Monday, February 11, 2008

Place of articulation

When we pronounce consonants, we do something in our vocal tract. Basically, we move something against something else so we can obstruct the air coming out of our lungs. The first something is normally our tongue. The second something will give each consonant part of its special characteristic.
Here, the tongue is called the active articulator (the one that is moving) and the place it touches is called the passive articulator (the stationary one).
Below there is a sagittal section of a head, so these places can be identified easily.
Of course, the area is a continuum and it is very arbitrary to tell exactly where one zone ends and where another begins.

  • Bilabial: the point of maximum constriction is made by the coming together of the two lips.
  • Labiodental: the lower lip articulates with the upper teeth.
  • Dental: the tip of the tongue articulates with the back or bottom of the top teeth.
  • Alveolar: the tip or the blade of the tongue articulates with the forward part of the alveolar ridge.
  • Postalveolar: the tip or the blade of the tongue articulates with the back area of the alveolar ridge.
  • Palatal: the front of the tongue articulates with the domed part of the hard palate.
  • Velar: the back of the tongue articulates with the soft palate.
  • Uvular: the back of the tongue articulates with the very back of the soft palate, including the uvula.
  • Pharyngeal: the pharynx is constricted by the faucal pillars moving together (lateral compression) and, possibly, by the larynx being raised.
  • Glottal: the vocal folds are brought together; in some cases, the function of the vocal folds can be part of articulation as well as phonation.
When the front of the tongue is used, it may be the upper surface or blade of the tongue that makes contact (laminal sound), the tip of the tongue (apical sound), or the under surface (sub-apical sound).

If two consonants have the same place of articulation, they are said to be homorganic.

If you want to make the previous classification a little more detailed, here is a new sagittal section.

1. Exo-labial; 2. endo-labial; 3. dental; 4. alveolar; 5. post-alveolar; 6. pre-palatal; 7. palatal; 8. velar; 9. uvular; 10. pharyngeal; 11. glottal; 12. epiglottal; 13. radical; 14. postero-dorsal; 15. antero-dorsal; 16. laminal; 17. apical; 18. sub-apical.

Now try yourself solving this exercise. The best way to do it is saying the words out loud and trying to see what one does.

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