Languages Magazine

The Sounds of Language: Understanding the IPA, Part 2

By Expectlabs @ExpectLabs

Confused by all those bizarre IPA symbols? Speech and language technologies expert, Marsal Gavaldà, guides us through the pronunciation of the IPA symbols in the second segment in our video series on the sounds of language.

Head over here to watch the first video in the series.


Then there’s fricatives, great word. It just means there’s a lot of friction. In fact, it’s pure turbulence. If you’ll look at a spectrogram you can see that there’s noise, there’s this energy of all the different frequencies. They are also articulated in different places, so labiodental is the “ffff” and the “vvvv” are more toward the front of your mouth. Then there’s “ssss” and “zzzz” that attach some bit of the palette. Then there’s shhh and jjjj more towards the back. There’s ch, jjj more going back. Then there’s this pharyngeal that looks like a kind of reverse question mark because when you do this one you don’t know whether you’re dead or alive.

And so, in this case it’s also interesting that there’s some pairs. If you see, for example, they are pairs. It’s in the same cell at this table. The same manner of articulation and the place of articulation. Why is that? The difference between S and Z, there’s no distinction in the position of your vocal apparatus, however it’s obviously different sounds. So the difference in this case whether it is voiced or unvoiced, which just means whether your vocal chords vibrate or not. You can check by putting your fingers down here. With the “ssss” there’s no vibration. The “zzzz” you notice, you see “zzzzz,” vocal chords, “zzzz,” you notice them vibrating. So that’s the difference between “sss,” “zzz,” or “shhh,” “jjjj” and some of these other pairs.

Now, if we look at the vowels, it’s a similar analysis. In this case, a little bit simplified. Just basically when the vowel is at the front or the back. Like E is more toward the front, “oooh” is more toward the back and then also whether the mouth is open or closed. The E is more closed obviously and the “ah” is totally open. Then there’s also interesting things like so-called non-pulmonic consonants, such as clicks. There are some languages, for example, like African languages have clicks as part of their phoneme set. So you could just be talking and that’s part of a normal sound in that language.

Back to Featured Articles on Logo Paperblog