Department of English Studies

HASSAN II UNIVERSITY                                              Dc. TOURABI


Department of English Studies




When a person wants to convey a message to another, he uses a variety of means: the message may be transmitted by visual means (using writing, sign language, and gestures); or it can be transmitted by means of sounds generated by certain organs available to every normal human being. We can, therefore, say that the natural or the primary medium of human language is the sound.

Thus, Phonetics may be defined as the study of speech sounds of human language.

The speech sounds can be studied from three points of view: the articulatory, the acoustic, and the auditory:

-Articulatory phonetics investigates and classifies speech-sounds in terms of the way they are produced by the organs of speech.

-Acoustic phonetics investigates and classifies speech-sounds in terms of the physical properties of the sound-waves which are created by the activity of speech organs and which travel through the air from the speaker to the hearer.

-Auditory phonetics studies speech-sounds in terms of the way they are perceived and identified by the hearer’s ears and brain.

Of these branches, Articulatory phonetics is so far the most highly developed.


In order to understand how sounds and sequences of sounds are produced it is necessary to study the functioning of the organs of speech.

The Functioning of the Organs of Speech:

These organs are not primarily organs of speech. Their first job is to make sure that the body survives. The lungs supply oxygen to the blood and thus to the muscles. The vocal cords, situated in the larynx or Adam’s apple, help to prevent foreign bodies from getting into the air-way of the lungs by closing off the windpipe. They also help us to cough up anything such as food and phlegm which the lungs reject. The tongue pushes food around in the mouth so that it gets chewed properly, But we also use these organs to produce sequences of sounds through which we communicate.

In Articulatory phonetics, speech-sounds are classified in terms of speech-organs that produce them, the manner in which they are produced and the airstream mechanism involved.


The production of any speech-sound involves the movement of airstream most speech-sounds are produced using the movement of the airstream.

Most speech-sounds are produced using lung air they are called Pulmonic sounds. Pulmonic sounds are produced by pushing long air out of the body through the mouth and sometimes through the nose.

They are called egressive. The majority of sounds used in languages of the world are produced by a Pulmonic egressive airstream mechanism.



Most speech-sounds in all languages are produced by modifying the airstream which is expelled by the lungs. The airstream moves up through the windpipe and through the glottis which has an opening space between the vocal cords.

 If the vocal cords are kept apart, the airstream is not obstructed at the glottis; it passes freely without vibration of the vocal cords. The sounds produced in this way are called voiceless sounds.

If the vocal cords are kept close together, the airstream forces its way through and causes them to vibrate, such sounds are called voiced.


The feature of voicing is not enough to distinguish all the sounds. Both b, m, are voiced and they are both labials. The difference is that b is oral whereas m is nasal. How are the nasal sounds produced?

The roof of the mouth or the palate is divided into two parts: the front part is hard and is called hard palate, the back part is soft is called the soft palate or the velum. The end part of the velum is called the uvula.

 If the uvula is at the higher position, i.e. touching the back of the throat, it blocks the nasal passage, leaving only one way for the air to escape which is the mouth such sounds are called oral sounds. If the uvula is at the lower position, the air escapes through the nose as well as the mouth. Sounds produced in this way are called nasal sounds: m, n, ŋ.


So far we have classified speech-sounds according to:

  1. The source of the airstream
  2. The position of the vocal cords
  3. The position of the velum

Speech-sounds are also classified according to other criteria depending on whether the sounds are vowels or consonants. The vowels are speech- sounds made by changing the shape of the oral cavity and by allowing free passage of the air from the lungs. The air passes freely through the oral cavity without any obstruction or restriction. The consonants, on the other hand, are produced by obstructing the airstream as it passes through the mouth. The consonants are therefore classified according to:

-Place or point of articulation: the place in the vocal throat where the greatest obstruction occurs.

-Manners of articulation:  the way the organs of speech are employed to produce speech-sounds.



If we classify the consonants according to the organs which articulate them, we distinguish nine to ten main places:

1.LABIALS: are divided into two classes:

a.Bi-labials: namely articulated by bringing both lips together: b, p,

b.Labio-dentals: namely sounds articulated by bringing the lower lip into contact with the upper teeth: f, v

2.INTERDENTALS:  are the sounds articulated by putting the tip of the tongue between the upper and lower teeth : Ɵ, ð

3.ALVEOLARS: Sounds are articulated by the tip of the tongue against the alveolar(teeth-ridge): t, d, s, z, n,  ʦ, ʣ, I, r,

4.POST-ALVEOLARS (alveo-palatals): They are articulated by bringing the front part of the tongue against the hard palate: ʃ, ʒ, ʧ, ʤ

5.PALATALS: are articulated by bringing the back of the tongue against the hard palate: the glide: j.

6.VELARS: are articulated by rising the back of the tongue to the soft palate or the velum: k, g,

7.GLOTTALS: articulated in the glottis: Ɂ, h.

9.RETROFLEX:( American r) are produced by turning the tip of the tongue behind the hard palate: ſ


If we classify speech-sounds according to the manner in which the organs classify them we distinguish two main classes: OBSTRUENTS and SONORANTS.


These include the stops, the fricatives, and the affricates. They are called Obstruents because the airstream is obstructed in its passage through the vocal tract.

  1. Stops: When the airstream enters the vocal cavity, it may be completely stopped: p,b,t,d.k,g,? These stops are also called Plosives because when the obstacle in the oral cavity is suddenly removed, the air that is blocked in the mouth explodes or makes an explosive sound. All the other sounds are called continuants because the airstream continues to flow through the mouth without complete obstruction.
  • Fricatives: The airstream is not completely stopped but is obstructed from flowing freely because the passage through which it must pass is very narrow; hence in escaping the air makes a kind of hissing: f,v, Ɵ, ð, s, z, ʃ, ʒ,.
  • Affricates: Sounds made by completely stopping the flow of the air and then releasing into a fricative. So phonetically, an affricate is a sequence of stops plus fricatives: ʧ, ʤ


All remaining sounds are called sonorants because they are made by shaping the vocal tract rather than obstructing it.

a.NASALS: Nasality involves the position of the velum: m, n, ƞ


-Lateral /1/: The tip of the tongue makes contact with the alveolar ridge, but the sides of the tongue are down allowing the air to escape over the sides of the tongue.

-Flapped-r: is produced by making the tongue flaps against the alveolar ridge. Most American speakers produced the r instead of t, d, intervocalically.

c. GLIDES: There are two glides are j, w, they are sometimes called semi-vowels.

/ j / is produced by rising the blade of the tongue towards the hard palate.

/w/ is produced by rising the back of the tongue towards the velum and rounding the lips, it is also called labiovelar.


Since vowels are characterized by the absence of obstruction of the airstream in the mouth, they do not have a place of articulation in the same sense as the consonants. We have to consider the total shape of the oral cavity. The oral cavity changes according to:

a. Tongue position: what part (front / back) of the tongue is involved and how high (high / low) is the tongue towards the palate

b. Lips position: does the vowel involves lip-rounding or not?


FRONT/BACK: In the production of the front vowels, the front of the tongue is raised in the direction of the hard palate

In the production of the back vowels, the back of the tongue is raised in the direction of the soft palate

CLOSE/ HIGH /OPEN /LOW: In the production of a close (high) vowel, the tongue is high and the mouth is close.

In the production of an open (low) vowel, the tongue is low and the mouth is open. There are two intermediate classes:

Half-close (mid-high) in which the tongue occupies a position of 1/3 of the distance from close to open.

Half-open (mid-low) in which the tongue is at 2/3 of the distance from close to open.


vowel quality is also depended on the position of the lips. The vowels produced with the lips rounded are called rounded-vowels.

The vowels produced with the lips spread out (flat) are called unrounded. This classification in terms of openness, backness, and rounding is based on the IPA system which uses a set of cardinal vowels.


In order to achieve an accurate and reliable description of the vowels of all human languages, phoneticians have set up a system of cardinal vowels. This must not be identified with the vowels of any actual language. They are used as points of reference from which other vowels can be measured and described. There are 19 cardinal vowels, 8 primary and 11 secondary. Each of the primary cardinal vowels has its counterpart among the secondary cardinal vowels.

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