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Articulatory and physiological classification of English vowels

The first linguist who tried to describe and classify vowel sounds for all languages was D. Jones. He devised the system of 8 Cardinal Vowels. The basis of the system is physiological. Cardinal vowel No, 1 corresponds to the position of the front part of the tongue raised as close as possible to the palate. The gradual lowering of the tongue to the back lowest position gives another point for cardinal vowel No. 5. The lowest front position of the tongue gives the point for cardinal No. 4. The upper back limit for the tongue position gives the point for cardinal No. 8. These positions for cardi­nal vowels No. 1, 4, 5 and 8 were copied from X-ray photographs. The tongue positions и

between these points were X-rayed*and the JV V~

equi-distant points for No. 2, 3, 6, 7 were " ~ A. symbols for the 8 Cardinal * v--------------- s— 1 — i, 2 — e, 3 — s, 4 — а, Д \ 5 _ a, 6 — o, 7 — o, 8 — u. ' \----- \ Below we give some rough indications \ flip nrimarv narrti'nni vowel dualities. \ л

qdtt pit f N 2, 3, 6, 7 \ \

found. The IPA symbols for the 8 Cardinal

Vowels are:

g g

of the primary cardinal vowel qualities, _

using for comparison French, German and a a

Russian languages. Fts' '

No. 1 is the equivalent of the German ie in Biene. This position is higher than for the Russian accented /и/ in the word пили.

No, 2 is pronounced with the position of the tongue narrower than for the Russian _/e/ in the word тесть.

No. 3 is similar to the Russian /э/ in the word эта.

N.o. 4 is similar to the French sound /a/ in la.

No. 5 is nearly what is obtained by taking away the lip rounding from the English sound h! in hot.

No, ' 6 is. similar to the German sound of /o/ in Sonne, so.

No. 7 is similar to the French sound of /o/ in Rose.

No. 8 is. similar to the German sound of /u/ in gut.

See Fig. 7. /и, ы, у, о, а, э/ are Russian vowels, given for corapari-son.

The system of Cardinal Vowels is an international standard.

Table 2 English and Russian Vowel Phonemes


Accord­ing N. According to Front vo- Front-retracted Central vowels Back-ad- Back vowels
to the Ac- N tionof wels vowels   vanced  
height cord- \ the bulk'       vowels  
of the ing to \ ofthe          
raised part the va- 4 t0 natron Nt          
of the in the N.         - "
tongue height of Ny          
  the raised N.          
  part of Nv^          
  the tongue N.          
Close variation \ •• \ '      
vowels Broad \ " Л—ч^. \ ~~^—
  variation \ V\t-— kJ_
Mid- Narrow  
open variation  
(mid) vowels Broad variation vrVfvQr
Open (low) variation  
vowels Broad variation V \TV? n *

" The Cardinal Vowel scale is a Sine and independent system needed on the auditory and articulatory levels." г

In spite of the theoretical significance of the Cardinal Vowel Sys­tem its practical application is limited to the field where no compar­ison is needed, in purely scientific work. In language teaching this system can be learned only by oral instruction from a teacher who knows how to pronounce the Cardinal Vowels. " Those who have access nei-

* Glmson A.C. An Introduction to the Pronunciation of English, 1964.-P. 36.

• Ldn.

ther to a qualified teacher, nor to a... record cannot expect to learn the values of these or any other cardinal vowels with accuracy." *

Acoustically vowels are musical tones (not noises): the word " vowel" is a derivative of " voice". But vowels are not necessarily connected with voice. Prof. L.R. Zinder states that if the organs of speech are adjusted for the articulation of a vowel, it can be pronounced without voice, breathing the air out through the mouth cavity, then a voiceless vowel is produced. Such voiceless vowels exist in all lan­guages as a " schwa" in a terminal position after voiceless (especially occlusive) consonants. E.g. in the Russian language /ъ/ is heard in the words: суд, /com, убит, кит, хлеб, etc. When people pronounce vowels in whisper, they also articulate " voiceless vowels".

Acoustically vowels differ due to their tembral colouring, each vowel is characterized by its own formants (that is concentrations of energy in certain frequency regions on the spectrogram).

Soviet phoneticians suggest a classification of vowels according to the following principles:

I. Position of the lips.

II. Position of the tongue.

III. Degree of tenseness and the character of the end.

IV. Length.

V. Stability of articulation.

I. The main effects of lip rounding on the shape of the mouth are:
a) to enlarge the oral cavity, b) to diminish the size of the opening of
the oral cavity. Both of these deepen the pitch and increase the reso­
nance of the front oral cavity according to the position of the lips.
According to the position of the lips vowels are classified into: (a)
rounded, (b) unrounded, The Russian rounded vowels are pronounced
with more lip protrusion than the English rounded vowels. The Eng­
lish rounded vowels are: /u — u:, и — о: /, the Russian rounded and
protruded vowels are: /о, у/. The general pattern is that the front
and open vowels are articulated with spread to neutral lip position
while back vowels have rounded lips. The rounding tends to be more
worked with closer tongue height.

II. According to the position of the tongue jt is the bulk of the
tongue which conditions most of all the production of different vow­
els. It can move forward and backward, it may be raised and low­
ered in the mouth cavity.

L. V. Shcherba did not separate vowels according to the vertical and horizontal movements of the tongue with definite lines, consid­ering such subdivision to be conventional (Fig. 8).

Soviet scientists divide vowels according to the (a) horizontal and (b) vertical movements of the tongue (Table 2).

(a) When the bulk of the tongue moves backwards, it is usually the back part of the tongue which is raised highest towards the soft palate. Vowels produced with the tongue in this position are called back. They are subdivided into:

i Vassttyev V.A. Op. cit-J>. 92.

fully back: h, э:, u: /, the nucleus of the diphthong hi!, and the Russian /о, у/;

back-advanced: /u, at.

When the bulk of the tongue moves forward, it is usually the front part of the tongue which is raised highest towards the hard palate. Vowels produced with this position of the tongue are called front. They are subdivided into:

fully front: /i:, e, зе/, the nuclei of the diphthongs /ei, еэ/ and the Russian /u, э/;

front-retracted: /i/ and the nuclei of the diphthongs /au, ai/. In the production of central vowels the tongue is almost flat. Its central

Front Mixed     Bach
У| bl     ш и
VI     ъ V
  э V    
(В8   л а    

part is raised towards the juncture between the hard and soft pal­ate. Central vowels are /з:, э, л/ and the nucleus of the diphthong /au/.

а d
Indefinite Fig. 8

Some phoneticians considered that /з:, э/ are mixed not central vowels (G.P. Torsuyev, A.L. Trakhterov, H. Sweet). G.P. Tor­suyev referred to the group of central vowels the Russian /a/ and /ы/. L.V. Shcherba does not

,.,, mention central vowels at all,

he considers the vowels of the lul type and the English /з:, з/ mixed, (b) According to the vertical movements of the tongue vowels are subdivided into:

high: /i:, i, u, u: /, Russian /и, у, ы/;

mid-, half-open /e, г., a(u), е(э), a/, Russian /э, о/;

n I °? ^: /A\ *? ' ak u> ' ' v> °W/. Russian /a/. t, acn ot the subclasses is subdivided into vowels of narrow varia­tion and vowels of broad variation:

narrow variation: /i:, u: /, Russian /и, ы, у/

broad variation: /i, u/

narrow variation: /e, з:, e(u)/, Russian /э/

■ broad variation: /ф), э: , 9/, Russian /o/ narrow variation: /л, o(i)/

broad variation: /tt| v, эе, a(i, u)/, Russian /a/

The Russian /э/ is on the borderline between " narrow" and " broad" mid vowels, /o/ is on the borderline between " mid-open" and " open", i ^cfc.ordJne i0 the degree of tenseness traditionally long vow-

L ь и iS Ч" 56^ short as Iax- The te" n " tense" was in­d by H. Sweet, who stated that the tongue is tense when vow-

els of narrow variety are articulated. This statement is a confusion of two problems: acoustic and articulatory because " tenseness" is an acoustic notion and should be treated in terms of acoustic data. However, this phenomenon is connected with the articulation of vow­els in unaccented syllables (unstressed vocal ism). The decrease of tenseness results in the reduction of vowels, that is in an unstressed position they may lose their qualitative characteristics.

When the muscles of the lips, tongue, cheeks and the back walls of the pharynx are tense, the vowels produced can be characterized as " tense". When these organs are relatively relaxed, lax vowels are produced. There are different opinions in referring English vowels to the first or to the second group. D. Jones * considers only the long /i: / and /u: / to be tense. Q.P. Torsuyev ä defines all long English vowels as tense as well as /ae/, all short vowels are considered by him as lax.

This problem can be solved accurately only with the help of elec-tromyography. The Russian vowels are not differentiated according to their tenseness but one and the same vowel is tense in a stressed syllable compared with its tenseness in an unstressed one.

English vowels can be checked and unchecked. Checked vowels are those which occur in stressed closed syllables, ending in a fortis voiceless consonant, e.g. /e/ in /bet/, /'leb/; fa./ in /kat/, /Jeep/, The checked vowels are pronounced without any lessening in the force of utterance towards their end. They are abruptly interrupted by the following voiceless consonant. Unchecked vowels are those which oc­cur terminally, or are followed by a lenis voiced consonant, e.g. I'v.l in /bi: /, la.1 in /ka: d/. There are no checked vowels in Russian. All of them are unchecked.

The English vowel /э/ does not occur in a stressed context. It must be regarded outside the free/checked classes.

IV. According to the length English vowels are subdivided into: (historically) long and (historically) short.»

Vowel length may depend on a number of linguistic factors:

(1) position of the vowel in a word,

(2) word stress,

(3) the number of syllables in a word,

(4) the character of the syllabic structure,

(5) sonority.

(1) Positional dependence of length can be illustrated by the fol­lowing example:

be — bead — beat we ~- weed — wheat tie — tied — tight

1 Jones D. An Outline of English Phonetics, — 9th ed.— Cambridge, 1960. a Торсуев Г. П. Строение слога и аллофоны в английском языке — AI.,

1975.—С. 84—102.

3 Length is marked with a macron (—), shortness with a breve (~).

In the terminal position a vowel is the longest, it shortens before a voiced consonant, it is the shortest before a voiceless consonant.

(2) A vowel is longer in a stressed syllable than in an unstressed

forecast n /ifo: kast/ прогноз—forecast v /b; ikast/ предсказы­вать погоду

In the verb /o: / is shorter than in the noun, though it may be pronounced with /o: / equally long.

(3) If we compare a one-syllable word and a word consisting of
more than one syllable, we may observe that similar vowels are short­
er in a polysyllabic word. Thus in the word verse /з: / is longer than in

(4) In words with V, CV, CCV x type of syllable the vowel length
is greater than in words with VC, CVC, CCVC type of syllable. For
example, h\l is longer in err (V type), than in earn (VC type), /ju: /
is longer in dew (CV type), than in duty (CVCV type).

(5) Vowels of low sonority are longer than vowels of greater sonor­
ity. It is so, because the speaker unconsciously makes more effort
to produce greater auditory effect while pronouncing vowels of lower
sonority, thus making them longer. For example, /i/ is longer than
hi; l\: i is longer than /a*/, etc.

Besides vowel length depends on the tempo of speech: the higher the rate of speech the shorter the vowels.

D. Jones % treats quantity independently of the vowel sounds themselves. Thus he treats Гг., i/ as positional allophones of one pho­neme.

Length is a non-pnonemic feature in English but it may serve to differentiate the meaning of a word. This can be proved by minimal pairs, e.g.

beat /bi: t/ бить—bit /on/ кусочек

deed /di: d/ дело (деяние)—did /did/ делал, сделал

The English long'vowels are /i:, u:, а, о:, э: /.

G.P. Torsuyev considers /ае/tobea long vowel, but he admits that in certain positions /se/ can be a short phoneme. English pho­neticians state that it is a short one, though in some words it may be long.3

The English short vowels are /i, e, ю, as, u, л, э/.

V. The stability of articulation is the principle of vowel classi­fication which is not singled out by Britisn and American phoneti­cians. In fact, it is the principle of the stability of the shape, volume and the size of the mouth resonator.

) 2 V is the Initial letter of the word " vowel"; С is the Initial letter of the word consonant"; V, CV, CCV are open types of syllables; VC, CVC, CCVC are closed types of syllables.

г Jones O, Op. cit.—P. 70,

8 Ward I. The Phonetics of English, — Cambridge, 1948.— P. 76.

We can speak only of relative stability of the organs of speech, because pronunciation of a sound is a process, and its stability should be treated conventionally.

According to this principle vowels are subdivided into:

(a) monophthongs, or simple vowels,

(b) diphthongs, or complex vowels.

(a) English monophthongs are pronounced with more or less
stable lip, tongue and mouth walls position. They are: /i:, i, e,
ae, а, ю, э:, u, u:, л, э:, э/.

(b) Diphthongs are defined differently by different authors. One
definition is based on the ability of a vowel to form a syllable. Since
in the diphthong only one element serves as a syllabic nucleus, a diph­
thong is a single sound.

Another definition of a diphthong as a single sound is based on the instability of the second element. The third group of scientists define a diphthong from the accentual point of view: since only one element is accented and the other is unaccented, a diphthong is a single sound.

D. Jones defines diphthongs as unisyllabic gliding sounds in the articulation of which the organs of speech start from one position and then glide to another position,

N.S, Trubetskoy states that a diphthong should be (a) unisyllab­ic, that is the parts of a diphthong cannot belong to two syllables, (b) monophonemic with gliding articulation, (c) its length should not exceed the length of a single phoneme.

L.R. Zinder adds that phonemically diphthongs are sounds that cannot be divided morphologically. E, g. the Russian /аи, ой/ in чай, стой can be separated: ча-ю, сто-to,

L. L. Bulanin calls combinations like Russian /аи, ей, ой/ pho­netic diphthongs and English inseparable units like /ai, ei..../-^ phonemic diphthongs.x

The first element of a diphthong is the nucleus, the second is the glide, A diphthong can be falling — when the nucleus is stronger than the glide, and rising — when the glide is stronger than the nu­cleus. When both elements are equal such diphthongs are called level,

English diphthongs are falling with the glide toward:

i—/ei, ai, oi/, u—/au, эй/, a—/19, еэ, иэ/.8

Diphthongs /ei, эй, vx, au, ai/ are called closing, diphthongs /еэ», 13, иэ/ are called centring, according to the articulatory char? acter of the second element.

1 Вуланин JI.JI. Фонетика современного оусского языка.— M., 1970.— С. 85.

. - а D. Jones treats the diphthongs /ia, ua/£ in some positions as rising, e.g. /'hK/ /'/

There are two vowels in English—/i:, u: /—that may have a diphthongal glide where they have full length, e.g. in open syl­lables and before lenis or nasal consonants: /bi:, bi: d, bi: n/, /du:,

du: ra/.

In allophonic transcription they can be represented as [iiJ, uuw]. Before fortis consonants it is more usual to hear steady-state /i:, u: /, e.g. /bi: t, bu: t/. Russian vowels /э, о/ are diphthongoids of the widening type, Russian /a/ between soft consonants is a diph-thongoid, it begins and ends with /и/, e.g. сядь /c'ä Y/, /ä / = [*aHI.

If we compare classifications of vowels suggested by Soviet and foreign authors, we may state that the classification of vowels suggest­ed by Soviet authors is more exact from the articulatory point of view and more simple for teaching purposes. It reflects more exactly distinctively relevant differences between the English^ vowel pho­nemes.

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