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Glossary of Phonetic Terms

Phonetic alphabets isolate the discreet speech sounds of languages and represent speech sounds with combinations of letters, numbers, and characters which are known as “phones”. In addition, phonetic alphabets use a vocabulary of terms that describe phones and their articulation, including the following characteristics:

  • Manner of articulation. Describes how the tongue, lips, jaw, and other speech organs make contact to produce a sound.

  • Place of articulation. The point of contact, where an obstruction occurs in the vocal tract between an active (moving) articulator (typically some part of the tongue) and a passive (stationary) articulator (typically some part of the roof of the mouth).

  • Phonation type. Indicates whether a sound is voiced or voiceless. A voiced sound is one in which the vocal cords vibrate. A voiced sound is one in which the vocal cords do not vibrate.

  • Airstream mechanism. The method by which airflow is created in the vocal tract.

The following table defines terms used to describe speech sounds and their components, contains additional terms used in phonetics, and includes the abbreviations used in the phone tables of the Phonetic Alphabet Reference.

Term

Abbrev.

Description

Example in en-US

Advanced

adv

An advanced sound is pronounced farther to the front of the vocal tract than some reference point.

Advanced tongue root

atr

Moving the base of the tongue forward, expanding the pharyngeal cavity, by during the pronunciation of a vowel. Often includes lowering the larynx.

Affricate

aff

A consonant sound that begins with stop-like total closure for the vocal tract, followed by a more controlled, fricative-style release (i.e. a stricture causing friction.)

[ch] (chin), [j] (joy)

Allophone

-

Similar spoken sounds that are represented by the same phoneme (think letter of the alphabet). There may be multiple phones (pronunciations) for a single phoneme. For example, the different pronunciations of the letter “t” in the words tub, stub, but, butter, and button are allophones of the phoneme /t/.*

Alveolar

alv

A consonant that is articulated with the tongue against or close to the upper alveolar ridge, which contain the sockets for the upper teeth.

[t](talk), [d] (dig)

Alveolo-palatal

-

A consonant that is articulated with the blade of the tongue behind the alveolar ridge, and the body of the tongue raised toward the palate.

Apical

api

A consonant that is produced by obstructing the air passage with the tip of the tongue.

Approximant

apr

Speech sounds made by moving articulators close to each other but not narrowly enough or with enough articulatory precision to create turbulent airflow.

[j], [w]

Articulator

-

There are five basic active articulators for creating speech: the lip, the flexible front of the tongue, the middle/back of the tongue, the root of the tongue together with the epiglottis, and the larynx.

Aspiration

asp

A strong burst of air that accompanies either the release of some obstruents.

Back

bck

Indicates that the position of the tongue is close to the back of the mouth during the articulation of a vowel. Back vowels are also called dark volewls.

[u]

Bilabial

blb

A consonant articulated with both lips.

Breathy voice

bvd

A sound in which the vocal cords vibrate, but are held further apart so that a larger volume of air escapes between them.

Center

cnt

Indicates that the position of the tongue is positioned halfway between the front and the back of the mouth during the articulation of a vowel.

Centralized

cen

A vowel sound in which the tongue is positioned halfway between a front vowel and a back vowel.

Click

clk

A sound produced by closing the vocal tract at two places of articulation in the mouth, rarifying (uncompressing) the air in the enclosed space by lowering the tongue, and then releasing both closures.

Coronal

-

A consonant that is articulated with the flexible front part of the tongue

Creaky voiced

cvd

A sound in which the airflow through the glottis is very slow and the vocal chords vibrate more slowly than with normal voicing.

Dental

den

A consonant that is articulated with the tongue against the upper teeth, such as /t/, /d/, and /n/.

Denti-alveolar

dnt-alv

A consonant that is articulated with a flat tongue against the alveolar ridge and upper teeth

Dentolabial

A consonant that is articulated with the lower teeth against the upper lip

Diphthong

-

Literally "two sounds" or "two tones", a unitary vowel that changes quality during its pronunciation.

Dorsal

-

A consonant that is articulated with the mid body of the tongue (the dorsum).

Egressive

-

Sounds in which the air stream is created by pushing air out through the mouth or nose. Egresives may be one of the following types:

Pulmonic egressive. The air stream is created by the lungs, ribs, and diaphragm to make sounds.

Lingual egressive. With the velum closed, the speaker forces air out of the mouth using either the tongue or cheeks.

Glottalic egressive sounds are known as ejectives.

Ejective

ejc

Voiceless consonants that are pronounced with simultaneous closure of the glottis.

Flap (or Tap)

flp

A type of consonantal sound, which is produced with a single contraction of the muscles so that one articulator (such as the tongue) is thrown against another.

Fricative

frc

A consonant sound formed with limited closure of the vocal tract, (i.e. a steady stricture causing friction).

Front

fnt

Indicates that the position of the tongue is close to the front of the mouth during the articulation of a vowel.

[i]

Glottal

glt

Sound production involving only the glottis.

Glottis

-

The combination of the vocal folds (vocal chords) and the space in between the folds.

High

hgh

Indicates that the tongue is in a raised vertical position relative to either the roof of the mouth or the aperture of the jaw to pronounce certain vowels. Vowels thus pronounced are also higher in pitch. Also called closed vowels.

[i] and [u]

Implosive

imp

Implosives consonants are stops in which the airstream is controlled by moving the glottis downward in addition to expelling air from the lungs

Interdental

-

A consonant that is produced by placing the blade of the tongue (the top surface just behind the tip of the tongue) against the upper incisors

Labial

lab

A consonant in which one or both lips are the active articulator.

Labial-alveolar

Consonants that have two primary places of articulation, at the lips and the gums.

labial-palatal

lbp

A sound made both by shaping the roundness of the lips and by raising the body of the tongue toward the hard palate. Rare.

Labial-velar

lbv

Consonants that have two primary places of articulation, at the velum and the lips.

Labiodental

lbd

A consonant that is articulated with the lower lip and the upper teeth.

Labio-palatalization

-

Consonants that are articulated with the lips and with the body of the tongue raised against the hard palate.

Laminal

lam

A consonant that is produced by obstructing the air passage with the blade of the tongue, which is the flat, top surface just behind the tip of the tongue.

Lateral

lat

"L"-like consonants pronounced with an occlusion made somewhere along the axis of the tongue, while air from the lungs escapes at one side or both sides of the tongue. The approximant /l/ is the only lateral in English.

[l]

Lateral release

lar

A consonant that is produced by stopping the airflow in the vocal tract and then releasing it to escape at one side or both sides of the tongue.

Less rounded

lrd

A vowel sound made with the lips less rounded.

Linguolabial

lla

A consonant articulated by placing the tongue tip or blade against the upper lip, which is drawn downward to meet the tongue.

Lowered

low

A sound articulated with the tongue or lip lowered (the mouth more open) than some reference point. Also called open vowel.

[a]

Mid

mid

A vowel that is produced with the tongue positioned mid-way between an open (low) vowel and a close (high) vowel.

Mid-centralized

mcn

A vowel closer to the mid-point of the vowel space, both in terms of front-to-back and top-to-bottom, than some point of reference.

Monophthong

-

Literally "one sound" or "one tone", a vowel whose articulation at both beginning and end is relatively fixed.

More rounded

mrd

A vowel sound made with the lips more rounded.

Nasal

nas

A consonant that is produced with a lowered velum in the mouth, allowing air to escape freely through the nose.

[n], [m]

Nasal release

nsr

A consonant that is produced by stopping the airflow in the vocal tract and then releasing it, allowing the air to escape freely through the nose.

No audible release

nar

A consonant that is produced by blocking the oral tract , but there is no audible indication of when that occlusion ends.

Non-syllabic

nsy

Vowel-like sounds that are not the most prominent part of a syllable.

Obstruent

-

A consonant sound formed by obstructing airflow, resulting in partial or total closure of the vocal tract.

Oral

-

A consonant sound that is made by allowing air to escape from the mouth, as opposed to the nose.

[p], [w], [v] or [x].

Orthography

-

The correct method of writing a language, including spelling, hyphenation, capitalization, word breaks and punctuation.

Palatal

pal

A consonant that is articulated with the body of the tongue raised against the hard palate (the middle part of the roof of the mouth).

Pharyngeal

phr

A consonant that is articulated with the root of the tongue against the pharynx.

Pharynx

-

The pharynx lies behind the oral cavity.

Phone

-

A notation (letters, numbers, characters) that represents a discreet sound in a spoken language. Changing a phone in a word will alter its pronunciation. See Phoneme and Allophone.

Phoneme

-

A basic component of written language, typically a letter of an alphabet, (or the combination of multiple letters) that represents a group of similar sounds. Changing a phoneme in a word will alter its spelling. A written word is an assemblage of phonemes. A phoneme may represent multiple phones. See Phone and Allophone.

[c] (cow, certain); [th] (that, thimble, teeth)

Postalveolar

A consonant that is articulated with the tongue near or touching the back of the alveolar ridge, further back in the mouth than the alveolar consonants, which are at the ridge itself, but not as far back as the hard palate

Radical

-

A consonant that is articulated with the root (base) of the tongue in the throat.

Raised

rai

A sound that is articulated with the tongue or lip raised higher than some reference point.

Retracted

ret

A sound that is pronounced farther to the back of the vocal tract than some reference point.

Retracted tongue root

rtr

The neutral position or the the retraction of the base of the tongue in the pharynx during the pronunciation of a vowel.

Retroflex

rfx

A consonant that is articulated with the roof of the oral cavity behind the alveolar ridge, and may even be curled back to touch the palate or uvula

Rhoticity

rho

Rhotic speakers pronounce /r/ in all positions within a word, while non-rhotic speakers pronounce /r/ only if it is followed by a vowel sound.

Rounded

rnd

The pronunciation of a vowel with lips formed in a circular opening.

Semi-high

smh

A vowel pronounced with the tongue positioned between a high (close) vowel and a mid vowel.

Semi-low

sml

A vowel pronounced with the tongue positioned between a low (open) vowel and a mid vowel.

Sibilant

A type of fricative or affricate consonant, made by directing a jet of air through a narrow channel in the vocal tract towards the sharp edge of the teeth.

[s](sin), [ʃʷ̜] (shin)

Sonorant

-

A speech sound that is produced without turbulent airflow in the vocal tract. Vowels are sonorants.

Stop

stp

A consonant sound produced by stopping the airflow in the vocal tract, followed by an explosive release of air. Also called plosive.

Subapical

-

A consonant made by contact with the underside of the tip of the tongue.

Syllable

-

The building blocks of words, syllables are typically made up of a syllable nuclear (most often a vowel) with optional initial and final margins (typically, consonants).

Syllabic

syl

A consonant which either forms a syllable on its own, or is the nucleus of a syllable.

Tone

-

The use of pitch in language to distinguish lexical or grammatical meaning.

Trill

trl

A consonantal sound produced by vibrations between the articulator and the place of articulation.

Unrounded

unr, urd

A vowel pronounced with the lips not rounded, that is, relaxed.

Upper-mid

umd

A vowel pronounced with the tongue between the high (close) and mid vowel positions.

Uvular

uvl

A consonant that is articulated with the back of the tongue against or near the uvula, that is, further back in the mouth than velar consonants.

Velar

vel

A consonant that is articulated with the back part of the tongue (the dorsum) against the soft palate, the back part of the roof of the mouth, known also as the velum).

Velarize

vph

A secondary articulation of consonants by which the back of the tongue is raised toward the velum during the articulation of the consonant.

Velum

-

The back part of the roof of the mouth; the soft palate.

Vocal Tract

-

Consists of the laryngeal cavity, the pharynx, the oral cavity, and the nasal cavity.

Voiced

vcd

A voiced sound is one in which the vocal cords vibrate.

Voiceless

vls

A voiced sound is one in which the vocal cords do not vibrate.

Vowel

vwl

A spoken sound pronounced with an open vocal tract.

Note Note

In transcription, individual phones are placed between slashes: /sh/.

Individual phonemes are placed in square brackets: [ʃ]

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