Phonetics is concerned with how sounds are produced, transmitted and perceived (we will only look at the production of sounds). Phonology is concerned with how sounds function in relation to each other in a language. In other words, phonetics is about sounds of language, phonology about sound systems of language. Phonetics is a descriptive tool necessary to the study of the phonological aspects of a language.

Phonetics and phonology are worth studying for several reasons. One is that as all study of language, the study of phonology gives us insight into how the human mind works. Two more reasons are that the study of the phonetics of a foreign language gives us a much better ability both to hear and to correct mistakes that we make, and also to teach pronunciation of the foreign language (in this case English) to others.

As phonetics and phonology both deal with sounds, and as English spelling and English pronunciation are two very different things, it is important that you keep in mind that we are not interested in letters here, but in sounds. For instance, English has not 5 or 6 but 20 different vowels, even if these vowels are all written by different combinations of 6 different letters, “a, e, i, o, u, y”. The orthographic spelling of a word will be given in italics, e.g. please, and the phonetic transcription between square brackets [pli:z]. Thus the word please consists of three consonants, [p,l,z], and one vowel, [i:]. And sounds considered from the phonological point of view are put between slashes. We will use the symbols in figure (1).


1) Consonnants

/p/      as in pea                                  /b/      as in bee

/t/       as in toe                                    /d/      as in doe

/k/      as in cap                                  /g/      as in gap

/f/       as in fat                                    /v/      as in vat

/θ/     as in thing                                 /ð/       as in this

/s/       as in sip                                   /z/      as in zip

/∫/      as in ship                                  /ʒ/       as in measure

/h/      as in hat

/m/     as in map                                  /l/       as in led

/n/      as in nap                                   /r/       as in red

/ŋ/       as in hang                                /j /      as in yet

/w/     as in wet

/t∫/     as in chin                                  /ʤ/     as in gin

2) Vowels

/I/       as in pit                                    /i:/      as in key

/e/      as in pet                                    /ɑ:/     as in car

/æ/     as in pat                                   /ɔ:/      as in core

/ʌ/       as in putt                                  /u:/     as in coo

/ɒ/        as in pot                                 /Ə:/     as in cur

/ʊ/      as in put

/Ə/      as in about

/ei/     as in bay                                   /Əʊ/    as in go

/ai/     as in buy                                   /aʊ/    as in cow

/ɔi/     as in boy

/IƏ/    as in peer

/eƏ/    as in pear

/ʊƏ/    as in poor


2.1. The Speech Organs

All the organs shown on figure (1) contribute to the production of speech. All the sounds of English are made using air on its way out from the lungs. The lungs pull in and push out air, helped by the diaphragm. The air goes out via the trachea, where the first obstruction it meets is the larynx, which it has to pass through. Inside the larynx the air passes by the vocal folds, which, if they vibrate, make the sound voiced. Afterwards the air goes up through the pharynx, and escapes via either the oral or the nasal cavity.

Almost all the organs involved in speech production also have other functions. The lungs and the diaphragm are obviously involved in breathing, as is the nasal cavity, which cleans, heats and humidifies the air that is breathed in. The teeth and the tongue play a part digestion, and in a way, so do the vocal folds, as they have to be closed when swallowing, to keep the food from going down the wrong way.

There are 4 places in which a sound can be modified. You have to add to this the fact that the vocal folds can vibrate.

2.2. Consonants

On the way out the air flow can be more or less obstructed, producing a consonant, or is simply modified, giving a vowel. If you pronounce the first sound of the word paper you close your mouth completely and that is the utmost obstruction, whereas if you pronounce the first sound of the word after the mouth is more open than normal, the air flows as freely as it possibly can.

Consonants are often classified by being given a so-called VPM-label. VPM stands for Voicing, Place and Manner:

– voicing means that the vocal folds are used; if they are not, the sound is voiceless (note that vowels always imply the use of vocal folds).

– place of articulation is the place where the air flow will be more or less obstructed.

– manner is concerned with the nature of the obstruction.

2.2.1 Voicing

The larynx is in the neck, at a point commonly called Adam’s apple. It is like a box, inside which are the vocal folds, two thick flaps of muscle. In a normal position, the vocal folds are apart and we say that the glottis is open (figure 4.a). When the edges of the vocal folds touch each other, air passing through the glottis will usually cause vibration (figure 4.b). This opening and closing is repeated regularly and gives what is called voicing


The only distinction between the first sounds of sue and zoo for example is that [s] is voiceless, [z] is voiced. The same goes for few and view, [f] is voiceless, [v] is voiced. If you now say [ssssszzzzzsssss] or [fffffvvvvvfffff] you can either hear the vibrations of the [zzzzz] or [vvvvv] by sticking your fingers into your ears, or you can feel them by touching the front of your larynx (the Adam’s Apple).

This distinction is quite important in English, as there are many pairs of sounds that differ only in voicing. In the examples below the first sound is voiceless, the other is voiced: pie/buytry/dry, clue/gluechew/Jewthigh/thy. This distinction can also be made in between two vowels: rapid/rabidmetal/medal, or at the end of a word: pick/pigleaf/leaverich/ridge.

In English the following consonants are voiced: b, d, g, v, ð, z, ʒ , l, r, j, w, ʤ, m, n, ŋ