Consonants

In this lesson, we're gonna have a general overview of what consonants are in the English language. We're also gonna work on things like manner of articulation.

Consonants

What Are Consonants?

The word 'consonant' refers to both consonant sounds and consonant letters (letters of the alphabet). These letters are B, C, D, F, G, J, K, L, M, N, P, Q, S, T, V, X, Z, H, R, W, and Y. The English alphabet has fewer consonant letters than the English language has consonant sounds. That's why we use International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) to determine consonant sounds with no letter in the alphabet.

What Are Consonant Sounds?

'Consonant sounds' are sounds that are produced by constraining the air in the mouth, either partially or completely, by closing the lips or touching the teeth with the tongue. English has 24 consonant sounds. These sounds are /p/, /b/, /t/, /d/, /k/, /g/, /f/, /v/, /s/, /z/, /θ/, /ð/, /ʃ/, /ʒ/, /tʃ/, /dʒ/, /h/, /w/, /n/, /m/, /ɹ/, /j/, /ŋ/, and /l/.
We classify consonants into three categories:

  • Voicing
  • Place of Articulation
  • Manner of Articulation

Now, let us dive into each of them:

Voicing

Sounds can be voiced or voiceless. If the vocal cords vibrate while pronouncing these letters, it is voiced and if they don’t, it is voiceless. You can put your finger on the top of your Adam's apple to see whether it is voiced or not. if you feel a vibration while pronouncing a consonant sound then it is a voiced sound. Take a look at the table below:

Voiced Voiceless
/b/ /p/
/d/ /t/
/g/ /k/
/dʒ/ /tʃ/
/m/ /f/
/n/ /θ/
/ŋ/ /s/
/v/ /ʃ/
/ð/ /h/
/z/
/ʒ/
/ɹ/
/j/
/w/
/l/

The Table of Consonants

Down below, you can see the table of consonants in the English dialects. Notice that those consonants that are colored in red are voiceless and the remaining consonants are voiced:

Plosives Fricative Affricate Nasals Laterals Glides
Bilabial b p m
Labiodental v f
Dental ð θ
Alveolar d t z s n l
Postalveolar ʒ ʃ ɹ
Palatal j
Velar g k ŋ w
Glottal h

Place of Articulation

The place of articulation (POA) of a consonant defines where in the vocal tract the narrowing occurs. From front to back, the POAs that English uses are:

  • Bilabial:

The lower and upper lips get closer or touch each other.

  • Labiodental:

The lower lip touches the upper teeth.

  • Dental:

The tip of the tongue touches the upper teeth.

  • Alveolar:

The tip of the tongue touches the alveolar ridges (the rough area behind and above the upper teeth) of the tongue.

  • Postalveolar:

The tongue is positioned behind the alveolar ridges and the air is constrained there.

  • Palatal:

The whole body of the tongue touches the hard palate (the roof of the mouth).

  • Velar:

The body of the tongue touches the soft palate.

  • Glottal:

Using the glottis which is like a door between the vocal folds for pushing out the airflow.

Take a look at the following table:

Types Sounds Examples
Bilabial /p, /b/, /m/ pink, ball, man
Labiodental /f/, /v/ fall, vet
Dental /θ/ and /ð/ math, them
Alveolar /t/, /d/, /n/, /s/, /z/, /l/ tall, doll, neck, small, zip, lip
Postalveolar /tʃ/, /dʒ/, /ʃ/, /ʒ/, /ɹ/ chocolate, gender, wish, revision, road
Platal /j/ yard
Velar /k/, /g/, /ŋ/, /w/ call, gun, bang, well
Glottal /h/ hand, whose

Manner of Articulation

It is referred to how a sound is made. There are six types of MOAs:

  • Stops (plosives):

In stops, oral and nasal cavities are completely closed, preventing air from entering the body. Suddenly, the pressure in the oral cavity is released.

  • Fricative:

When we produce a fricative, we almost block the airflow and force it to pass through a narrow gap, creating friction. Actually, the tongue does not touch the alveolar ridge but approaches it. It is a hissing sound.

  • Affricate:

It is a combination of a brief stop and fricative. It means the airflow stops in the first place and then the tongue pulls away from the stop to create a turbulent airstream which is called affricate.

  • Nasals:

In nasal consonants, airflow is blocked from the mouth, causing it to come out the nose. In these consonants, the airflow is blocked by the tongue or lips and not the nose.

  • Laterals:

These sounds are produced in the oral cavity with some obstruction of the air stream in the mouth, but there is no friction involved.

  • Glides:

Airflow is obstructed relatively little when glides are produced. They are also known as semivowels. In a more open vocal tract, these would be considered vowels. It is necessary that these sounds be preceded or followed by a vowel.

Now, let us analyze the table below:

Types Sounds Examples
Stops /p/, /b/, /t/, /d/, /k/, /g/ pull, beg, tell, girl, kid, dance,
Fricative /f/, /v/, /θ/, /ð/, /s/, /z/, /ʃ/, /h/, /ʒ/ four, vote, thin, see, these, zoo, wash, decision, h\ello
Affricate /tʃ/, /dʒ/ cheap, jeep
Nasals /m/, /n/, /ŋ/ mirror, nose, working
Laterals /l/, /ɹ/ love, raw
Glides /w/, /j/ we, you

Semi-vowels

Some consonants 'y' and 'w' are semivowels. They represent vowel sounds in words like 'my' and 'clown'. However, they are consonants in words like 'toy' and 'won'. So, they are called semivowels in the English language. Letter “y” is a vowel when there are no other vowels in the word. Like Angry, the letter y here sounds /e/ therefore is a vowel.
/j/ and /w/, Why can’t we consider them as vowel sounds entirely?

  1. They are usually shorter than vowels.
  2. They are non-syllabic

As you know there is one and only one vowel sound in a syllable. But semi-vowels do not form a syllable on their own. They are non-syllabic. For example the word yes, is one syllable y is just helping the vowel sound e. Let’s see some more: Yes, You, Year, Well ,Won, Work ,Wonder

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