next up previous contents index
Next: Estonian Up: The phonemic notation of Previous: Dutch


The standard English consonant system is traditionally considered to comprise 17 obstruents (6 plosives, 2 affricates and 9 fricatives) and 7 sonorants (3 nasals, 2 liquids and 2 semivowel glides).

With the exception of the fricative /h/, the obstruents are usually classified in pairs as ``voiceless'' and ``voiced'', although the presence or absence of periodicity in the signal resulting from laryngeal vibration is not a reliable feature distinguishing the two classes. They are better considered ``fortis'' (strong) and ``lenis'' (weak), with duration of constriction and intensity of the noise component signalling the distinction.

The six plosives are p b t d k g:

p pin pIn
b bin bIn
t tin tIn
d din dIn
k kin kIn
g give gIv

The ``lenis'' stops are most reliably voiced intervocalically; aspiration duration following the release in the fortis stops varies considerably with context, being practically absent following /s/, and varying with degree of stress syllable-initially.

The two phonemic affricates are tS and dZ:

tS chin tSIn
dZ gin dZIn

As with the lenis stop consonants, /dZ/ is most reliably voiced between vowels.

There are nine fricatives f v T D s z S Z h:

f fin fIn
v vim vIm
T thin TIn
D this DIs
s sin sIn
z zing zIN
S shin SIn
Z measure "meZ@
h hit hIt

Intervocalically the lenis fricatives are usually fully voiced, and they are often weakened to approximants (fricationless continuants) in unstressed position.

The sonorants are three nasals m n N, two liquids r l, and two sonorant glides w j:

m mock mQk
n knock nQk
N thing TIN
r wrong rQN
l long lQN
w wasp wQsp
j yacht jQt

The English vowels fall into two classes, traditionally known as ``short'' and ``long'' but, owing to the contextual effect on duration of following ``fortis'' and ``lenis'' consonants (traditional ``long'' vowels preceding fortis consonants can be shorter than ``short'' vowels preceding lenis consonants), they are better described as ``checked'' (not occurring in a stressed syllable without a following consonant) and ``free''.

The checked vowels are I e { Q V U:

I pit pIt
e pet pet
{ pat p{t
Q pot pQt
V cut kVt
U put pUt

There is a short central vowel, normally unstressed:

@ another @"nVD@

The free vowels comprise monophthongs and diphthongs, although no hard and fast line can be drawn between these categories. They can be placed in three groups according to their final quality: i: eI aI OI, u: @U aU, 3: A: O: I@ e@ U@. They are exemplified as follows:

i: ease i:z
eI raise reIz
aI rise raIz
OI noise nOIz
u: lose lu:z
@U nose n@Uz
aU rouse raUz
3: furs f3:z
A: stars stA:z
O: cause kO:z
I@ fears fI@z
e@ stairs ste@z
U@ cures kjU@z

The vowels /i:/ and /u:/ in unstressed syllables vary in their pronunciation between a close [i]/[u] and a more open [I]/[U]. Therefore, it is suggested that /i/ and /u/ be used as indeterminacy symbols:

i happy "h{pi
u into "Intu

NOTATIONAL VARIANTS. Differently from the notation set out above:

It is possible to transcribe English long vowels without using length marks, thus /i u 3 A O/. This is phonemically unambiguous, although it does remove the option of restricting the symbols [i u] to the use just described, for the phonemically indeterminate weak vowels.
The symbol /E/ is quite widely used in place of /e/ for the vowel of ``pet''.
In an older notation, now no longer in general use, paired short and long vowels were transcribed using the same vowel symbol with and without length marks, thus /i/ in ``pit'', /i:/ in ``ease''; /O/ in ``pot'', /O:/ in ``cause''.

ADDITIONAL SYMBOLS. For some purposes and some varieties of English it is useful to give explicit symbolisation to the glottal stop and/or the voiceless velar fricative:

? network ne?w3:k
x loch lQx

next up previous contents index
Next: Estonian Up: The phonemic notation of Previous: Dutch

EAGLES SWLG SoftEdition, May 1997. Get the book...