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The Speach Sounds in Languages and How they Are Made

Broadly speaking, the speach sounds can be divided in two categories, the vowels that are made without the tongue or any other part touching any other part in the mouth, and the consonants where the tongue or parts in the throut touch one or more other parts.

A speach sound can involve using the vocal cords together with other anatomical parts, which produce a voiced sound, or the vocal cords can be let slack, by which an unvoiced sound is pronounced. Usually vocals are voiced, but some languages also make use of unvoiced vocals to some extent. Consonants can be voiced or unvoiced. Often languages have pairs of consonants of which the only difference is voicing or lack thereoff. In Enflish you have the pairs v-f and s-z. The pairs p-b, t-d and k-g have that difference, but often there are other differences too in these.


One classifies vowels mainly in four properties. One property is how long backwards or frontwards you direct the tongue. The vowel can thus be front, mid or back.

One also classifies vowels according to how high the tongue is rised towards the plate. Vowels can thus be low, mid orhigh in horisontal direction.

When one pronounce a vowel, one can do it with the lips and tongue rounded, and thus a vowel is either unround or round.

During pronunciation you can also have the soft palate high so that mainly the mouth will rsonate, by which the vowel is called oral, or one can lower the soft palate so that some of the sound will resonate in the nose, by which it is called nasal.

By this classification it is possible to make 36 distinct vowels, but very few languages make use of anything near to this number.

When two or three vowels stand together, it is possible to go smoothly from pronunciation of one to the other and so that one of the vowels have the most marked stress or tone. Such combinations are called diphthongues and triphtongues.

A vowel in such a combination that is not the marked one, is often called a half-vowel.


Consonants vary according to where the parts of the articular apparatus meet each other.

The lips can meet, by which one pronounce a labial sound. The tip of the tongue can touch the teeth, making an apico-dental sound, usually only called dental.

If the tongue tip is placed against the area just behind the teeth, you get an apico-alveolar sound, or just alveolar. Few languages make an important difference betwen dental and alveolar sounds, though.

If you curl the tongue backwards an place the tip even further back against the front palete, it is called a retroflex consonant.

By placing the mid of the tongue against the mid of the palate, you get a doro-palatal sound, usually only called dorsal.

Sometimes you will encounter the wider term "platal sound" that encompasses all sounds where the tongue is used against the palate. The term includes both the retrofles and dorso-palatal sounds. It is for example also possible to stretch the tongue foreawrd and place the bak of the sound against the mid palate. Such sounds are also often just called palatal.

By placing the bacl of the tongue against the border between the hard and soft plate, you get a velar sound, and when placing it at the very back rim of the soft palate and uvula, you get what is called an uvular sound.

It is also possible to press the root of the tongue backwards against the back wall of the throut, by which you will have a pharyngeal sound. In English the "h" is pronounced this way sometimes.

The vocal cord can be used in a way that you get a consonantal sound, and not a voicig, by which you get a glottal consonant.


CONSONANTS do not differ only by the places they are articulated, but also according to mode of articulation.

By pressing the tongue and other parts only slightly together, you get an approximant, which have a very soft sound. By pressing harder together, you get a stronger hissing sound, which is called a spirant or fricative, for example f, v, s sh.

If you press the speach parts so hard together that the air stream is stopped, and then let open, you get an explosive sound called a clusile or stop. Examples are p, t, k, b, d, g.

You can press the speach parts together so that the air is stopped in the mouth, but lower at the same time the soft plate so that the air is let out through the nose, which will produce a nasal sound, like m, n and ng.

By pressing the mid of the tongue upwards, but have space at each side of the tongue, or possibly only at one side too, you get a latteral, of which l is an example.

If you negotiate the force when you press the speach parts together and the force of the airstream so that a distinct turbulence is probounced, you get a rolled sound. The r is a rolled sound in many languages and in variants of English.


In addition to place of articulation and the primary mode of articulation, consonants often will have other properties, of which use of the vocal cord si that they get voiced is the most usual. Thus you can get voiced consonants contrasting with unvoiced as two different speach sounds. In English you hare umvoiced-voied pairs like f-v, s-z, p-b, t-d, k-g.

Snother additional property is aspiration, by which one lets the consonant gradually change into a breath sound. In English this property alone do not distinguish two speach sounds, but the stops p, t, k tend to be aspirated while b, d, g tend not to be.

Still another property is glottalization by which one closes the vocal cords too when pronouncing a consonantso thatyou get an elevate pressure between the vocal cords and the place where you prinarily articulate the sound. This elevated pressure can be used in different ways. By glottalized stops one will typically release the lock at the primary articulation point at the same time than you release the lock in the vocal cords, or a little thereafter, so that the elevated pressure gives a more explosive sound.

Still another added property is palatalization by which you let the mid ot the tongue get nearer to the mid of the plate when you articulate the consonant primarily in another way.

Then you have labialization consisting of rounding the lips when you articualate the consonant in another main manner. In English one thends to round the lips already when pronounceing a consonant before a rounded vowel, but the fenomenon in English is nothing more than a preparation for making the next sound.


The sounds in a word are grouped into unit called syllables, which consist of one sound, usually a vowel, with a more marked stress or tune than the other sounds in the syllable. Also one of the syllables in the word use to have more marked stress or tune than the others, and this is called the accented syllable. These differences make it easier to distinguish words form each other. In some languaguages harder stress is the main way of mark out an accented syllable, in others a higher or lower tune, and in many both is used simultaneously.

But many languages can pronounce the syllables with different tone patterns and these differences can distinguish words from each other. Syllables can have high, low, mid, falling, rising or even more complicated tume patterns.

In English the accented syllable have a harder stress and usually a higher tone than the others. The place of the accent may distinguish words, but not the tone pattern. In Chinese the tone patterns play a great role for distinguishing words and meanings. In European languages tune patterns to tistinguish words are not very usual.

You find some of it it Norwagian, Swedish and Serbocroatian. In Swedish or Norwegian the accented syllable can have a law tune or a falling tune, and the others have a high tune. The place of the accented syllable and the choise between law or falling tune are used to differentiate meaning of lexical and grammatical kind.

In addition to word tune pattern, there are also sentence melodies in most languages. Usually the tune will gradually rise or fall from the beginning to the end of a sentence. Surprizingly many languages can show the difference between affirmative and interrogative setences only by the sentense melody. Usually the affirmative sentenses have a falling tune pattern throughout the sentence, while an interrogative sebtence often will have a rising tune.

But this does not hold for all languages. Norwegian, for example, and also many American English variants, allways have a rising tune throughout the sentences, and mark question by word order or added elements.

Even thogh the tune gradually rises or falls throughout a sentense, the tune and stress differnces within each word are maintained.