Manner of Articulation
Do you notice how I keep using the terms constriction and obstruction? I do this because there are many ways to make the air flow through your oral passage.
For example, you can squeeze the back of your tongue against your velum to block the airflow. Or you can lightly touch that same place and let some air pass through.
Although both of these motions occur at the same place, they make different sounds because of the manner of articulation. This is part of the reason it is possible to have so many distinct consonant sounds at the same place of articulation.
The manner of articulation is the way the airstream is affected as it flows from the lungs and out the nose and mouth.
On this page I will cover six different manners of articulation in English that will distinguish one consonant sound from the next. There is a lot of information on this page, so don’t worry if you can’t remember everything now. You can always bookmark this page and refer back to it.
Looking at these sounds from a different perspective will help you develop your physical awareness of them. Make sure to try these movements out loud to yourself to really feel them.
Nasal consonants are created when you completely block air flow through your mouth and let the air pass through your nose.
There are three nasal consonants in English.
- /m/ – “mad” and “clam” – oral passage is blocked by closing the lips (bilabial).
- /n/ – “no” and “man‘ – oral passage is blocked by pressing tongue tip against the alveolar ridge (alveolar).
- /ŋ/ – “going” and “funk” – Oral passage is blocked by pressing the the back of your tongue against the soft palate (velar).
Like nasal consonants, stop consonants occur when the vocal tract is closed completely. But for stops the airflow is NOT redirected through the nose. Instead, the air quickly builds up pressure behind the articulators and then releases in a burst.
English contains the following stop consonants.
- /p/ – purse and rap – oral passage is blocked by closing the lips (bilabial).
- /b/ – “back” and “cab” – oral passage is blocked by closing the lips (bilabial).
- /t/ – “tab” and “rat” – oral passage is blocked by pressing the tongue tip against the alveolar ridge (alveolar)
- /d/ – “dip” and “bad” – oral passage is blocked by pressing the tongue tip against the alveolar ridge (alveolar)
- /k/ – “kite” and “back” – block airflow with the back of the tongue against the soft palate (velar).
- /g/ – “good” and “bug” – block airflow with the back of the tongue against the soft palate (velar).
While nasal and stop consonants involve a complete blockage of the vocal tract, fricative sounds involve only a partial blockage of the vocal tract so that air has to be forced through a narrow channel.
For example, you create a /t/ stop consonant when you block airflow completely with your tongue against the alveolar ridge. But if you let up with the tongue a bit and let the air seep through, you make an /s/ fricative consonant.
The English fricative sounds are as follows:
- /f/ – “fro” and “calf“- air is forced through the upper teeth and lower lip (labiodental)
- /v/ – “vine” and “have” – air is forced through the upper teeth and lower lip (labiodental)
- /θ/ – “thick” and “bath” – air is forced through upper teeth and tongue (dental)
- /ð/ – “the” and “rather” – air is forced through upper teeth and tongue (dental)
- /s/ – “suit” and “bus” – air is forced through tongue and alveolar ridge (alveolar)
- /z/ – “zit” and “jazz” – air is forced through tongue and alveolar ridge (alveolar)
- /ʃ/ – “shot” and “brash” – air is forced through the tongue and point just beyond alveolar ridge (post-alveolar)
- /ʒ/ – “vision” and “measure” – air is forced through the tongue and point just beyond alveolar ridge (post-alveolar)
- /h/ – “happy” and “hope” – actually /h/ isn’t a fricative. It’s technically not even a real consonant sound since there’s no constriction/obstruction of airflow.
When stop consonants mix with fricative consonants, the result is an affricate consonant. Affricate consonants start as stop sounds with air building up behind an articulator which then releases through a narrow channel as a fricative (instead of a clean burst as stops do).
The English affricate sounds are:
- /tʃ/ – “chick” and “match” – air is blocked with tongue just beyond the alveolar ridge (post-alveolar), then released as a fricative.
- /dʒ/ – “jam” and “badge” – air is blocked with tongue just beyond the alveolar ridge (post-alveolar), then released as a fricative.
Approximants are when two articulators come close together but not quite close enough to create air turbulence.
The resulting sound is more like a fast vowel than anything else. For example, the /w/ approximant is like a fast /u/ sound (say /u/ + /aɪ/ really fast and you get the word “why”). Notice how your tongue never actually comes in contact with the top of your mouth.
There are three English approximants:
Lateral consonants are when the tongue blocks the the middle of your mouth so that air has to pass around the sides. You create this when you
There is one lateral consonant in English
- /l/ – “luck”- place the tip of the tongue at the alveolar ridge (alveolar)
You might want to return to this after you spend some more time thinking about your English sounds and fidgeting around with your speech organ. So feel free to bookmark these pages for further reference.
Why is this information important? Because these same phonetic concepts are going to apply to your target language.
Your target language is going to have sounds that are completely new to you.
The best way for you to master the articulation of these new sounds is to understand these basic concepts behind them.
Now that you can decipher place and manner of articulation, the last feature we need to study is phonation.