Manners of articulation

Before reading this article I highly suggest that you read about the places of articulation. You don’t have to read about the places of articulation before learning about the manners of articulation, but doing so can really help. Specifically, reading about how speech sounds are created really helps put the information in this article in perspective.

So, what does “manners of articulation” mean? The manner of articulation of a sound is how the airstream is affected as is goes through your vocal tract. Essentially, the manners of articulation describe how air is modified to create different speech sounds.

Let’s go through each manner of articulation. We’ll go through them in the order they appear on the IPA consonant chart.

Plosive

Plosives are sounds in which the air is blocked at the place of articulation. When you produce a plosive, air pressure builds up and then suddenly releases. In a bilabial plosive such a /p/ or /b/, the air pressure builds up behind the lips, the place of articulation. However, in an alveolar plosive /t/ or /d/ the air doesn’t get stopped behind the lips, instead it gets stopped further back in the mouth, behind the alveolar ridge.

You may have actually heard the term plosive before if you’ve ever worked with microphones. Many microphones have foam on them called windscreens that help reduce the interference of air that comes from plosives.

When a plosive  has additional air that comes out, it’s said to be aspirated. Take the word pop, for example. In narrow transcription it would be written as:

[pʰɑp]

This word has two instances of the phoneme /p/; however, in English a plosive as the beginning of a syllable often becomes aspirated. If you are unfamiliar with the differences between phonemes and phones, go ahead and brush up on them.

Plosives in English are also oral stops. The following are plosives in English: /p/, /b/, /t/, /d/, /k/, /g/, /ʔ/.

Nasal

In a nasal sound, the airflow comes out of your nose. Take the phoneme /m/ for example. Try saying [m]. Here, your lips are together and the airstream is coming out of your nose. You can even try pinching your nose. When you do, you’ll discover that the airstream can’t escape and you aren’t able to make a sound.

So, what’s happening when you make a nasal sound? Your velum (soft palate) lowers and reroutes the airstream to the nasal cavity. You can think of your velum as being like a switch. When it’s raised, the airflow escapes from your mouth. When it’s lowered the airflow escapes your nose.

Nasals in English are /m/, /n/, /ŋ/

Trill

A trill is when the active articulator hits or taps a passive articulator many times in quick succession. English doesn’t have any trill sounds, but if you’ve heard a Spanish speaker speak before, you’ve probably heard a trill. This is often called a “rolled r” and you can hear it in the word carro. Here’s an example of a rolled r.

Tap or Flap

The term tap or flap is often used interchangeably, but there are some scholars who argue that the terms should be used to refer to different sounds. That is a discussion that is beyond the scope of this article. We will use the word tap.

A tap is very similar to a trill; however, instead of an active articulator continuously hitting a passive articulator , the active articulator only hits the passive articulator one time. English does not have any phonemes that are taps; however, American English often uses the alveolar tap [ɾ].

This is the “d” sound in words like water when spoken in American English. As noted above, this is not a phoneme in English, instead it is just a allophone of /t/ spoken in many American accents.

Fricative

When making a fricative sound, you partially block the airflow and force the airstream to escape at a constant pace. A great way to remember what a fricative is, is to think about how the sound is modified by continuous friction.

Fricatives in English are /f/, /v/, /s/, /z/, /∫/, /ʒ/, /θ/, /ð/, /h/.

Lateral fricative

Lateral fricatives are fricatives where the friction occurs on one or both sides of the tongue. This manner of articulation is on the IPA chart, but there are not lateral fricatives in English, so we will not  discuss these further.

Affricate

Why aren’t affricates on the IPA chart? An affricate is really just a stop and then a fricative in quick succession. You can remember what an affricate is by looking a the a in the word and thinking “a stop” and looking at the rest of the word ffricate as being similar to fricative.

So, why aren’t they on the standard IPA chart? Well, let’s look at an affricate: /tʃ/ If you look at it, you can see that it is just /t/ and /ʃ/, a stop plus a fricative and both of those are on the IPA chart. The thing is, that the two sounds happen so quickly that we just count them as one. If you are using an IPA keyboard to type IPA characters, for example, you’ll find that there is no button or key for affricates. Instead, you must manually type a stop and then a fricative, a remember that an affricate is just made up of two quick sounds.

Affricates can sometimes include a tie bar to show that an affricate is indeed one sound. An affricate with tie bar marking looks like this: [t͡ʃ].

Affricates in English are /tʃ/, /dʒ/

Approximant

In an approximant, articulators get close together, but not close enough to create friction. One way to remember this is that “articulators in approximants approximately get close together.”

Take the phoneme /j/ for example. This is actually the “y” sound in the word yellow; IPA just uses a j to denote the “y” sound. If you say the /j/ sound like in the word you, you’ll notice that the tongue comes close to touching the top of your mouth but it doesn’t quite touch.

Approximants in English are /j/, /w/, /r/.

Lateral approximant

A lateral approximant is often just called a lateral. Here, the airflow passes on both sides of the tongue. You can remember this by knowing that the term “lateral” can often be used to mean “sides.” So, a lateral has the airflow that passes laterally. Also, the only lateral phoneme in English is the phoneme /l/ which is the first sound in the word lateral.

Laterals in English are /l/

Wrap up

It may seem like learning all of these manners of articulation is a lot of work. And to be honest, learning all of the manners and places of articulation can be a daunting task.

Here’s one way that might be able to help you remember them. Take a random phoneme from the IPA chart and pronounce it. When you are pronouncing it really think about what is happening in your vocal tract. Are the articulators touching or are they just close together? What does the sound sound like? Can you hear friction in the sound?

The best way to remember the manners of articulation are to just really pay attention and listen to the sounds that you’re making. With enough practice, you’ll get it after a while.

What to sound more like a native English speaker?

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