CALLE

Centre for Applied Linguistics & Language Education

Tense: Conclusion & Review

Examples:

This post follows the initial article on tense (here) and a discussion of present tense forms (here), past tense forms (here) and future tense forms (here).

Conclusion

In the previous sections tense has been discussed in terms of its general characteristics and its various uses in referencing present, past, and future time.  As has been previously covered, tense is not a generic term for time in language nor is it the only time element with which linguists are concerned.  Instead it is one of five universal attributes of language used to convey time information.  The other attributes (aspect, mood, perfection, and aktionsart) are inherently tied to tense and the relationship of all five are so intertwined that each can rarely be discussed without consideration of all of them together.

Tense is however a very straight forward concept.  It is purely a manner of expressing the contrast between two temporal references on the timeline of an utterance.  The primary reference for determining tense is always the Time of Utterance (TUTT) — the point in time at which the utterance is actually said, heard, written, read, or otherwise communicated.  Except for in cases of reported or quoted speech that happens in either the past or future, TUTT is always now (present).  This makes it easy for determining the primary temporal reference because most of the time it’s present and thus doesn’t require further analysis.  The position of the secondary temporal reference and its relative distance from TUTT is what actually determines tense.  If the secondary reference occurs earlier than the primary reference (or visually, to the left of it) the tense of the utterance is past.  Likewise, if it occurs after TUTT (or visually again, to the right of it), the tense is future.  Unlike present tense which is absolute (it’s always now), past and future are not specific tenses but rather ranges.  If the secondary reference is to the left of the primary but very close to it on the timeline, tense can be said to be immediate past.  Likewise if were to the left but much farther away, it could be said to be distant past.

It is the interelation with aspect and aktionsart that determines which type of secondary temporal reference is used to establish tense.  As stated above, the primary reference is always TUTT, and that Time of Utterance is almost always present because most utterances are communicated at the instant they are written, read, said, or heard (for instance, since you are just reading this, it’s being communicated to you now, thus its TUTT is now).  The secondary reference can be either the Time of Assertion (TAST), Time of Evaluation (TEVL) or Time of Completion (TCOM).  TUTT, TEVL, and TCOM are always punctular, meaning they have no duration and occupy only a single point on the timeline of the utterance.  Depending on whether either the aspect of the utterance or the aktionsart of the inclusive verb are durational or not though, TAST can be either punctular or durative — occuring over a range of time along the timeline rather than a point.  The various types of aspect and aktionsart are discussed in specific chapters to follow with a more detailed discussion of their effect on methods of determining tense.

Some resources describe tense as either relative or absolute, yet while the dual systems proposed are incorrect, there is some merit to this idea.  The only absolute tense is the pure present which occurs when an utterance has a TUTT of ‘now’ coinciding with a TAST, TEVL, or TCOM of ‘now’.  Even this expression of tense is not truly absolute in the sense of being locked, because if both temporal references where to move equally to the left of right along the timeline (say in reported speech), the tense of the utterance would still be present, even though the utterance itself has been moved into the future or past.  It is thus much more rational to consider tense as relative to the time of utterance, and to think of the time of utterance as relative to now (the time of analysis for tense).  This type of analysis can quickly become cumbersome and provides a good example of how descriptions of tense have become so disparate from language to language and conflated with other concepts over the years.

Finally, it should be remembered that tense is only this contrast between temporal references of the utterance described above.  It is an attribute of an utterance as a whole and not any part within.  Tense of an utterance can only be described in terms of present, past, and future, and degrees thereof.  It is thus correct to say present tense, but not present perfect, present simple, or present progressive.  Present perfect refers to the idea that an utterance is in present tense and is perfected (see Chapter 4 – Perfection); present simple refers to an utterance in the present tense, simple (a generic name for non-durational aspects) aspect, nonperfected; likewise present progressive refers to a non-perfected, durational aspect utterance in the present tense.  These terms all refer to the same single tense however — the present.

Review:

Tense is a contrast between two temporal references along the timeline of an utterance.  That is all tense is.

Tense is an attribute of the utterance and not of any part within an utterance (verbs, adjective and other things don’t have ‘tense’).

The primary temporal reference is always the Time of Utterance (TUTT) and this is most often ‘now’.

The secondary temporal reference is determined by the other 4 TAMPA elements and can be either the Time of Assertion (TAST), Time of Completion (TCOM) or Time of Evaluation (TEVL).

TAST can be either a point on the timeline of the utterance or a range depending on if the idea expressed has duration.  TUTT, TCOM, and TEVL are always points.

Continue reading Aspect

February 2, 2010 Posted by | English Linguistics | , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Aspect

This is the second of 5 areas of focus for the TAMPA series on Time and Language, along with articles on Tense, Mood, Perfection, and Aktionsart.  The introduction to this series can be found here. It is recommended that the entire series be read in order from the beginning before reading this article

In the previous chapter it is said that tense is nothing more than a way of describing the contrast between two temporal reference points on the timeline of an utterance.  The form of that reference though, particularly the type of temporal reference used in establishing tense, is determined by aspect, perfection, and aktionsart, all of which convey the actual nature of the time information conveyed.  Just as tense cannot be properly analyzed without awareness of an utterance’s aspect, perfection, and aktionsart, aspect must be considered within the context of the aktionsart of the inclusive verb within the utterance.  OK, lot’s of words there, repeated and used together, so let’s begin with a quick review:

Utterance — remember this is the linguistic term for any complete speech formation.  That is, an utterance is the generic name for a sentence, clause, phrase or such that has at the least a subject and verb and expresses a complete thought.  Utterances can be questions, statements, commands, or exclamations; regardless of type, they are all utterances.

Timeline — time is a key attribute of any human communication. Regardless what is being discussed, some time information (when, how long, etc.) is always included.  Because time is always a key bit of the information communicated within an utterance, this means that any utterance can be shown appearing within a timeline on which the temporal references of the utterance may be plotted.

Temporal Reference – because every utterance conveys the same types of time information, they all have similar characteristics (although these characteristics may take very different forms).  One characteristic that all utterances share is that they each temporal references (or standard, identifiable things that can be plotted on their timeline).  The temporal references are used to determine tense by contrasting the primary temporal reference with a secondary temporal reference.  The primary temporal reference for all utterances is called the Time of Utterance (abbreviated TUTT).  This is simply the time at which the information conveyed by the utterance is communicated.  TUTT is always contrasted with a secondary temporal reference in determining tense, and the type of secondary reference — Time of Assertion (TAST), Time of Evaluation (TEVL), or Time of Completion (TCOM) is determined by the aspect, aktionsart, perfection, and mood of the utterance.

Tense — regardless of what type of secondary temporal reference the utterance requires, tense represents a contrast between the secondary reference and the primary one (TUTT).  If the secondary reference coincides with TUTT, the tense is present; if it occurs before TUTT, tense is past; and, if it occurs after TUTT, the tense of the utterance is future.  In regard to tense, past and future are ranges and the degree of those tenses is determined by the distance between TUTT and the secondary reference on the timeline of that utterance (close together = near past/future, far apart = distant future/past).

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So, tense as described above is the name given to a way of describing the contrast between two temporal references along the timeline of an utterance. Tense however, has nothing to do with the type of time information given or the nature of the information conveyed by the utterance, it is merely a manner of describing the above explained contrast between TUTT and the secondary reference.  Tense is an attribute of an utterance, not of any element within that utterance (meaning that verbs, adjectives, adverbs, and prepositions cannot be said to ‘have tense’).  Tense though is only one of the five attributes which every utterance in every language uses to express time.  These attributes together form the mnemonic TAMPA (for tense, aspect, mood, perfection, and aktionsart).  Whereas tense has nothing to do with the nature of information conveyed by an utterance, aspect, perfection, and aktionsart revolve entirely around this.

Like tense, aspect is an attribute of the utterance (and not of any component within that utterance).  Again, this is important in that the concept of aspect is something that reflects a quality of the entire utterance.  This means that every utterance expresses aspect, but that while specific components within the utterance may take on forms specific to the aspect used, that nothing that is less than a full utterance carries aspect (so verbs, adjectives, prepositional phrases, etc will never ‘have aspect’).

Aspect refers to the use of  structural elements to express certain attributes of the temporal nature of an utterance.

The term aspect means literally ‘how it’s looked at’ when referring to language.  It is derived from the Latin aspectus – ‘a view’, from the verb aspicere — ‘to look at’.  In selecting the term aspect in relation to languages, linguists had chosen a term to describe how a verb is looked at or viewed within the context of the utterance in which it appears.  Thus aspect came to be used to describe how the structure of an utterance (the actual grammatical forms used) determined the role of the inclusive verb within that utterance.

Historical Development

In considering the various attributes of aspect for any given language, it is necessary to first consider the history of the study of aspect in general.  Tense and aspect have long been a topic of debate and research among linguists with philosophical debate on these fronts long predating linguistics as a separate field of study.  Much of the meaning currently assigned to aspect had been seen originally as the domain of tense, with tense being an all encompassing term for anything involving time.  The study of tense has not always been as clearly defined as is currently, with tense dealing with temporal contrast within the utterance (the relevance of TUTT to TAST, TCOM, or TEVLsee Tense above) as being within the range of present, past, or future.  Study of tense began in earnest with declined languages of learning such as Latin and Greek in which tense is marked with affixes (endings) and declensions (changes in form that convey a specific meaning).  The original function of these tense markings in many languages was not that of temporal contrast (present, past, and future) but actually of aktionsart, perfection, or aspect which convey temporal nature.

The study of aspect (and later perfection and aktionsart) as independent of tense began to develop in the early 20th Century, mostly through the work of Russian linguists studying Slavic languages.  These early proponents of a separate grammatical category dealing with the circumstances of the verb, or more precisely as they saw it, its viewpoint within the utterance as independent from true tense of the utterance focused primarily on languages (Russian, Latin, Greek) in which aspectual characteristics tend to occur in opposing pairs.  The roots of this system are still quite obvious today with binary systems such as perfective versus imperfective (not to be confused with ‘perfected’ and perfection), telic versus atelic, etc.  In attempting to apply these more clear-cut assessments of aspect into other languages, German linguists found this system did not effectively convey the what was happening in Germanic languages.  They recognized that just as aspectual characteristics of the language had been shown to be separate but related to tense, that there existed an even further differentiation within language between nature of the action inherent in the meaning of a verb and that inherent in the structure of the utterance itself.  Their solution was the proposal of a dual system in which the temporal nature of the verb itself, which they named aktionsart (literally translated as action-type) operated as separate yet complimentary to the temporal nature of the utterance in which it appeared – for this, they retained the term aspect.

Thus, within TAMPA temporal nature is determined by both the Aspect of the utterance and the Aktionsart of the verb within that utterance.  Whereas aktionsart is universal to a specific usage of a verb (in other words whenever a given verb is used within the context of a specific meaning (say work meaning to function) it will have the same akionsart regardless of the utterance in which it appears), aspect is just the opposite; it is an expression of temporal nature determined entirely by the structure of the utterance and thus remains the same regardless of the inclusive verb (although affected by it –see Aktionsart below).

Aspect as Related to other TAMPA Elements

Aspects can be divided into durational and non-durational varieties.  Within this division, further classifications may be used to determine the type of information conveyed.  These types of information can show whether something is meant to be purely informative, whether it is habitual (occurring over and over again), an activity, a change of state, an accomplishment, or simply to show that any of these others occur with a prolonged measurable duration.  Multiple systems of classifying and naming aspect within various languages exist and while little agreement has been achieved toward a universal system, the common points of all are that all aspects (regardless of what they are called) are either durational or non-durational, and that they are a method of using the specific structure of the utterance (word order, auxiliary verbs, special forms, etc) to override any lexical attribute of verbs (aktionsart) used within that utterance.  It should be noted that aspect cannot be considered without awareness of the aktionsart of the inclusive verbs, and also with perfection as this too is tied to aktionsart as well, and also expressed via structural forms.

The important thing to remember is that tense and aspect are separate from each other with tense being merely a contrast of temporal references.  The temporal references used to establish tense are determined by the temporal nature of the utterance.  That temporal nature is determined first by the inherent temporal nature of the inclusive verb itself (a characteristic of the verb as part of its meaning) as either durational or non-durational, and also within that division as various types of verb as described in the paragraph above, and also, as naturally completed or not naturally completed (telic and atelic); these are attributes of the individual verb(s) used within an utterance and are collectively called aktionsart.  These attributes inherent in the verb are universal and remain the same regardless of the utterance in which the verb is used so long as the meaning of that verb remains the same (in languages where one verb can have multiple meanings, in other languages each word/verb can only have a single meaning and thus the aktionsart for specific verbs within that language is always the same for that verb).  Those aktionsart attributes may however be overridden or enhanced by using the structure of the utterance in which the appears to express this same type of information.  Within the context of the utterance, it is the structure of that utterance that expresses such information.  And, structural expression always overrides lexical expression (or, attributes of the utterance trump attributes of the verb).  Whether a verb is completed/finished or not may be determined by the meaning of the verb as aktionsart (as either telic or atelic, the terms for a verb being naturally completed (like ‘kill’ or ‘finish’ — no additional killing or finishing goes on once the verb is accomplished) or lacking that quality).  It may also however be determined by the structure of the utterance. This is called perfection.  Perfection expresses completeness of the verb through structural forms.  These are often referred to as ‘the perfect’, but this is not quite correct as all utterance express perfection as either perfected (which forms like ‘I have eaten’ or ‘I have been eating’ express — in English perfected forms consist of the auxiliary ‘have’ conjugated for agreement with person, number, and tense with the past participle form of the verb), or non-perfected (which all other forms such as ‘I eat’ or ‘I am eating’ express).  If the verb within an utterance is atelic, perfecting that utterance overrides that aktionsart and completes the verb.  If that verb is already telic however, perfecting the utterance with structure may not be necessary as the verb is already completed but perfecting an utterance with an already completed verb can further emphasize that completion or draw specific attention to the exact point of completion.

Other temporal attributes such as duration may also be determined not only by the inclusive verb’s aktionsart, but by the structure of the utterance.  When the structure of the utterance is used to express a quality of temporal nature other than completion, this is called aspect.  The primary domain of aspect in most languages is in expressing duration.  Some languages have only a single durational and a single non-durational form.  Some actually have no specific form for duration at all and rely on the aktionsart of the inclusive verb or merely context to establish durative qualities.  Most however have one or more durational and one or more non-durational aspects.  English has a single durational aspect (either called the progressive or the continuous and having the form auxiliary ‘be’ plus present participle of the verb, i.e. ‘I am eating’ or ‘She had been driving’), and four non-durational aspects which while structurally identical may express different types of information such as being purely informative, whether something is habitual (occurring over and over again), an activity, a change of state, or an accomplishment; the type of non-durational aspect is often heavily influenced by the aktionsart of the inclusive verb.  Still, the important thing to get from this discussion is that aspect refers to the use of the structure of the utterance to determine temporal nature (mostly duration or lack of duration) other than completion, which is also structural but referred to as perfection.

Continue reading Perfection

February 1, 2010 Posted by | English Linguistics | , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Perfection

This is the third of 5 areas of focus for the TAMPA series on Time and Language, along with articles on Tense, Aspect, Mood, and Aktionsart.  The introduction to this series can be found here. It is recommended that the entire series be read in order from the beginning before reading this article.

As has been discussed up to now, the communication of information related to time is a universal of languages.  The way in which languages express temporal information may vary greatly from one to the next in form, yet all convey this information via five common universal attributes.  These five attributes (Tense, Aspect, Mood, Perfection, and Aktionsart) make up the TAMPA scheme for linguistic analysis for time.  Every utterance in every language conveys each of these five attributes in one way or another.  Thus far, two types of time information have been discussed: temporal contrast which is conveyed as tense; and temporal nature which is conveyed as aspect, perfection, and/or aktionsart.  Aspect is covered in the previous section and within that discussion perfection and aktionsart are touched upon as all three are inherently interrelated.  Perfection shall be discussed in further detail below.

Temporal Nature: Completion, Duration, and the Rest

Temporal contrast and temporal nature are basically the two super categories of time expression in language, with temporal contrast being solely the domain of tense with temporal nature determined by the combined expression of aspect, perfection, and aktionsart.  It is important to remember is that tense and aspect/perfection/aktionsart are separate from each other with tense being merely a contrast of temporal references regardless of what information is conveyed by the other TAMPA attributes.  But, that the temporal references used to establish tense are in fact determined by that temporal nature.  Temporal nature is determined first by the inherent temporal nature of the inclusive verb itself (a characteristic of the verb as part of its meaning) as either durational or non-durational, and within that division as various types of verb (changes of state, achievements, accomplishments, etc), and also, as naturally completed or not naturally completed (telic and atelic); these are attributes of the individual verb(s) used within an utterance and are collectively called aktionsart.  These attributes inherent in a verb are universal and remain the same regardless of the utterance in which the verb is used so long as the meaning of that verb remains the same (in languages where one verb can have multiple meanings, in other languages each word/verb can only have a single meaning and thus the aktionsart for specific verbs within that language is always the same for that verb).  Note that when referring to the ‘inclusive verb(s)’ within an utterance, that only the content verbs are considered, and not any verb acting as an auxiliary (such as ‘am’ in ‘I am running’ or ‘have’ in ‘I have eaten’ or ‘will’ in “I will see you tomorrow’).

Those attributes of temporal nature expressed by the aktionsart of the verb, while providing the basis for the overall temporal nature of the utterance, may however be overridden or enhanced by using the structure of the utterance in which that verb appears to express these same types of information.  When the considering the utterance as a whole, it is the structure of that utterance, moreso than the aktionsart of the inclusive verb, that expresses such information and determines the ultimate temporal nature of that utterance.  Structural expression of temporal nature always overrides lexical expression (or, attributes of the utterance trump attributes of the verb).  Whether a verb is completed/finished or not may be determined by the meaning of the verb as aktionsart (as either telic or atelic, the terms for a verb being naturally completed (like ‘kill’ or ‘finish’ — no additional killing or finishing goes on once the verb is accomplished) or lacking that quality).  It may also however be determined by the structure of the utterance. This is called perfection.  Perfection expresses completeness of the not only the verb, but of that verb as employed to convey the predicate of the whole utterance, through structural forms.  These are often referred to as ‘the perfect’, but this is not quite correct as all utterances express perfection as either perfected (which forms like ‘I have eaten’ or ‘I have been eating’ express — in English perfected forms consist of the auxiliary ‘have’ conjugated for agreement with person, number, and tense with the past participle form of the verb), or non-perfected (which all other forms such as ‘I eat’ or ‘I am eating’ express).  If the verb within an utterance is atelic, perfecting that utterance overrides that aktionsart and completes the verb.  If that verb is already telic however, perfecting the utterance with structure may not be necessary as the verb is already completed but perfecting an utterance with an already completed verb can further emphasize that completion or draw specific attention to the exact point of completion.  Attributes of temporal nature other than completeness such as duration may likewise be expressed through structural forms of the utterance in addition to such information conveyed via the inclusive verb’s aktionsart.  Such expression, as discussed in the previous section, is the domain of aspect.

Perfection

Perfection refers to the linguistic quality of completeness.  The term (often just ‘perfect’ in common parlance) derives from the Latin perfectus and further further from the verb perficio meaning ‘finish’ or ‘bring to an end’.  Perfection is actually a universal concept of many fields and comes originally from philosophy.  Greek philosophers first coined the idea to describe a uniform circle as being whole and without beginning or end.  Because a true circle had no corners or starting or stopping points, they referred to it as ‘perfect’ (the ‘perfect circle’).  This idea spread first through the sciences, and later entered everyday speech with the meaning of flawless.  The idea was first proposed by Aristotle who defined perfect as ‘that which is complete or which has attained its purpose.’  Thus in linguistics, perfect refers to the quality of a verb or predicate as completed or not.  Like tense, aspect, and mood, perfection is an attribute of the utterance as a whole (structural), unlike aktionsart which is an attribute of the verb itself (lexical).  At the lexical level, perfection is also expressed as an attribute of the verb’s aktionsart as complete or not (called telicity rather than perfection at the lexical level).  When referring to perfection though, it is the completion of the overall predicate of the whole utterance rather than a characteristic of the inclusive verb that is discussed.  It should be noted that terms such as perfective and imperfective refer not to perfection but are names given to certain classifications of aspect within some languages.  These terms actually refer to not only aspect but forms expressing several TAMPA attributes together.  Within the TAMPA system perfection is described simply as perfected or non-perfected.

Perfected & Non-Perfected Forms

In discussing perfection, many analyses of language focus solely on forms showing completion.  These perfected forms are generally marked in most languages with specific structures.  In English, utterances in the non-durational aspects are perfected by replacing the auxiliary do (which may be omitted in affirmative statements in the present tense) with the auxiliary have which is then declined for agreement with person, number, and tense, with the content verb taking on its past participle form.  For utterances in the durational aspect the change is similar with have being placed in initial verbal position and declined as above, aspectual auxiliary be taking its past participle form been, and the content verb (already marked for duration) retaining its present participle (-ing) form.  While easily observed in the structure of such utterances, it should be noted that perfection is an attribute of all utterances.  And, that non-perfected forms also express perfection, but that that information conveyed is that the temporal nature of this utterance in regard to completion is the same as that established by the aktionsart of its inclusive verb.  In other words, in utterances with non-perfected forms, if the verb is telic (naturally perfected) then the utterance is perfected; if the verb is atelic (not naturally perfected) then the utterance is not perfected either.  As with aspect, perfection trumps aktionsart and if the aktionsart of the inclusive verb is not perfected, a perfected structure of the utterance would override it.  If they aktionsart of the verb is already perfected, then a perfected structure of the utterance would further emphasize that complete nature or be used to draw attention to that completion or to provide a specific time of completion for that verb in relation to the utterance as a whole.

February 1, 2010 Posted by | English Linguistics | , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Sounds of English

Sounds of English provides an introduction to the attributes of the sound system of the language.  It provides information on phonetics, phonology, and orthography.  It also explains how to produce the sounds of English with particular focus on the bio-mechanics of articulation.  Sounds of English provides background knowledge and understanding which will enable the reader to understand the system of spelling and pronunciation of modern English and its historical roots.  The series consists of the following individual posts:

Contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Articulation
  3. Phonetics
    1. Plosives & Stops
    2. Fricatives
    3. Affricates
    4. Nasals, Liquids, & Glides

    It is recommended that posts be read in the order above.  Additional links will be made active as posts are updated.

Continue reading Part 1: Introduction

January 11, 2010 Posted by | English Linguistics | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Sounds of English: Introduction

This post begins a series on the sounds of English.  First, a brief discussion of phonetics, phonology, and orthography of English:

To begin with, let’s talk terminology. These concepts of phonetics, phonology, and orthography are all interrelated as they involve the sounds of languages and how those sounds are combined and represented in writing. Phonetics (from Greek phone, meaning sound or voice) is simply put, the study of sounds and how they are produced using the vocal organs (mouth, throat, vocal cords, etc). Phonology (from Greek phone, meaning sound, and logos meaning speech — the ‘sounds’ of ‘speech’), on the other hand, is not the study of sounds, but instead of the sound system of particular languages — how sounds are used within a given language, and the rules governing them. Orthography (from Greek orthos meaning correct, and graphein meaning to write — or, the way things are written) deals with the way in which a language uses combinations of letters or symbols to represent the sounds of that language. Another way to look at this is that in English, phonetics describes sounds and how they are produced, phonology establishes a set of rules for how to use those sounds (pronunciation), and orthography provides visual representation of those sounds (spellings that equate to those pronunciations).

English

Within English there are roughly 50 unique sounds(phonetics).  These 50 sounds are represented by 26 letters, alone or in combination with one another (orthography).  The sound system of English consists of about 2/3 consonants, which are either voiced or voiceless depending on which sounds surround them, and 1/3 vowels, which may be long or short depending on where they fall within a word (phonology).

Of these sounds, vowels are fairly well understood and will not be addressed too heavily in this series.  Vowels are also more difficult to discuss definitively because many of them vary by dialect.  Consonants shall be the focus of these discussions on English, and to understand consonants, it is necessary to be familiar with the organs of the vocal tract used to produce them.  This is the focus of the next post.

Consonants

The 30+ consonants in English, consist of the following types:

*Stops are technically the first two parts of a plosive, with the third part being a sudden expelling of air as a release.  Without this ‘explosion‘ of air, a plosive is merely a stop.

The first three involve some type of halting or obstructing the flow of air. They always occur as voiced and voiceless pairs, with two sounds being produced in mechanically identical ways, but with the only difference between them being the vibration (or lack of vibration) of the vocal cords. The final three types of sounds involve redirection of the air exiting the body without halting or obstructing its flow. These sounds are always voiced, but often occur in more than one form depending on how they are combined with other sounds.  Each category is discussed in separate posts later in this series.

Symbols

Each language has its own orthography — its way of expressing sounds with letters or symbols.  These systems vary by language from very similar systems (English, German, Latin) to different but similar systems (Russian, Arabic, Hebrew), to systems that have very little in common with the standard concept of alphabet (Chinese, Japanese, Egyptian hieroglyphs).  Because sounds are present in all languages regardless of orthography, linguists needed a way to represent the same sounds in different languages, no matter in which language they occur.  To represent the full spectrum of sounds without using different orthographic systems, a universal alphabet of sounds has been developed.  The IPA, or International Phonetic Alphabet uses a single symbol for each specific sound.  Sometimes these symbols match the letters in English which represent these sounds.  Sometimes they do not.  IPA symbols are used throughout this series, but don’t worry, they shall always be explained and examples of each sound shall be given with normal English spelling.

Continue reading Part 2: Articulation

January 11, 2010 Posted by | English Linguistics | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Sounds of English: Articulation

The term articulation refers to the bio-mechanical process of altering the flow of air through the vocal tract to produce sounds.

Sounds are described not by how they sound to the ear, but rather how they are produced in the vocal tract.  In the posts below dealing with the different sounds in English, they are so named, and each sound is described based on how the vocal organs interact with each other in producing each specific sound.  In fact, the word articulate actually means move.  Sounds are produced my moving the articulators (things that can be moved) within the vocal tract (lips, tongue, etc).  Terminology relating to the vocal organs, articulators, and points of articulation is defined below.  Click the head diagram to the right for an interactive map showing the locations and shapes discussed.

Alveolar

Alveolar refers to the alveolar ridge (purple in diagram), which is flat area just behind the front upper teeth but before the edge of the roof of the mouth. When pronouncing these sounds the tongue touches (/t/, /d/, /n/), or nearly touches (/s/, /z/) the alveolar ridge.

Dental

Dental refers to the teeth, particularly the front upper teeth.  The tongue touches these teeth when producing the sounds  (/θ/as in three, and /ð/ as in there). These teeth touch the bottom lip when producing /f/as in fair and /v/as in very.

Glottal

Glottal refers to sounds in which the airway is constricted by tightening the airway in the back of the throat.  The primary glottal sounds in English are /h/ as in happy, and the vowels.

Labial

labial refers to the lips.  Sounds produced with the lips include /f/as in fair and /v/as in very, in which the bottom lip touches the upper front teeth; /b/ as in boy and /p/ as in pop, in which both lips are pressed together to interrupt the airflow; and /m/ as in my, in which the lips come together to fully blow the airflow, directing it instead out through the nose.

Lengual

Lengual refers to the tongue.  Most consonants are produced by touching the tongue to another part of the mouth.  Vowels are formed by changing the shape of the tongue within the mouth (it’s really a big muscle).

Nasal

Nasal refers to the nose.  Three sounds /m/ as in mom, /n/ as in nice, and /ŋ/ as in ring are nasal, meaning that the flow of air out of the body passes through the nose rather than through the mouth.

Palatal

Palatal refers to the roof of the mouth (flat purple area in the diagram) behind the alveolar ridge but in front of the velum (see below).  The tongue touches the palate in producing the sounds /∫/ as in shoe, /ʒ/ as in pleasure, /t∫/ as in church/dʒ/ as in jelly.  It almost touches the palate in /r/ as in read and /ɝ/ as in dinner.

Velar

Velar refers to the velum (green in the diagram) which is the soft portion of the roof of the mouth at the very rear of the mouth.  It is generally the farthest point the tongue can reach by curling backward.  Velar sounds are produced when the rear portion of the tongue is brought near the velum  (/w/ as in wait), or contacts the velum (/k/ as in cat and /g/ as in good).

Continue reading Part 3.1: Plosives

January 11, 2010 Posted by | English Linguistics | , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Sounds of English: Plosives & Stops

Plosives – a plosive is a consonant characterized by a complete obstruction of the outgoing airstream by the articulators, a build up of air pressure in the mouth, and finally a release of that pressure.  A stop is merely the first part of this sound (the stopping of the airstream).  In other words, in producing these sounds, the air is stopped for a brief moment (say pop over and over and pay attention to what’s happening).  There are three types of plosive in English.  For an interactive example of each sound (including descriptive animation and video), click this link, then in the window that opens, click stops, and select the appropriate sound.

/p/  /b/ bilabial plosives

A bilabial (from bi- two and labia lip) plosive is a sound in which the flow of air out of the body is interrupted by closing the lips together. English has two bilabial plosives — /p/ in which the vocal chords are not used (voiceless) as in pizza and pepper, and /b/ in which they are used as in boy and trouble.

/t/  /d/ lingua-alveolar plosives

lingua-alveolar (from lingua tongue and alveola the ridge just behind the front upper teeth) plosive is a sound in which the flow of air out of the body is interrupted by touching the tongue to the alveolar ridge — the part of the roof of the mouth, just behind the upper front teeth. English has two lingua-alveolar plosives — voiceless /t/ as in top and must, and /d/ which is voiced as in dog and troubled.

/k/  /g/ lingua-velar plosives

lingua-velar (from lingua tongue and velar the velum or soft palate) plosive is a sound in which the flow of air out of the body is interrupted by touching the back of the tongue to the velum — the soft part of the roof of the mouth farthest from the front teeth; it’s about as far back in the mouth as can be reached with the tip of the tongue.  English has two lingua-velar plosives — voiceless /k/ as in cook and ask, and /g/ which is voiced as in dog and good.

Aspiration – aspiration refers to the release of air at the end of a consonant sound.  Plosives are naturally aspirated (because air is released following the stop portion of the sound.  Linguists often use the term aspiration only to refer to strong puffs of voiceless air after a plosive.  Sometimes the term “aspirated stop” is employed, but this is a misnomer as stops cannot be aspirated (aspirated stops thus being plosives).  Regardless of aspiration though, the procedures for producing sounds are the same, thus ‘aspirated /p/ is not annotated differently from non-aspirated /p/.

Continue reading Part 3.2: Fricatives

January 10, 2010 Posted by | English Linguistics | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

Sounds of English: Fricatives

Fricatives – a fricative is a consonant produced by forcing air through a constricted space.  In other words, in producing these sounds, turbulence is caused when the air is forced trough a smaller opening.  Depending on which parts of the vocal tract are used to constrict the airflow, that turbulence causes the sound produced to have a specific character (say have very slowly and stretch out the /v/; pay attention to what happens to the air when the teeth touch the bottom lip for the /v/).  There are five types of fricative in English.  For an interactive example of each sound (including descriptive animation and video), click this link, then in the window that opens, click fricative, and select the appropriate sound.

/f/  /v/ labiodental fricatives

A labiodental (from labia lip and dental teeth) fricative is a sound in which the flow of air out of the body is constricted by upper teeth to the lower lip, creating turbulence for the air, but not stopping its passage out of the mouth. English has two labiodental fricatives — /f/ in which the vocal chords are not used (voiceless) as in fire and laughter, and /v/ in which they are used as in very and of.

/θ/  /ð/ linguadental fricatives

linguadental (from lingua tongue and dental teeth) fricative is a sound in which the flow of air out of the body is constricted by touching the tongue to the bottom edge of the front upper teeth, creating a narrow opening through which the air passes. English has two linguadental fricatives — voiceless /θ/ as in think and math, and /ð/ which is voiced as in this and father.

/s/  /z/ lingua-alveolar fricatives

lingua-alveolar (from lingua tongue and alveola the ridge just behind the front upper teeth) fricative is a sound in which the flow of air out of the body is constricted by touching the tongue to the alveolar ridge — the part of the roof of the mouth, just behind the upper front teeth, creating a narrow opening through which the air passes. English has two lingua-alveolar fricatives — voiceless /s/ as in say and class, and /z/ which is voiced as in zebra and is.

/∫/  /ʒ/  lingua-palatal fricatives

lingua-palatal (from lingua tongue and palate the top of the mouth) fricative is a sound in which the flow of air out of the body is constricted by touching the tongue to the hard palate — the part of the roof of the mouth, just behind the alveolar ridge (see above), creating a narrow opening through which the air passes. English has two lingua-palatal fricatives — voiceless /∫/ as in shoe, pressure, and machine, and /ʒ/ which is voiced as in azure, pleasure, and rouge.

/h/  /ɦ/ glottal fricatives

glottal (from glottis the area of the windpipe behind the tongue) fricative is a sound in which the flow of air out of the body is constricted by tightening the glottis — the part of the windpipe behind (below) the tongue which contains the vocal cords, creating a narrow opening through which the air passes before entering the mouth. English has two types of glottal fricative — voiceless /h/ as in happy and hello, and /ɦ/ which actually represent an entire class of voiced glottal fricatives — vowels (more on this here).

Continue reading Part 3.3: Affricates

January 10, 2010 Posted by | English Linguistics | , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Sounds of English: Affricates

Affricates – an affricate is a consonant which begins as a stop (plosive), characterized by a complete obstruction of the outgoing airstream by the articulators, a build up of air pressure in the mouth, and finally releases as a fricative, a sound produced by forcing air through a constricted space, which produces turbulence when the air is forced trough a smaller opening.  Depending on which parts of the vocal tract are used to constrict the airflow, that turbulence causes the sound produced to have a specific character (compare pita with pizza, the only difference is the release in /t/ and /ts/).  There are two types of affricate in English.  For an interactive example of each sound (including descriptive animation and video), click this link, then in the window that opens, click affricate, and select the appropriate sound.

/ts/  /dz/ lingua-alveolar affricates

lingua-alveolar (from lingua tongue and alveola the ridge just behind the front upper teeth) affricate is a sound which the flow of air out of the body is initially interrupted in the same manner as a lingua-alveolar stop /t/ or /d/, then immediately released in the same manner as a lingua-alveolar fricative /s/ or /z/,  constricted by touching the tongue to the alveolar ridge — the part of the roof of the mouth, just behind the upper front teeth, creating a narrow opening through which the air passes. English has two lingua-alveolar affricates — voiceless /ts/ as in pizza and its, and /dz/ which is voiced as in ads and adze.

/t∫/  /dʒ/  postalveolar affricates

postalveolar (from post- after and alveola the ridge just behind the front upper teeth) affricate is a sound which is a combination of a lingua-alveolar stop /t/ or /d/ and a lingua-palatal fricative /∫/ or /ʒ/.  Because a postalveolar afficate is a combination of two sounds with different points of articulation (in this case, the spot where the tip of the tongue contacts the top of the mouth), its point of articulation falls between that of its two component sounds.  In a lingua-alveolar stop, the tongue interrupts the flow of air by pressing against the alveolar ridge — the part of the roof of the mouth, just behind the upper front teeth. In a lingua-palatal fricative, the flow of air out of the body is constricted by very nearly touching the tongue to the hard palate — the part of the roof of the mouth, just behind the alveolar ridge, creating a narrow opening through which the air passes.  In a postalveolar affricate, the point of articulation for both the stop and fricative release occurs between these two positions, just behind the alveolar ridge but not quite on the hard palate.  English has two postalveolar affricates — voiceless /t∫/ as in cheese, catch, and ligature, and /dʒ/ which is voiced as in judge, magic, and jam.


Continue reading Part 3.4: Nasals, Liquids, & Glides

January 10, 2010 Posted by | English Linguistics | , , , , , | 10 Comments

Sounds of English: Nasals, Liquids, & Glides

The first three groups of sounds in English — plosives, fricatives, and affricates are collectively referred to as obstruents (because they obstruct the airway).  Each of these sounds involve some type of halting or obstructing the flow of air.  Obstruents always occur as voiced and voiceless pairs, with two sounds being produced identically from a mechanical standpoint (which articulators do what), but with the only difference between them being the use of the vocal cords.  In contrast, the final three types of sounds involve redirection of the air exiting the body without halting or obstructing its flow.  These sounds are called sonorants.  The word sonorant is a combination of sonorous (having strong resonant sound) and consonant. The name sonorant refers to the fact that these sounds reverberate or echo off the vocal organs with the breath exiting freely through either the nose or mouth (versus obstruents where the air is constricted or obstructed so that it cannot flow freely).   In English, sonorants are always voiced, but often occur in more than one form depending on how they are combined with other sounds.  There are three categories of sonorants — nasals, liquids, and glides.

Nasals

Nasals – a nasal is a consonant produced by redirecting out air through the nose instead of allowing it to escape out of the mouth.  In producing nasals, the throat and mouth act as a resonator, or place where the sound echoes about before exiting the body (in the same way that sound bounces around inside the body of a guitar or violin).  The specific sound qualities of nasals differ depending on which parts of the vocal tract are used to stop the airflow and send it to the nose. Types of nasals derive their names from those articulators used.  Nasals occur in pairs of very similar sounds — syllable initial nasals and syllable-final nasals, in which the order of articulation is reversed.  In other words, the steps required to produce the syllable-initial sound are performed in reverse order.  There are three types of nasal in English.  For an interactive example of each sound (including descriptive animation and video), click this link, then in the window that opens, click nasal, and select the appropriate sound (only syllable-initial sounds are represented).

/m/  /m̩/ bilabial nasals

bilabial (from bi- two and labia lip) nasal is a sound in which the flow of air out of the body is redirected from the mouth to be made to exit through the nose by pressing both lips together, fully closing the mouth.  This allows the entire mouth to act as a resonance chamber resulting in the unique full sound. English has two bilabial nasals — /m/ which occurs at the beginning of a syllable  (syllable-initial) as in make, mother and hammer, and syllable-final /m̩/ which occurs at the end of a syllable as in rhythm, mom, and imply.

Production of syllable-initial /m/ is begun with the lips together, the vocal cords vibrating, and air escaping through the nose; finally the jaw is dropped which parts the lips and opens the mouth resulting in a release, restoring the usual flow of air through the mouth.  For syllable-final /m̩/, the order is reversed beginning with vocal cords made to vibrate while air is allowed to escape through the mouth, then the jaw is raised and lips brought together to seal the mouth, redirecting the already flowing air through the nose.   Sound is simply ended as there is no release.

/n/  // alveolar nasals

An alveolar (from alveola the ridge just behind the front upper teeth) nasal is a sound in which the flow of air out of the body is redirected from the mouth to be made to exit through the nose by touching the tongue to the alveolar ridge — the part of the roof of the mouth, just behind the upper front teeth.  This allows the latter portion mouth to act as a resonance chamber resulting in the sound slightly more shallow than that of bilabial nasals.  English has two alveolar nasals — /n/ which occurs at the beginning of a syllable  (syllable-initial) as in need, know and running, and syllable-final /n̩/ which occurs at the end of a syllable as in can, nine, and given.

Production of syllable-initial /n/ is begun with the tongue pressed against the avleolar ridge, the vocal cords vibrating, and air escaping through the nose; finally the tongue is lowered, resulting in a release and restoring the usual flow of air through the mouth.  For syllable-final /n̩/, the order is reversed beginning with vocal cords made to vibrate while air is allowed to escape through the mouth, then the tongue is raised and pressed against the alveolar ridge, redirecting the already flowing air through the nose.   Sound is simply ended with the tongue still pressed to the alveolar ridge as there is no release.

̯ /  /ŋ / velar nasals

velar (from velar the velum or soft palate) nasal is a sound in which the flow of air out of the body is redirected from the mouth to be made to exit through the nose by pressing the back of the tongue to the velum — the soft part of the roof of the mouth farthest from the front teeth; it’s about as far back in the mouth as can be reached with the tip of the tongue.  This allows the only the throat to act as a resonance chamber resulting in a shallow sound which is ended with a reduced velar stop.  English has two velar nasals — /ŋ/ which occurs at the end of a syllable  (syllable-final) as in ring, singer and meaning, and syllable-initial /ŋ̯/ which occurs only at the beginning of certain foreign words such as the Vietnamese surname, Nguyen.

Production of syllable-final /ŋ/ is begun with the the vocal cords vibrating while air is allowed to escape through the mouth, then the back of the tongue raised and pressed against the velum, sealing the mouth and redirecting the already flowing air through the nose.   Sound is ended by interrupting the flow of air with the velar stop /g/ (although the /g/ ending /ŋ/ is much weaker than the standalone lengua-velar stop).  Syllable-initial /ŋ̯/ is produced similarly except that production is begun with the tongue pressed against the velum with the initial voicing being wholly nasal.  /ŋ̯/ ends in a /g/ as a velar plosive release.

Liquids

Liquids – a liquid is a consonant produced when the tongue approaches a point of articulation within the mouth but does not come close enough to obstruct or constrict the flow of air enough to create turbulence (as with fricatives).  Unlike nasals, the flow of air is not redirected into the nose.  Instead, with liquids the air is still allowed to escape via the mouth, but its direction of flow is altered by the tongue sending it in different directions within the mouth before exiting the lips.  The unique sound of each liquid is affected by the position of the tongue and the way in which the exhaling air is directed around it. There are two primary types of liquids — laterals in which the air is directed toward the sides of the mouth, and non-laterals in which the flow of air is altered but still directed forward.  The individual sounds of each type derive their names from points of articulation toward which the tongue is positioned.  Like nasals, liquids occur in sets of very similar sounds — syllable initial, syllable-final,  and in the case of non-laterals a third form, the trill.  For an interactive example of each sound (including descriptive animation and video), click this link, then in the window that opens, click nasal, and select the appropriate sound (only syllable-final sounds are represented).

/ l /  / ɫ /  lateral liquids

lateral (from Latin laterus to the side) liquid is a sound in which the flow of air out of the body is redirected around the tongue and toward the sides of the mouth before exiting through the lips.  English has two lateral liquids.  the alveolar lateral approximate /l/ in which the tongue is brought near (approximate) the alveolar ridge, forcing the air around the tongue toward the sides (lateral) of the mouth before being allowed to exit.  /l/ occurs in syllable-initial position for example like, melon, and hello.  The syllable-final sound /ɫ/ is referred to as a velarized alveolar lateral approximate, meaning that in addition to the tip of the tongue being brought near  the alveolar ridge, the back of the tongue is raised toward the velum as well.  /ɫ/ occurs in syllable-final position for example full, little, and belfry.  As with nasals, the order of articulation is reversed between syllable-initial and syllable-final laterals.

/ ɹ /  / ɻ /  / r / non-lateral liquids

A non-lateral (from Latin non not and laterus to the side) liquid is a sound in which the flow of air out of the body is altered by the shape of the tongue, usually flowing over the tongue resonating near the roof of the mouth (but not toward the sides of the mouth) before exiting through the lips.  English has three non-lateral liquids, with most dialects having two (rhotic), some having a third (trill), and some having only one (R-dropping).  In syllable-initial / ɹ / as in rabbit, run, and borrow, referred to as a retroflex approximate, the tongue is brought forward the curled backward toward the roof of the mouth (retroflexion).  It comes near (approximate) the roof of the mouth but does not touch it.  The sound is released by lowering the jaw and drawing the tongue back to neutral position.  This is the most common r-sound in English.  Common in most dialects, syllable-final / ɻ / is similar to the syllable initial form.  Depending on the accent of the speaker, this sound may be either an alveolar approximate or a retroflex approximate (some speakers place the tongue closer to the alveolar ridge, others put it in the same position as syllable-initial / ɹ /. The primary difference between syllable-initial and syllable-final forms is that the syllable-final sound begins and ends with the tongue and jaw in the approximate position.  This differs from syllable-initial position which ends with the jaw lowering and the tongue returning resting position.  Compare movement within the mouth between / ɹ / in red and Robert, and / ɻ / in car, better, and urgent. Finally, some dialects possess a third non-lateral approximate /r/ known as a trill (and in lesser form a flap).  These sounds are often referred to as rolled-r.  In producing this sound the tongue is quickly and lightly (and in longer trills, repeatedly) brought into contact with the alveolar ridge.  Otherwise the /r/ is produced in the same manner as syllable-initial / ɹ / or syllable-final / ɻ / depending on position.  The sound /r/ is a primary characteristic of many Scottish accents and is also found in certain Spanish loanwords in North American English including burrito and perro.

Glides

Glides – a glide, like a liquid, is a consonant produced when the tongue approaches a point of articulation within the mouth but does not come close enough to obstruct or constrict the flow of air enough to create turbulence.  Unlike nasals, the flow of air is not redirected into the nose.  Instead, as with liquids, the air is still allowed to escape via the mouth, but its direction of flow is altered by having it glide over the tongue before exiting the lips.  The unique sound of each glide is affected by the point at which the tongue is brought closest to the point of articulation.  The primary difference between liquids and glides is that with a liquid, the tip of the tongue is used, whereas with glides, body of the tongue and not the tip is raised.  This provides a wide narrow space over which air passes before exiting the mouth.  There are two primary types of glide in English — labiovelar and palatal.  Each type derives its name from points of articulation toward which the tongue is positioned.  Like nasals and liquids, glides occur in sets of very similar sounds and in Old English there were a variety of these sounds, but Modern English possesses only one of each type in most dialects.  For an interactive example of each sound (including descriptive animation and video), click this link, then in the window that opens, click glide, and select the appropriate sound.

/w/  /?/ labiovelar glide

A labiovelar (from Latin labia lip and velar the velum or soft palate) glide is a sound in which the flow of air out of the body is altered by first the shape of the tongue, with the main body of the tongue (not the tip) being raised toward the velum — the soft part of the roof of the mouth farthest from the front teeth; it’s about as far back in the mouth as can be reached with the tip of the tongue.  This creates a wide but shallow space with the air flowing over the tongue resonating near the roof of the mouth (but not toward the sides of the mouth).  The unique characteristic of labiovelar glides is that production of the sound begins with the pursed together forming a narrow circular opening.  The lips are then relaxed and the jaw dropped, opening the mouth.  This sound, as described is the syllable-initial (in this case more aptly described as the pre-vocalic form because it also appears after other consonants, but always before the vowel within a syllable) form /w/ as in will, why, and quick and flower. The symbol /?/ has been used to reference the possibility of other related sounds.  In Old English there existed at least two w-sounds with words currently spelled wh- representing words which initially began with this other sound.  We unfortunately no longer have record of what this sound was or how it was pronounced, but it is likely similar to /w/.  In Modern English there exists a second version of /w/ which occurs after the vowel (post-vocalic).  This sound is not yet recognized by the IPA and thus does not have a symbol (represented with strikethrough herein).  As with syllable-initial and syllable-final pairs, the post-vocalic /w/ is produced in reverse order of pre-vocalic /w/ with production of the sound beginning with the mouth opened and the lips relaxed, and ending with the lips pursed together forming a narrow round opening.  Contrast the beginning and ending jaw and lip positions of /w/ as in weed or wow with those of /w/ in chew and wow. There is a third w-sound in Modern English which is rare but still present in modern phonology.  That sound /ʍ/ known as a voiceless labiovelar is the version of /w/ in which the vocal cords are not used; compare voiced /w/ in water with voiceless /ʍ/ in the interjection whew! It is likely that the w-sound represented by wh- spellings was originally one of these two latter versions of labiovelar glide.

/j/   palatal glide

palatal (from palate the top of the mouth) glide is a sound in which the flow of air out of the body is altered by the shape of the tongue, with the main body of the tongue (not the tip) being raised toward the hard palate — the part of the roof of the mouth, just behind the alveolar ridge and forward of the velum (for many speakers, the lateral edges of the midsection of the tongue can be felt pressing up against the molar teeth).  This creates a wide and fairly shallow space with the air flowing over the tongue resonating near the roof of the mouth (but not toward the sides of the mouth) and then passing between the alveolar ridge and the downward slope of the tongue and finally out of the mouth.  Modern English has only one palatal glide represented by the symbol /j/ as in you, cube, and onion.

January 10, 2010 Posted by | English Linguistics | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

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