Tuesday, December 19, 2006

The phonetic structure of English in brief.


Language has a very important place in the life of living being. It has been traced that language owes its roots far to time before the evolution of mankind. Here language doesn’t mean the language that we speak today. But in a broad sense it means any type of sign used to communicate the meaning. For example we can take dog’s “Barking” and sparrow’s “Chirping” as language because they do communicate through this medium.

By the way we are concerned here with human language only. Now days, we as a cultivated race speak more refined language than our ancestors did. These are the days when different kind of scientific and technical investigations follow in the field of language. Some languages are enjoying the supreme place in the world today. Some of theme are Chinese, French, Hindi, and German and of course English. Here we one of the focus on English Language. Not, about its origin and history but about a different aspect of English. And that aspect is “Phonetic Structure of English” its necessity and General Indian English in Comparison to RP.

Before we learn phonetic structure of English let us have brief glance on some important aspect of phonetics and what is phonetics.

What is ‘Phonetics’?

What is ‘Phonetics’?

George Yule defines phonetics as :
‘The general study of the characteristics of speech sound of languages’.

T. Bal Subramanian explains phonetics in these words:
“Linguistics is the systematic study of languages. Phonetics is a branch of linguistics and it is the branch dealing with the medium of speech. It deals with the production, transmission and reception of the sounds of human speech”.

Phonetic Structure:

Phonetic Structure:

When we produce any sound, it happens with the help of some organs. This organs besides their primary functions, also performs as organs of speech. They are called so because they help to produce sounds by restricting the passage of air. Let us see in chronological order what comprises in the section called ‘Organs of Speech’.

Our body from head to abdomen is needed for the production of speech sounds. These are usually known as:
(a) The Respiratory System,
(b) The Phonetory System,
(c) The Articulatory System.

(A) The Respiratory System: -
It comprises of languages, the bronchial tubes and trachea or wind pipe.

(B) The Phonetory System: -
It is formed by the larynx or voice box, the front part of which can be seen in adult males as the Adam’s apple. The larynx contains the vocal cords. The opening between the vocal cords is known as glottis.

(C) The Articulatory System: -
It consists of nose, the lips, the mouth and its contents including specially the teeth and the tongue.

Classification and description of consonant sounds

Classification and description of consonant sounds
To describe consonant sounds we need certain important pieces of information. We need to know the following details.

a) The Air-stream Mechanism: -
All English sounds are produced with pulmonic aggressive air stream mechanism i.e. lung –Air pushed out.

b) The State of Glottis: -
Speech sounds can be classified as voiceless or voiced depending upon whether the vocal cords are wide apart and glottis is open.

c) The Position of Soft Palate: -
Speech sounds can be classified as oral or nasal depending upon whether the soft palate is raised or lowered.

d) The Active and Passive Articulators:-
Of the various articulators that we learnt above at least two are required for the production of speech sound. Some articulators move during the production of speech sounds. They are called active articulators. While some of them remain passive during sound production. They are called passive articulators.

e) The Stricture Involved: -
The term ‘Stricture’ refers to the way in which the passage of lung air restricted during the production of speech. They are:
(1) Complete Closer, (2) Complete Oral Closer, (3) Intermittent Closer, (4) Partial Closer, (5) Open Approximation.

f) Place of Articulation: -
We usually classify consonants according to (a) The place of articulation and (b) The manner of articulation. The place of articulation involves the active and passive articulators used in the production of particular consonants.
There are many types of consonants depending upon the place of articulation some of them are:
(1) Bilabial, (2) Labio-dental, (3) Dental, (4) Alveolar, (5) Post-Alveolar, (6) Retroflex, (7) Palato Alveolar, (8) Palatal, (9) Velar, (10) Uvular, (11) Glotal.

g) Manner of Articulation: -
It refers to the type of stricture involved in the production of consonant sound.
According to Manner of Articulation consonants are usually classified as:
(1) Plosive/ Stops, (2) Affricate, (3) Nasal, (4) Trills & Rolls, (5) Flap, (6) Lateral, (7) Fricative, (8) Frictionless Continuants, (9) Semivowel.
Consonants are described briefly by using the three term lable indication:-
(i) Whether the sound is voiceless or voiced
(ii) The place of articulation
(iii) The Manner of Articulation

e.g. /p/ - in word ‘pot’ can be described as voiceless bilabial plosive. This is the brief introduction of classification of consonants in English Language.

Description of vowels

Now we’ll move towards slight difficult but crucial topic. It is the ‘Classification of Vowel’ in English.

While consonant sounds are mostly articulated via closure or obstruction in the vocal tract, vowel sounds are produced with relatively free flow of air. They are all typically voiced. To describe and classify the vowel sounds we have to take following thing in to consideration.

(1) Position of Tongue: -

To describe vowel sounds we consider the way in which the tongue assumes the ‘Shapes” through which air-flow must pass without any friction. We can classify vowels into three categories taking into account the part of the tongue raised. And vowels thus produced can be front, back or central vowels.

(2) Height of the Tongue: -

The second important issue is the height of the tongue. When we utter a vowel sound we move our tongue at different levels from upper to lower. For example to utter some vowels we have to raise our tongue close to the palate and some times the tongue remains far enough from the palate. From this we can say whether the vowel uttered is open or close. There are eight main categories of vowels according to height of the tongue. They are called Cardinal Vowels and they are:
(A)Front Close Vowel, (B) Front Half close vowel, (C) Front Half Open Vowel, (D) Front Open Vowel, (E) Back Open Vowel, (F) Back Half Open Vowel, (G) Back Half Close Vowel, (H) Back Close Vowel.

(3) Position of Lips: -

A third criterion for the classification of vowel sounds is the position of lips. A simple unrounded or spread. Thus we describe vowels in following terms:
(1) Part of the tongue raised.
(2) The height to which the tongue is raised.
(3) The position of lips.
We can describe the vowel using the three term label. For example the vowel in the word ‘see’ is a ‘front close unrounded vowel’.

Dipthongs: -
Another category which we consider very briefly is ‘Dipthongs’. Dipthongs are nothing but vowel glides in them. Simply we can say there some vowel sounds which change their quality from one vowel to another. For example the word ‘cow’ when we utter the word, we sleeps from /a/ to /u/ this is called Dipthong. The vowel in the word ‘to’ do not change its quality during articulation. So, such vowels are called Monophthongs or pure vowels. Dipthong always occupies one syllable each.
So, we took a glimpse of phonetic structure of English. Now we will move towards another important topic.

General Indian English

General Indian English:-

Most Indians who learn English learn their own Indian Language before they are exposed to English. In other words, they have in them very strongly formal linguistic habits when they attempt to learn English and these linguistic habits are bound to interfere with their learning English. Many Indians use Voiced labio-dental approximant [v] in place of /v/ and /w/ which occur in English. Apart from these features, there are strong regional features in the English spoken by Indians and these are a direct influence of the Tamilian often pronounces ‘egg’ as /jeg/ instead of /eg/, a Bihari pronounces ‘school’ as /isku;l/ and stamp as /istemp/. The result is that these and other such gross regional features render the English speech of Indians unintelligible even to fellow Indian. There are indeed, many varieties of English spoken in India. Such as Tamil English, Telugu English, Kannada English, Urdu English, Punjabi English etc.

If we analyze some of the varieties of Indian English listed above, we will no doubt find certain common phonological features. If we put the common phonological features of several varieties of Indian English and remove from each variety certain gross regional features, a variety of English will emerge which can be called General Indian English.

General Indian English is meat a certain variety of English spoken by educated Indians. General Indian English is free from regional features. This mode if acquired will at least make it Telugu English, Punjabi English or any one particular variety of Indian English.