You can't learn all of this in a few days. If we tried to cover all of these topics quickly, the result would be little more than a dry terminological list with brief definitions, accompanied by a few diagrams and an abstract discussion of the associated theories. You can find most of the relevant terms and definitions in Crystal's book, but it would not be especially useful for us to require you to memorize them with learning anything much about the underlying realities. The study guide for this section of the course will indicate what portion of this material you will be responsible for on the midterm and final exam.
Instead of giving a whirlwind tour of the whole of phonetics and phonology, this portion of Ling001 has two more limited goals. The first goal is to put language sound structure in context. Why do human languages have a sound structure about which we need to say anything more than that vocal communication is based on noises made with the eating and breathing apparatus? What are the apparent "design requirements" for this system, and how does are they fulfilled? The second goal is to give you a concrete sense of what the language sound systems are like. In order to do this, we will go over, in a certain amount of detail, a few aspects of the phonology of Mawu, a language spoken in the Ivory Coast and Guinea. This information will be presented in the online version of a book chapter on the topic. Along the way, a certain amount of the terminology and theory of phonetics and phonology will emerge.
Atlas of North America.
Web site of the International Phonetic Association.
On-line spectrogram reading tutorial (a spectrogram is a kind of visual display of the acoustic information in speech).
An annotated demonstration of vowel synthesis.
A self-study course at Sterling University on the phonetics and phonology of "received pronunciation" (standard British English).
Examples of Canadian raising.
Some Quicktime movies presenting an artistic interpretation of vowels by Takahiko Iimura.
A sample calculation:
Let's put aside the question of how to figure out the meaning of a new word, and focus on how to learn its sound.
You only get to hear the word a few times -- maybe only once. You have to cope with many sources of variation in pronunciation: individual, social and geographical, attitudinal and emotional. Any particular performance of a word simultaneously expresses the word, the identity of the speaker, the speaker's attitude and emotional state, the influence of the performance of adjacent words, and the structure of the message containing the word. Yet you have tease these factors apart so as to register the sound of the word in a way that will let you produce it yourself, and understand it as spoken by anyone else, in any style or state of mind or context of use.
In subsequent use, you (and those who listen to you speak) need to distinguish this one word accurately from tens of thousands of others.
(The perceptual error rate for spoken word identification is less than one percent, where words are chosen at random and spoken by arbitrary and previously-unknown speakers. In more normal and natural contexts, performance is better).
Let's call this the pronunciation learning problem. If every word were an arbitrary pattern of sound, this problem would probably be impossible to solve.
What makes it work?
Outlandish has three vowels -- /a/, /i/, /u/ -- and every Outlandish syllable must contain one of these. There are seven consonants that can start syllables --- /p/, /t/, /k/, /b/, /d/, /g/, /s/ -- and a syllable may also lack an initial consonant. Syllables may optionally end with the consonant /n/.
Outlandish thus has 48 possible syllables: the syllable onset has 8 options (/p/, /t/, /k/, /b/, /d/, /g/, /s/ or nothing), the syllable nucleus has three options (/a/, /i/, /u/), and the syllable coda has two options (/n/ or nothing), and 8 x 3 x 2 = 48.
Outlandish words are made up of from 1 to 4 syllables. In consequence, there are 5,421,360 possible Outlandish words -- 48x48x48x48 + 48x48x48 + 48x48 + 48 = 5,421,360.
Thus the phonological elements of Outlandish, as we have described them, are /i/, /a/, /u/, /p/, /t/, /k/, /b/, /d/, /g/, /s/, /n/. The phonological structures of Outlandish include the notions of syllable, onset, nucleus, and coda.
Some examples of Outlandish words might /kanpiuta/ "electronic calculator", /kaa/ "automobile", /pi/ "climbing annual vine with edible seeds", /bata/ "emulsion of milkfat, water and air".
In giving the phonological encoding of these words, we've omitted the structure, because it is unambiguously recoverable from the string of elements. For instance, /kanpiuta/ must be a four-syllable word whose first syllable contains the onset /k/, the nucleus /a/, and the coda /n/, etc.
Real languages all have more complex phonological systems than our made-up language Outlandish does. However, it remains true that phonological structures are mostly recoverable from strings of phonological elements, and therefore can be omitted for convenience in writing. In this way of writing down phonological representations as strings of letter-like phonological elements, the "letters" are usually called phonemes.
What about the phonetic interpretation of words, that is, the interpretation of phonemic strings in terms of mouth gestures and the accompanying noises? How does that work?
You'll find quite a lot of material in Crystal on this topic. In these notes, we'll give only a very basic overview. This topic is covered in more detail in Ling 330 (Introduction to Phonetics and Phonology). Ling 520 (graduate Introduction to Phonetics) is a laboratory courses that goes into considerably more detail, and is open to interested undergraduates with appropriate background.
Part of the airway-sealing system in the larynx is a pair of muscular flaps, the vocal cords or vocal folds, which can be brought together to form a seal, or moved apart to permit free motion of air in and out of the lungs. When any elastic seal is not quite strong enough to resist the pressurized air it restricts, the result is an erratic release of the pressure through the seal, creating a sound. Some homely examples are the Bronx cheer, where the leaky seal is provided by the lips; the belch, where the opening of the esophagus provides the leaky seal; or the rude noises made by grade school boys with their hands under their armpits.
The mechanism of this sound production is very simple and general: the air pressure forces an opening, through which air begins to flow; the flow of air generates a so-called Bernoulli force at right angles to the flow, which combines with the elasticity of the tissue to close the opening again; and then the cycle repeats, as air pressure again forces an opening. In many such sounds, the pattern of opening and closing is irregular, producing a belch-like sound without a clear pitch. However, if the circumstances are right, a regular oscillation can be set up, giving a periodic sound that we perceive as having a pitch. Many animals have developed their larynges so as to be able to produce particularly loud sounds, often with a clear pitch that they are able to vary for expressive purposes.
In the vocal tract, turbulent flow can be created at many points of constrictions. For instance, the lower teeth can be pressed against the upper lip -- if air is forced past this constriction, it makes the sound associated with the letter (and IPA symbol) [f].
When this kind of turbulent flow is used in speech, phoneticians call it frication, and sounds that involve frication are called fricatives.
As with frication, a plosive constriction can be made anywhere along the vocal tract, from the lips to the larynx. However, it is difficult to make a firm enough seal in the pharyngeal region to make a stop, although a narrow fricative constriction in the pharynx is possible.
Different positions of the tongue and lips make the difference between one vowel sound and another. As you can easily determine for yourself by experiment, you can combine any vowel sound with any pitch -- or with a whisper, which is a hiss created by turbulent flow at the vocal folds.
However, there are some cases where the same -- or at least very similar -- sounds can occur in several different syllabic roles. For example, the glides (sometimes called approximants) that begin syllables like "you" and "we" are almost exactly like vowels, except for their syllabic position. In fact, the mouth position and acoustic content of the "consonant" at the start of "you" and of the "vowel" at the end of "we" are just about exactly the same.
In the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA), the English word "you" (in standard pronunciations) would be written something like [ju], where the [j] refers to the sound we usually write as "y", and the [u] refers to the vowel as in "boo" or "pool". The English word "we" would be written in the IPA as [wi], where the [w] is familiar, and the [i] refers to the vowel found in "see" or "eat".
In fact, the articulation and sound of IPA [j] is quite a lot like the articulation and sound of IPA [i], while the articulation and sound of IPA [w] is quite like that of IPA [u]. What is different is the role in the syllabic cycle -- [j] and [w] are consonants, while [i] and [u] are vowels.
This means that the English words "you" and "we" are something like a phonetic palindrome -- though "you" played backwards sounds more like "oowee" than "we". More important, this underlines that point that phonetics is the study of speech sounds, not just the study of vocal noises.
In the 1860's, Melville Bell's three sons -- Melville, Edward and Alexander -- went on a lecture tour of Scotland, demonstrating the Visible Speech system to appreciative audiences. In their show, one of the brothers would leave the auditorium, while the others brought volunteers from the audience to perform interesting bits of speech -- words or phrases in a foreign language, or in some non-standard dialect of English. These performances would be notated in Visible Speech on a blackboard on stage.
When the absent brother returned, he would imitate the sounds produced by the volunteers from the audience, solely by reading the Visible Speech notations on the blackboard. In those days before the phonograph, radio or television, this was interesting enough that the Scots were apparently happy to pay money to see it!
There are some interesting
connections between the "visible speech" alphabet and the later career
of one of the three performers, Alexander
Graham Bell, who began following in his father's footsteps as a teacher
of the dear, but then went on to invent the telephone.
The International Phonetic
Association (IPA) was founded in 1886 in Paris, and has been ever since
the official keeper of the Inernational Phonetic Alphabet (also IPA), the
modern equivalent of Bell's Visible Speech. Although the IPA's emphasis
has shifted in a more descriptive direction, there remains a lively tradition
in Great Britain of teaching
"received pronunciation" using explicit training in the IPA.
The columns are labelled by positions of constriction, moving from the lips (bilabial) past the teeth (dental) and the hard palate (palatal) and soft palate (velar) to the larynx (glottal). The rows are labelled by the type of manner of constriction: plosive, nasal, fricative, and so forth. The side-by-side pairs of plosives and fricatives are differentiated by whether layrngeal buzz is present during the constriction. You can feel the difference yourself if you put your finger on your adam's apple while saying an extended [s] or [z].
Thus the dimensions along which the IPA is organized are basically the physical and functional dimensions of the human vocal tract, as shown in the diagram earlier on this page. The same was true of Bell's Visible Speech.
The Mawu region is in the northwestern section of the Ivory Coast, near the borders with Guinea and Mali. The traditions of the Mawuka people say that they migrated from the city of Djenne, southwest of Mopti, in what in now Mali.. The Manding people, of which the Mawuka are a branch, are known among other things for the music and poetry of their bards, known as griots, and for their spectacular traditional architecture (here is a picture of the Djenne mosque)
An investigation of the sound structure of Mawu, published as a chapter in an introduction to Cognitive Science, is available as an on-line version here. This chapter contains the meat of the course lecture on phonology, and (unlike other links in these lecture) should be considered part of the course materials proper.
[On to the next lecture]