An Interactive Quick Write!

Phonetics Around the World
October 22, 2012
Most of the sound files for this lecture can be found online at:
Fun Stuff
1. Voiceless [w] and Cool Whip.
2. Some sound inventories: Piraha and Jhu|hoasi.
3. Burmese voiceless nasals.
• Pirahã is a rather exotic language spoken in the
Amazon basin, in Brazil.
• It has either 10 or 11 phonemes, depending on
who’s counting.
• Pirahã is a controversial language because so many wild
claims have been made about it…
• And it is hard to verify them, due to a lack of research.
• Jhu|’hoansi is a Khoisan language spoken by about
30,000 people in southwestern Africa.
• Mostly in Namibia and Botswana.
• Jhu|’hoansi has only five vowels: [i], [e], [u], [o], [a].
• But it has a lot of consonants!
• Jhu|’hoansi was (famously) featured in a movie called
The Gods Must Be Crazy.
• My friend Amanda Miller learned the language during a
stint with the Peace Corps back in the ‘90s.
• She currently does research on the phonetics of the
• She just appeared on the show “Daily Planet” last
Phonetics Review
Last time, we discussed how vowels are articulated
along four different dimensions:
1. Height (of tongue)
high, mid, low
2. Front/backness (of tongue)
front, central, back
3. Rounding (of lips)
rounded, unrounded
4. Tenseness
tense vs. lax
Consonants are produced with more obstruction of the
airflow through the vocal tract than vowels
They are characterized by a different set of attributes:
1. Voicing
vocal fold position and movement
2. Place of Articulation
location of constriction in the vocal tract
3. Manner of Articulation
type of constriction made in the vocal tract
Moving on…
• The big picture point for today is:
• languages can combine a relatively small number of
articulatory gestures to make a very large number of
different sounds.
English Consonant Chart
Yes and No
• Here’s the complete chart of consonants:
• Some combinations are unattested
• Some combinations are impossible
• Many of these combinations are not found in English
note: close = high, open = low, etc...
• There are also combinations of gestures for vowels that
English doesn’t use
Front + Round
• Dutch has vowels that are both front and rounded
Back + Unrounded
• Vietnamese has vowels that are back and unrounded.
Nasalized Vowels
• Air can flow through the nose during a vowel, too.
• Examples from French:
Different Consonant Combos
• English has bilabial stops, but not bilabial fricatives.
• Bilabial fricatives exist in languages like Spanish and
Ewe, which is spoken in West Africa.
Different Consonant Combos
• Fricative sounds can also be made at the palate and the
• Examples from Greek:
English Velar Fricatives
• There is no velar fricative in English...
• but there used to be.
• Examples:
• night
• light
• high
• thought [θat]
• tough
Other Places of Articulation
• One dialect of Hebrew has uvular and pharyngeal
Voiceless Nasals
• Nasalization is disastrous for fricatives.
• There are no (uncontroversial) nasal fricatives in the
languages of the world.
• There are, however, voiceless nasals in a few languages.
• Examples from Burmese:
Another Manner: Trills
• Trills are made when the flow of air through the mouth
rapidly forces two articulators to open and close against
each other.
• Kele has both bilabial and alveolar trills. Kele is spoken on
the island of Manus, which is north of New Guinea.
Other Airstream Mechanisms
• Some sounds are made without air flowing out of the
• For example, hold your breath and try making the stop
sounds [p], [t], and [k].
• You can force air out of your mouth with your closed
• These sounds are called ejectives.
• They are symbolized with a ‘ after a stop: [p’], [t’], [k’]
Quechua Ejectives
• Quechua is spoken in South America
• Sounds can also be made when air rushes into the
• One way to do this involves dropping a closed glottis
while making a stop.
• Sounds made in this way are called implosives.
• Examples from Sindhi (spoken in India):
Velaric Ingressive Sounds
• A very interesting effect can occur when certain
articulations are combined with a velar stop closure
• Can you differentiate between these sounds?
•These “click” sounds are from the language Xhosa, which
is spoken in southwestern Africa.
What’s going on here?
• Click sounds are by made by the sound of air rushing into
the mouth.
• How to make a click (step 1):
• Make a velar stop and another stop in front of the velum.
Air will get trapped in between the two closures.
What’s going on here?
• How to make a click (part 2):
• Drop the tongue down to expand the chamber of air
trapped in the mouth. The air pressure in the chamber will
What’s going on here?
• How to make a click (part 3):
• Release the forward closure. Air rushes into the low
pressure area, from outside the mouth.
What’s going on here?
• How to make a click (part 4):
• Release the velar closure to make a velar stop sound.
Clicks in connected speech
• Listen to clicks as they are produced in a long sequence of
connected speech. You may experience a phenomenon
known as perceptual streaming.
Sound file source:

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