The Origins and Development
of the English Language
Chapter 2: The Sounds of
Current English
John Algeo and Thomas Pyles
Michael Cheng
National Chengchi University
Introduction
26 letters in the English alphabet
More than 26 sounds (phonemes) in the
English language
a  cat, came, calm, any, call, was
[e]  baker, day, bait, gauge, mesa, they,
neighbor, great
Phonetic alphabet solves this problem
The Organs of Speech
1-nasal cavity
2-lips
3-teeth
4-aveolar ridge
5-hard palate
6-velum (soft palate)
7-uvula
8-apex (tip) of tongue
9-blade (front) of tongue
10-dorsum (back) of tongue
11-oral cavity
12-pharynx
13-epiglottis
14-larynx
15-vocal cords
16-trachea
17-esophagus
Consonants of Current English
Classified according to
–
–
–
–
place of articulation (where they are made)
manner of articulation (how they are made)
Voicing
(see interactive flash)
Consonants of Current English
Historical Stuff:
Similarity between [r] and [l]
Sally/Sarah, Kathleen/Katherine, stella
(Latin)/steorra (Old English)
Consonants of Current English:
Dropping [r]
New England, New York City, coastal
South, British RP (received pronunciation)
Dropped when followed by consonant
Kept when followed by a vowel, or the next
word begins with a vowel
– farm, far distance, the distance is far
– faring, there is, far away, very, Carolina
– ‘arf, cokernut, Eeyore, Marmee
‘arf, cokernut, Eeyore, Marmee
http://www.superstickershop.com/catalog/images/EeyoreSitting.jpg
https://www.msu.edu/user/steinbr1/pooh/images/disney/eeyore14.gif
Consonants of Current English:
Dropping [r]
Intrusive r
New England, New York City, RP
– Have no fear, the fear of it
– Have no idea, the idear of it
Vowels of Current English
Vowels
English Vowels and their IPA symbols
IPA symbol
Example word(s)
IPA symbol
Example word(s)
i
beat, meet, machine
u
boot, crude, new
bit, mitt, live
e
bait, great, play, they
bet, said, head
('ash')
bat, fad, plaid
book, could, put
o
boat, no, sew
bought, caught, coffee*
('open o')
/a
bottle, father, palm
(bought, caught, coffee in many
CA dialects)
but, son, none, cup
ay/aj
bite, buy, fly, might
about, focus, sofa*
aw/au
about, cow, flour
oy/oj
boy, coin, Freud
('caret')
('schwa')
* Schwa appears only in unstressed syllables.The vowel of words like 'bought', 'coffee' varies among
dialects. Northeastern American varieties use this one, called 'open o', while most Californians (esp.
Southern Californians), use 'ah' (the next one down in the table).
Rubba (2003). Retrieved from http://cla.calpoly.edu/~jrubba/phon/learnipa.html
Vowel Tongue Position
Front
Back
Dipthongs
Variant vowel sounds
[a], [æ:], [ɨ], [ө], [ɒ]
[a] ask, half, laugh, path (eastern New Eng)
[æ:] cap[kæp]-cab[kæ:b], bat-bad, lack-lag,
can (be able) – can (to tin)
[ɨ] in just, children, would ????
[ө] short o sound ????
[ɒ] pot, top, rod, con (slightly rounded in
Brit Eng)
Variant vowel sounds
[ɔ], [ɑ], [ɪ], [ɛ]
[ɔ] and [ɑ] caught-cot, taught-tot, dawndon, gaud-god, pawed-pod (Pittsburg)
Lack of a contrast in a specific environment
[ɪ] and [ɛ] pin-pen, tin-ten, Jim-gem (before
nasal in American south)
Tense vowels are longer than lax vowels
Vowel length is hardly ever a distinguishing
factor
can-can, halve-have, balm-bomb, vary-very
Vowels before [r]
Sound of the vowel changes before [r]
–
–
–
–
cut-curt
bust-burst
moan-mourn
father-farther
Schwa glide can intrude
– near [niər] [n ɪ r]
– The time drew néar. The time dréw near.
Vowels before [r]
Tenseness is not distinct before [r]
nearer-mirror [i] (tense) or [ɪ] (lax)
Fairy-ferry [e] (tense) or [ɛ] (lax)
Touring-during [u] (tense) or [ʊ] (lax)
Lax vowel more common
Historical vowel merging before [r]
hoarse [o] – horse [ɔ]
Mourning – morning
borne – born
four – for
oar – or
foreword – forward
Present day merging before [r]
Mississippi Valley and the West
[ɑ], [ɔ], [ɒ]
form – farm
or – are
born – barn
lord – lard
Stress
[i] [ɪ] [ə] are often used in unstressed
syllables
[i] and [ɪ] vary in final position and before
another vowel
– lucky, happy, city, seedy
– various, curiosity, oriel, carrion
Stress
[ɪ] and [ə] vary before a consonant
– [ɪ] bucket, college, elude, illumine
– [ə] many Americans starting to prefer [ə] in
these words
Emerging rule: used [ɪ] before velar
consonants and [ə] elsewhere
– ignore, comic, hoping
– stomach, mysterious
Kinds of Sound Change:
Assimilation
Assimilation – Sounds become more alike
Pancake
Spaceship
What is your name?
What’s yer name?
Whacher name? (palatalization)
Kinds of Sound Change:
Dissimilation
Dissimilation – Sounds become less alike
– Diphthong [f] replaced by [p]
– Chimney [n] replaced by [l]
Complete loss of sound because of
proximity to another sounds
– caterpillar, Canterbury, reservoir, terrestrial,
southerner, barbiturate, governor, surprised
Kinds of Sound Change: Elision
Elision – Sounds are omitted
What is your name? (unstressed vowel in is
elided)
Aphesis– loss of unstressed initial vowel
– about  ‘bout
Apheresis – loss of sound from beginning of
word
– almost  ‘most
Kinds of Sound Change: Elision
Apocope – loss of sound from end of word
– child  chile
Syncope – loss of sound from middle of
word
– family  fam’ly
Kinds of Sound Change: Intrusion
Intrusion – Sounds are added
svarabhakti, epenthesis, anaptyxis
Intrusive [ə] often appears between
consonants
elm, film
Henry, Dwight, Smyrna
arthritis, athlete
Kinds of Sound Change: Intrusion
Consonants can be intrusive
warmth  warmpth (p inserted)
sense  [sɛnts] (t inserted)
length  lenkth (k inserted)
Nasal + voiceless fricative
Nasal + stop (vcls) + voiceless fricative
Kinds of Sound Change: Metathesis
Metathesis: Sounds are reordered
Tax and task originally developed from the same
word
[r] frequently metathesizes with an unstressed
vowel
– produce, perform
A sound and syllable boundary can metathesize
– another  a whole nother thing
Causes of Sound Change
Contact with another language
– substratum or superstratum theory
Distributing sounds evenly through
phonological space
Ease of articulation (assimilation, etc.)
– makes it easier to talk faster
Spelling pronunciations
Hypercorrection
Causes of Sound Change
Spelling pronunciations
– controller  comptroller
Hypercorrection
– talkin’, somethin’  chicking, Virging Islands
Overgeneralization
– [ž] azure
– rajah, cashmere, kosher
The Phoneme
Regarded as the same sound by speakers of a language
Phonemes are made up of allophones – similar sounds that
are not distinct
Complementary distribution – allophones only appear in
specific environment
– after [s] unaspirated [t] occurs but not aspirated [t]
Free variation [t] or [t*] can appear at the end of fight
stone, tone, fight, item, little, matter, bottle, out come
Differing Transcriptions
Exercises
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The Origins and Development of the English Language