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Topic 9 – Description of the phonological system of the English language. Learning models and techniques. Perception, discrimination and emission of sounds, intonations, rhythms and accents. The phonetic correction.








When studying the pronunciation system of a language we differentiate two categories:

a) Segmental elements , which include vowel and consonant sounds.

b) Suprasegmental or prosodic elements which are stress , rhythm and intonation.

Phoneme is a family of sounds consisting of one important sound of the language. A phoneme is defined in a given language only in terms of its differences from the other phonemes of the same language:

Live leave

Cat cut

Are pair of words which differ only in one distinctive sound feature , that is , in a phoneme.

Every speech sound belongs to one of the two categories:

a)vowel or voiced sound In forming it the air is issued in a continuous stream through the pharynx and mouth. There is no obstruction and narrowing which cause audible friction.

b)consonant or sound in which we interrupt the passage of air through the mouth.


Full vowels:

Full vowels are those that appear in stressed syllables.



























  • /clip_image002[1]/: bid
  • /clip_image004[1]/: good
  • /clip_image010[1]/: bed (sometimes transcribed /e/)
  • /clip_image012[1]/: bud
  • /clip_image018[1]/: bat (sometimes transcribed /a/)
  • /clip_image020[1]/: pot
  • /clip_image006[1]/: bead
  • /clip_image008[1]/: booed
  • /clip_image014[1]/: bird (sometimes transcribed /clip_image024/)
  • /clip_image016[1]/: bought, board
  • /clip_image022[1]/: father, bard

Reduced vowels:
Reduced vowels occur in unstressed syllables.

· /clip_image002[2]/: roses

· /clip_image026/: Rosa’s, runner

· /l/: bottle

· /n/: button

· /m/: rhythm


Diphthongs constitute single syllables , therefore consist of a single impulse of breath and they are a quick transition between two vowels. All English diphthongs are falling because the first element always sounds more clearly than the second.


your tongue moves to:



your tongue moves to:



your tongue moves to:


THE FIRST THREE DIPHTHONGS have the vowel sound clip_image043in “pit” or “if” as the FINISHING POSITION. To make this sound, your tongue has to be high and towards the front of your mouth and your lips kept relaxed.

clip_image044as in day, pay, say, lay. The starting position is clip_image046with tongue in mid position at front of mouth as in “egg”, “bed” or “Ted”. Therefore you move the tongue up to make the diphthong.

clip_image047as in sky, buy, cry, tie. The starting position is clip_image049, the same sound as in “car” or the noise “ah” which you make when you open your mouth at the dentist’s. To make the diphthong you need a big jaw movement, less opening as you move the tongue up and front.

clip_image050as in boy, toy, coy or the first syllable of soya. The starting position is clip_image052, the sound in “door” or “or”. Your tongue needs to be low, but you need to pull it back and make your mouth round. To make the diphthong, you relax the lip rounding and move your tongue forward and up.

THE NEXT THREE DIPHTHONGS have the neutral “shwa” vowel sound clip_image053, which occurs in grunting noises and the weak forms of “the” and “a”, as the FINISHING POSITION. To make the neutral vowel sound keep your tongue fixed in the centre of your mouth, lips fairly relaxed and just grunt!

clip_image054as in beer (the drink), pier, hear. The starting position is clip_image034[1]as in “if” or “pit” with tongue front and high and lips relaxed.

clip_image055as in bear (the animal), pair and hair. The starting position is clip_image056as in “egg” or “bed” with tongue in mid position at front of mouth. To make the diphthong, using a small controlled movement, pull your tongue slighty back from mid front to the mid central position in your mouth.

clip_image057as in “tour”, “poor” (talking posh!) or the first syllable of “tourist”. The starting position is clip_image058with tongue pulled back but small mouth aperture as in “hook”, “book” or “look”.

To make the diphthong, this time the small controlled tongue movement goes from the back postion to the mid central position, losing the lip rounding and relaxing your mouth from the tight starting position.

THE LAST TWO DIPHTHONGS have the back vowel clip_image058[1](tongue pulled back but small tight mouth aperture as in “hook”, “book” or “look”) as the FINISHING POSITION.

clip_image059as in “oh”, “no”, “so” or “phone”. The starting position is the neutral vowel sound, also known as “shwa” clip_image060, which sounds like a grunt, as in the weak form of “the” or “a”. To start in this way, the tongue should be fixed in mid central position in your mouth with lips relaxed. To make the diphthong, it is a short controlled movement in the opposite direction of 5) above: from the centre to the back moving your relaxed lips into a tighter small round aperture. Your cheeks should move in a bit!

clip_image061as in all the words of “How now brown cow!”. The starting position is the vowel sound clip_image063as in “at” “bad” or “rat” with tongue front but also low (i.e. mouth open). To make the diphthong the journey for your tongue from front low (mouth very open) to back high (small tight mouth aperture) is a very long excursion. Your jaw will move a lot too.


· [aʊ̯ə] as in hour

· [aɪ̯ə] as in fire

· [eɪ̯ə] as in player

· [ɔɪ̯ə] as in loyal, royal

· [əʊ̯ə] as in lower


Classification of Consonants:

Most English consonants can be classified using three articulatory parameters:

Voicing: vibration or lack of vibration of the

vocal folds.

Place of Articulation: the point at which the air

stream is most restricted.

Manner of Articulation: What happens to the moving column of air

Voiced and Voiceless

Voicing introduces vibration into the resonating column of air. When the vocal folds are tensed, they vibrate as the air stream passes them. The result is a voiced sound, such as /z/ and /v/.

When the vocal folds relax, the air stream passes them without causing vibration.The result is a voiceless sound, such as /s/, /f/ and /t/.

Places of Articulation

Lips: Bilabial consonants /p, b, m, w/

Lips and teeth: Labiodental consonants: /f, v/

Teeth: Interdental consonants /θ, ð/

Alveolar ridge: Alveolar consonants /t, d, s, z, n, l/

Central palate (or hard palate): Palatal consonants

/ ʃ, ʒ, r, tʃ, dʒ, y/

Velum (or soft palate): Velar consonants /k, g, ŋ/

Glottis: Glottal fricative /h/

Manner of Articulation

The process by which the moving column of air is shaped is called the manner of circulation. For English, these are:

Stops: /p, t, k, b, d, g/

Fricatives: /f, v, θ, ð, s, z, ʃ, ʒ, h/

Affricates: / ʧ, ʤ/

Nasals: /m, n, ŋ/ (sometimes called “nasal stops”)

Liquids: /l, r/

Glides: /w, y, hw

The Fricatives

Fricatives occur when the air stream is audibly disrupted but not stopped completely.

Voiced fricatives are the /v/ in very and shove, the /ð/ in thy and bathe, the /z/ in

zoo and wise, and the /ʒ/ in measure and Zha Zha.

Voiceless fricatives are the /f/ in fool and laugh, the /θ/ in thigh and bath, the /ʃ/ in

shock and nation, the /s/ in soup and miss, and the /h/ in hope and ahoy

The Affricates

Affricates start out as a stop, but end up as a fricative. There are two affricates in

English, both of which are palatal. Therefore we do not need to mention place of articulation to describe afficates.

The voiceless affricate is the /tʃ/ in lunch

and chapter.

The voiced affricate is the /dʒ/in germ,

journal and wedge

The Nasals

Nasals occur when velum is lowered allowing the air stream to pass through the nasal cavity instead of the mouth. The air stream is stopped in the oral

cavity, so sometimes nasals are called “nasal stops.” We will just call them

“nasals.” Nasals are the /m/ in mind and sum, the

/n/ in now and sign, and the /ŋ/ in sing,

longer and bank.

The Liquids

Liquids occur when the air stream flows continuously through the mouth with less obstruction than that of a fricative. Both liquids in English are voiced, so we don’t need to mention voicing when we describe liquids.

The “lateral” liquid, /l/, is pronounced with the restriction in the alveolar region at the beginning of syllables, as in low and syllable, but in the velar region at the ends of syllables, as in call, halter, and (optionally) syllable. It is called “lateral” because air flows around the sides of the tongue The “central” liquid is the /r/ in rough and chore.

This also has various pronunciations. It is called “central” because air flows over the center of the tongue.

So the terms “central” and “lateral” replace the place of articulation in descriptions of the liquids.

The Glides

Glides occur when the air stream is unobstructed, producing an articulation that is vowel-like, but moves quickly to another articulation making it a consonant.

Sometimes glides are described as semivowels.

The glides in English include the /w/ in witch and away, and the /y/ in yes and yoyo.

Some English speakers have a voiceless alveolar glide. This is transcribed /hw/ and occurs in whether, and why.



We can study stress from the point of view of production and of perception. The production of stress is generally believed to depend on the speaker using more muscular energy than is used for unstressed syllables. Many different sound characteristics are important in making a syllable recognisably stressed.

In English, stressed syllables are longer then unstressed ones, the vowels are more voiced within them. Stress is not marked in the spelling system, but it can be transcribed phonetically.

The importance of stress should be noted, given that incorrect stress on syllables is an obstacle to communication, because it may lead the speaker to understand a different word, that follows a different stress pattern.

1. Degrees of Stress

We can distinguish between the primary and secondary stress. The first one is also called tonic strong stress, while the second one is also called non-tonic strong stress.

Ex: ‘presup,ose

There are other authors who consider that there exist three stresses.

Ex: ‘many ‘lovely ‘’girls

2. Position of Stress

Normally stresses are in a fixed position in a word.

  • First syllable: ‘precept
  • Second syllable: to’night
  • Third syllable: engi’neer
  • Fourth syllable: misunder’stood
  • Fifth syllable: palatali’zation


  1. Native words and early French loans

Ex: ‘kingly ‘kingliness un’kingliness

  1. All abstract nouns ending in –ion

Ex: ‘mission

  1. Nouns ending in –ity

Ex: ‘vacuous va’cuity

  1. Nouns and adjectives ending in –ian

Ex: ‘liberty liber’tarian

  1. Adjectives ending in –ic

Ex: ‘phoneme pho’nemic

  1. Words with more than one function

A wide selection of words that can operate equally well as nouns/adjectives or verbs, are differentiated by their stress in the two functions:

Ex: ‘present (Noun or adjective) pre’sent (verb)

  1. Compound nouns

They are generally stressed on the first element with a secondary stress on the second element in contrast to the normal noun phrase stress pattern:

Ex: ‘black ,bird (compound nouns) a ,black ‘bird (noun phrase)

  1. Stress in phrases

When we come to stress in phrases and other syntactic units, we provide different underlying relations between juxtaposed items.

Ex: An ‘English ,teacher (someone who teaches English)

An ,English ‘teacher (a teacher who is English)


Rhythm may be defined as the regular succession of strong and weak stresses in utterances. The notion of rhythm involves some noticeable event happening at regular intervals of time. The theory that English has stress- timed rhythm implies that stressed syllables will tend to occur at relatively regular intervals whether they are separated by unstressed syllables or not.

Some writers have developed theories of English rhythm in which a unit of rhythm, the foot is used. Some theories of rhythm go further, and point to the fact that some feet are stronger than others, producing strong-weak patterns.

    1. Weak and Strong forms

The weak form, in which the vowel is pronounced with the schwa vowel, is more common than the other.

The strong form in which the vowel is pronounced as it is written.

Obviously the use of one or another form may affect the meaning of the utterance.

Weak forms are a manifestation of stress and rhythm in English, and must not be avoided in teaching, or the learner will sound unnatural in connected speech.

    1. Regularity of Rhythm

The natural rhythm of English provides roughly equal intervals of time between the stressed items.

The prevailing tendency in unstressed syllables and words is to reduce the vowels to the obscure / /, thus we have / / in a great many syllables:

Ex: a kilo of potato / ‘ki:l v p ‘ te t z/

Regularity of rhythm is used for specific pourposes:

  1. Counting:

Ex: ‘one, ‘two, ‘three,…, seventy ‘four, seventy ‘five

  1. Inventory or lists
  2. Emphasis:

Ex: you should ‘always ‘look be’fore you ‘cross the ‘’road


Intonation is the tune within the sentence that may alter the meaning. Here the pitch of the voice plays the most important part. We describe pitch in terms of high and low. There is another necessary condition and that is that a pitch difference must be perceptible.

Intonation is generally found in sequences of stressed and unstressed syllables, though it can be a single word. We call it the tone unit, within which there is the nucleus (capital letters). The first stressed syllable in a tone unit is a onset (‘), the end will be (‘’)

The rise and fall of pitch throughout is called its intonation contour. English has a number of intonation patterns which add conventionalized meanings to the utterance: question, statement, surprise, disbelief, sarcasm, teasing. An important feature of English intonation is the use of an intentional accent (and extra stress) to mark the focus of a sentence. Normally this focus accent goes on the last major word of the sentence, but it can come earlier in order to

emphasize one of the earlier words or to contrast it with something else.

Ex: She ‘told SOMeone’’

She ‘bought it for a PARty’’

” ”

Tone unit

    1. Falling Tone

This is the commonest tone in English affirmative sentences, wh-word question, one word answers to questions, and on words, names, numbers and letters said in isolation.

Ex: ‘What’s the TÍME’’




    1. Rising Tone

It is used to suggest that what is said is not final.

Ex: Counting: ‘ÓNE’’ ‘TWÓ’’…

Or because a response is needed (though not in wh-word question):

Ex: Are you ‘HÁPpy’’

Or when two clauses are joined together:

Ex: When I ‘GÉT there’’ I’ll HÍT him’’

A question will use a rising tone while the question tag uses the falling tone.

The fall and rise are by far and away the most common of the nuclear tones.

    1. Fall-rise Intonation

It often occurs in the nucleus of a doubtful condition, but it is particularly common with the initial adverb:

Ex: I’ll’ see him if he CÓMES’’

    1. Rise-fall Intonation

It expresses as it does both genuine and assumed warmth, as well as feelings of shock or surprise.

Ex: ‘That’s GRÉAT’’

    1. Level Tone

It sometimes used to the exact predictability of what is to follow:

Ex: he DRÁNK’’ he WÓManised he ‘DÍED

    1. Fall-rise Intonation

It is common in everyday usage:

Ex: She looks FÍNE to MÉ’’

It is often used with marked focus, the fall coming on the focus item and the rise on the last lexical item in the tone unit:

Ex: It’s his ‘MÁNners that I can’t STÁND’’ = ‘What I don’t LÍKE ‘’ are his ?Mánners’’


As Charles Fries says , the chief problem is not at first that of learning vocabulary items. It is , first , the mastery of the sound system, to understand the stream of speech , to hear the distinctive sound features ant to approximate their production.

To achieve this , at present most text book use a perceptual approach, that is , they try to teach phonetics through the listening and the speaking practice in the classroom , using TIC .However , they also introduce some phonetics in the form of the phonetic alphabet and the phonetics in the form of the phonetic alphabet and the phonetic transcription of words , usually in a glossary at the back of the book.

This implies that phonetics is learnt alongside the rest of skills which are needed to communicate , and absolute correction is not aimed at the very beginning. It is supposed that it will come little by little, through meaningful activities.


1.1. Perception

To improve perception , that is , the skill of realizing that they are listening to sounds that belong to the English language and that are meaningful , the best is to use listening perception exercises. Also we need to work at word level , and at sentence level.


Discrimination would be similar to selection , and to improve it we should use listening for comprehension exercises , that would help the student to discriminate between different sounds.

-Listening and making no oral response.

-Following a written text

-Listening aided by visuals

-Listening for entertainment

-Listening and making short responses

-Obey instructions

-Ticking off items

-True/False statements


It would be similar to recirculation , it is the active part of phonetic practice, in so far as the student has to produce in English , and to approximate his oral productions to the original.

-Using pictures to foster correct pronunciation

-Using maps to improve pronunciation


-Answering question

-Answering question about texts

-Filling gaps orally


It is important to star teaching these aspects from the very beginning , that is , to teach phonetics in context , since these aspects are the most difficult to master.

To those end we should use activities addressed to improve global understanding and production of the English prosodic elements:

-Listening to a familiar text

-Repetition of full sentences







It is closely related to the methodological approach chosen to teaching English. However , may be here , correction from the very beginning is more important than in lexis or grammar , because pronunciation is to a large extent a matter of habit , and bad habits are really difficult to avoid.

There are some tricks we can teach our students , to improve the pronunciation of some words such as ‘their’ , ‘there’ , which , as we know , are allophones , but they tend to pronounce differently. So , we can explain before and they will be aware about the right form.

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