Friday, 1 March 2013

6) Places and Manners of Articulation

 Place of Articulation

The place of articulation refers to “the point in the vocal tract where the speech organs restrict the passage of air in some way so pro¬ducing distinctive speech sounds” (Finch, 1999). As with manner of articulation, places of articulation are more frequently used to describe consonants than vowels. The following are the principal terms used in linguistics to describe these:

Bilabial.Sounds formed by both lips coming together” (Finch, 1999).  Examples include /b/, /p/ and /m/.

Labio-dental.Sounds formed by the bottom lip touching the upper teeth” (Finch, 1999).  Examples include /v/ and /f/.

Dental.Sounds formed by the tongue touching the upper teeth” (Finch, 1999).  These are not common in English, although they can sound like /t/ or /d/.  If you imagine saying ‘Barcelona’ with a heavy Spanish accent, you might hear it.

Alveolar.Sounds formed by the tongue coming into contact with the hard, or alveolar, ridge immediately behind the upper teeth” (Finch, 1999).  The Alveolar sounds are common in plosive English sounds such as /t/, /d/ and /n/, and in fricative sounds such as /z/.

Post-alveolar.Sounds formed by the tongue curled behind the alveolar ridge” (Finch, 1999).  Examples include the /ʃ/ and /ʒ/, or the ‘sh’ sounds in words like ‘ship’, or the ‘s’ sound in words like ‘vision’.

Palato-alveolar.Sounds formed by the tongue in contact with both the roof of the mouth, or hard palate, and the alveo­lar ridge” (Finch, 1999).  Examples include the // and // sounds in ‘church’ and ‘judge’.

Palatal.Sounds formed by the middle of the tongue up against the hard palate” (Finch, 1999).  The /j/ sound is the only consistent example of a palatal sound in English.  This sound forms the ‘y’ in words like ‘yes’ and ‘yellow’.

Velar.Sounds formed by the back of the tongue against the soft palate, or velum” (Finch, 1999).  Think of the /k/ in ‘kick’, or the /g/ in ‘go’.  The ‘ng’ sound / ŋ/ in words like ‘sing’ and ‘tongue’ is also a velar sound.

Interdental.  Produced by the tip of the tongue protruding between the upper and lower teeth.  Interdental sounds include the ‘th’ sound /θ/ in words like ‘thing’ and ‘author’, or the /ð/ in words like ‘this’ and ‘other’.

Uvular.  Sounds formed by the root of the tongue being raised against the velum.  The ‘r’ in French (try saying the word ‘Paris’ with a broad French accent), or the Arabic /q/ or /G/ are uvular sounds.  English doesn’t have a uvular sound.

Retroflex.  There are other places of articulation which are not really used in English, and the retroflex is one of the.  Here, the tongue is curled back on itself to create a rolling /r/ sound against the alveolar ridge.

Glottal.Sounds formed from the space between the vocal folds, or glottis” (Finch, 1999).  There is no picture here because it is rather difficult to illustrate.  The glottal sound /ʔ/ can be heard in the affirmative expression ‘uh-huh’, and in certain estuary or cockney accents it is used to replace the /t/ sound in words like ‘better’.

Manner of Articulation

So far we have seen that sound can be shaped as it passes through the vocal chords, and as the air is passed from the lungs passed the pharyngeal cavity, the nasal cavity or the oral and labial cavities. The sound variations created by these vocal apparatus are known as the manner of articulation. In other words, the manner of articulation refers to the ways in which sound is altered by manipulation of the flow of the airstream from the lungs. There are five principal types of manner for consonant sounds, which are here adapted from Finch's Linguistic Terms and Concepts (1999):


“Sounds in whose articulation the airstream is stopped by a brief closure of two speech organs and then released in a quick burst” (Finch, 1999). Examples of plosives in English are /p/, /b/, /t/, /d/, /k/, /g/. You can see a useful diagram of the plosive sound formation here:


“Sounds in whose articulation two speech organs narrow the airstream, causing friction to occur as it passes through” (Finch, 1999). If you think of the sound /f/ or /s/, you might be able to hear how the narrowing of the airstream by the lips being closed towards the upper teeth in the case of /f/, or by the tongue being raised against the alveolar ridge in the case of /s/, creates a 'hissing' tone. This 'hissing' is caused by the 'friction' of the air – hence 'frictives'. You can see a useful diagram of the fricative sound formation here:


“Sounds in whose articulation the airstream is stopped as for a plosive and then released slowly and partially with friction” (Finch, 1999). There are two affricate phonemes in English: /tʃ/ and /dʒ/. If you think of the word 'church', notice that you begin the sound with the plosive /t/, but that this is immediately followed by a fricative /sh/ sound. In the case of /dʒ/, think of the word 'judge'. Say the letter 'd' and the letter 'j' alternatively one after the other. Do you notice that they both begin with the same formation of the tongue? The difference is that the /dʒ/ sound in the 'j' is extended with a fricative /sh/ sound again to make sound out the '-dge' in the word 'judge'.


“Sounds in whose articulation the airstream is diverted through the nasal cavity as a consequence of the passage through the oral cavity being blocked by the lowering of the soft palate, or velum” (Finch, 1999). Try saying the following out loud to yourself: 'tell me a story'. Can you notice how dramatically the sound changes when you come to the /m/ of 'me'? The airflow, which is passing through the oral cavity for the rest of this phrase, is at this point diverted by the lowering of the velum into the nasal cavity. You can see a useful diagram of the nasal sound formation here:


“Sounds in whose articulation two speech organs approach each other and air flows continuously between them without friction” (Finch, 1999). If you think of the /l/ sound, for example, you can sense how the tongue tip touches the alveolar ridge in order to allow the air to flow laterally around the tongue, but without the 'hissing' sound of fricatives (this is sometimes called a lateral or liquid approximant). For consonants like /w/, the lips approach each other at the beginning of the sound and then 'glide' away from each other towards the end (these sounds are sometimes referred to as glides). All of this is, again, achieved without the 'hissing' sound of a fricative.

Vowel Sounds

In the case of vowel sounds, manner of articulation is “less precise than for consonant sounds” (Finch, 1999), largely because consonant restrict a good deal more than vowels do. There are two main ways in which manner of articulation in vowels is shaped:

Tongue height. “This distinguishes sounds in relation to the height of that part of the tongue which is closest to the palate. When the tongue is high in the mouth, vowels are described as close, and when low, as open. Other reference points are half-close and half-open” (Finch, 1999). For example, consider the vowel sound /iː/ (as in 'fleece', 'sea' or 'machine'). Notice with this vowel sound that the body of the tongue is raised against the hard palate. With the vowel sound of /ɒ/ though (as in 'lot', 'odd' or 'wash'), the tongue is low in the oral cavity.

Lip posture. “Vowels are produced with the lips in a rounded or spread posture. There are degrees of rounding but it is conventional to classify vowels as being either rounded or spread” (Finch, 1999). Let us again consider the vowel sounds /iː/ and /ɒ/. Notice that when you say the word 'fleece', the lips are spread wide when pronouncing the vowel sound. In the word 'wash' though, the lips are rounded, almost as though you are about to whistle.

There a number of excellent resources online which provide step-by-step guides to the manners and places of articulation, and to the phonetic formations which are created by them.  This phonetics flash animation project from the University of Iowa in the USA divides phonemes in terms of manner and place of articulation, and supports each with an animation, a video of the mouth making the sound, and a description of each:

From Britain comes another excellent resource: The British Council's interactive IPA chart may lack the animations of the University of Iowa model, but is a little bit more accurate in terms of the IPA, and has some really good options for sound clips:

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