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The vowel system of English

There are 20 vowel sounds which have a distinctive function in Standard British English. The basic classifying features of English vowels are quality, length and position of the lips, among which quality is the only phonemic one.
The basic classifying features:
1) quality
2) length
3) position of the lips


Vowel quality depends on the height and the front-back position of the tongue; according to the vertical position of the tongue, vowels can be close([i:] [u:]), open([o] [a:] [æ]) or mid-open (mid-high[i] [u] and mid-low[e] [ə:] [Λ] [o:]); according to the horizontal position of the tongue, they are classified into front([i:] [i] [e] [æ]), back([u;] [u] [o:] [o] [a:]) and central([Λ] [ə:] ). Also, vowel quality includes stability of articulation: if the vowel quality throughout its production is homogeneous it is a monophthongs([i] [e] [a:] [æ][o] [o:] [Λ] [ə][ ə:] [u]); a change in quality results in a diphthong([ei] [ai] [oi] [au] [əu] [i ə] [u ə] [eə]); however, most of the long vowels are in between, and they are called diphthongoids([i:] [u:]).

Vowel length gives us two groups of vowel sounds, long and short, which are distinct in a number of features, such as tenseness and energy discharge: long vowels, including diphthongs, are tense, short vowels are lax. As for energy discharge, long vowels are always unchecked (free), and short vowels are checked, i.e. produced with accompanying glottal activity, involv­ing a rapid energy discharge in a short time interval.

Position of the lips may distinguish rounded and unrounded vowels.

There is another feature to classify vowels by - position of the soft palate. This feature is not relevant for English, as all English vowels are oral; but other languages, like French, for example, may have nasal vowels; English vowels may be nasalized before a nasal consonant but the nasal quality change is not phonemic as it is not contrastive, it is allophonic.

All the 20 vowel phonemes in English can be distinguished by quality alone, and that makes this feature phonemic.

Thus the 20 RP English vowels are grouped in the following way: twelve monophthongs (seven short vowels and five long ones) and eight diphthongs.
The vowel systems of English and Russian: major differences.

The vowel systems of English and Russian differ in the following points:

  1. Stability of articulation;
  2. Tongue position;
  3. Length;
  4. Tenseness.

7. Modification of vowels in connected speech: accommodation, elision. Ways of linking vowels.

There are actually some remarkable differences between the pronunciation of a word in isolation and of the same word in a block of connected speech. These changes are mostly quite regular and predictable. Modifications are observed both within words and at word boundaries.nds influence each other in the flow of speech. As a result of the intercourse between consonants and vowels and within each class there appear such processes of connected speech as assimilation, accommodation, vowel reduction and elision which is sometimes termed deletion.

Elision is the omission of one or more sounds (such as a vowel, a consonant, or a whole syllable) in a word or phrase, producing a result that is easier for the speaker to pronounce. Sometimes, sounds may be elided for euphonic effect

The adaptive modification of a consonant by a neighbouring consonant in the speech chain is known as assimilation.

The term accommodationis often used by linguists to denote the interchanges of " vowel+ consonant type" or " consonant + vowel type", for instance, some slight degree of nasalization of vowels preceded or followed by nasal sonorants: never, men; or labialization of consonants preceding the vowel [o] and [y] in Russian : больно, конь, думать, лучше.

One of the wide-spread sound changes is certainly vowel reduction. Reduction is actually qualitative or quantitative weakening of vowels in unstressed position: board-blackboard, man-postman

8. The consonant system of English: principles of classification, distinctive features of English consonants. The consonant system of English and Russian languages: comparison and contrast. Articulation of similar consonants in the English and Russian languages.

In phonology the basic method of establishing the phonemic status of a sound is a method of finding minimal pairs. This method suggesting at least one pair of words which are different in that sound, e.g. pit-bit.

An analysis of the consonantal phonemes of English give a total of 24 phonemes, of which 6 are NB of restricted occurrence:

[w, j, h, r] can only be used word – or syllable initially

[ŋ, ӡ] – only in the medial or final position

Distinctive features of consonants:

1. The place of articulation

- labial

- labia-dental

- dental

- alveolar

- palatal

- velar

- glottal

2. The manner of articulation – is determined by the type of obstruction and the manner of noise production

- plosives

- fricative

- affricates – complex consonants, start being articulated as plosives/occlusive and ends as fricatives;

- nasal

- approximants –there are 4 app.: CENTRAL [w, r, j] and LATERAL [l.] Take the intermediate position between vowels and consonants as they resemble vowels by the weaker air stream, but, on the other hand, they are articulated with quite a significant force of articulation to overcome the obstruction in the mouth cavity.

There are two types of consonants which are not characteristics of the Standard English pronunciation. They occur in other varieties of English and other languages, e. g. Russian:

· Rills or thrills are articulating with the tongue tip vibration and touching alveoli several times. E.g. Russian [р] like in words рука, река the Scottish pronounce of [r].

· Taps are articulated with the tongue tip as well, but this time it touches alveoli only once. E. g. American Eng [t] pity, [d] rider, [n] manner.

3. The force of articulation.

- fully-voiced – only in a formal setting (the speech is slow and the vocal chords vibrate all through the time of the sound production)

- fast and careless – in informal communication (vocal chords might not vibrate at all while producing such “voiced” plosives as [b, d, k])

The feature that differentiate that meaning is:

· aspiration – when the consonants are in initial position. E. g. pay-bay

· the length of the preceding vowel – when consonant are in final position. E. g. eyes – ice, leave – leaf.

a) voiceless – voiced

b) aspiration – no aspiration

Initial [б, д, г] in Russian and Romanic languages are always fully voiced.

- voiced (lenis) - weak

- voiceless (fortis) - strongs

4. The position of the soft palate

- oral

- nasal

The consonant system of English and Russian languages: comparison and contrast.

English and Russian languages belong to the some Indo-European family of languages and there are a number of similarities between the vocalic and consonant systems.

Russian belong to a consonant type – the majority of sounds employed by this language are consonants. 36 cons. and 6 vowels.

English employs approximately = equal number of consonants and vowels – 24\20.

1. Differences in the place of articulation.

- no glottal consonants in Rus (like in Eng [h])

- no fricative velar consonants in Eng (like in Rus [х])

- a larger group of dental consonants and few aveolars in Rus VS very few dental consonants and quite a large number of alveolar in Eng

- palatalisation is a distinctive feature in Rus – it characterizes 30 consonants which form 15 oppositions – whereas in Eng it is not significant for differentiating meaning (palatalization and velarisation depend on their phonetic environment)

2. Differences in the manner of articulation

- no ralls in Standart English

- a larger group of approximants in Eng

3. Differences in the work of vocal chords

- In Eng the distinctive feature for noise consonants is force of articulation. Eng voiced consonants can be considered as such only in the intervocalic position, as they are partially or completely devoiced in other phonetic environment.

- In Rus the distinctive feature for noise consonants is the activity of the vocal chords. They are involved all through the time of sound duration. Presence or absence of articulatory tension is an optional feature in case of Rus consonants: it is not relevant for differentiating between them.

Articulation of similar consonants in the Eng and Rus languages.

[t, d, s, z, n, I, r, tʃ, dӡ, ӡ, ʃ]

Eng Rus
The tongue tip is raised toward the alveoli, and the bulk of the tongue lies deeper in the mouth cavity than it is in Rus The consonants are dental: tha blade of the tongue is pressed against the upper teeth
Apical (articulated with the active tip of the tongue) The tongue tip remains inactive
The contact between the articulators (the tongue tip and the alveoli) is loose (the tip of the tongue is pulled back from the teeth) The contact between the articulators is close (the tongue tip is against the lower teeth) x in Eng a different acoustic quality.  


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