT (International TEFL and TESOL Training). They do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of ITTT. The content provided in this post is for informational purposes only and should not be considered as official endorsement or representation by ITTT.
Phonetics, as George Yule explains in his book, is the general study of the characteristics of speech sounds. It delves into the physical aspects of speech, looking at how different sounds are produced. For instance, when we speak, sounds can be either voiced or voiceless. Voiced sounds involve vibrations, like /z/ or /v/, while voiceless sounds, like /s/ or /f/, involve obstructions without vibrations. To produce these sounds, various parts of our vocal tract, including the mouth, teeth, tongue, palate, and larynx, come into play.
Sounds are also categorized based on where and how they are produced. The articulation point is crucial. For example, bilabial sounds (e.g., /m/, /b/, /p/, /w/) are produced with both lips, while labiodental sounds (e.g., /f/, /v/) involve the upper front teeth and the lower lip. The alveolar sounds (e.g., /t/, /d/, /s/, /z/, /r/, /l/, /n/) are made by raising the front of the tongue to the alveolar ridge. These are just a few examples, and there are more, such as interdentals, post-alveolar, velar, and glottal sounds.
Another key aspect of understanding speech sounds is the manner of articulation. For example, /t/ and /s/ are both voiceless and alveolar, yet they are pronounced differently due to their distinct manners of articulation. /t/ is a stop consonant, where the airflow is blocked and then released, while /s/ is a fricative, with continuous airflow through a narrow constriction.
Moving on to vowels, George Yule notes that they are produced with a relatively free flow of air and are typically voiced. Vowels are categorized by the position of the tongueâwhether it's in the middle, front, or back, and whether it's high or low. Some examples include front vowels (e.g., "bead," "key"), central vowels (e.g., "oven," "support," "blood"), and back vowels (e.g., "move," "book," "fall," "cat"). Vowels can also combine to form diphthongs, where the tongue's position shifts from high to mid or low during pronunciation.
While phonetics deals with the physical aspects of sounds, phonology focuses on the abstract sound patterns in a language. Phonology explores how sounds function in a given language and how they influence meaning and communication. For example, slight changes in sounds can lead to different meanings.
In teaching the English language, especially to non-native speakers, understanding phonetics and phonology is essential. It's important for both teachers and students to grasp the complexities of sound production, as it forms the foundation for clear and effective communication.
Phonetics and phonology are pivotal in comprehending the sound system of the English language. As teachers and students, a deeper understanding of how sounds are produced and how they shape language and meaning is indispensable. Learning to pronounce words accurately and comprehend the subtle variations in sounds is the beginning of effective language use and communication.
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