Free Variation, Minimal Pairs, Glides,

February 11, 2010 at 10:27 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment


In LINGUISTICS, a relationship between the members of a pair of phonemes, words, etc., in which either can occur in the same position without causing a change of meaning: the initial vowels /i/ and /ɛ/ are in free variation in the pronunciation of economics (‘eek’ or ‘eck-’) as are up and down in the phrasal verbs slow up, slow down.
Among British speakers, a majority are said to prefer the word ate to be pronounced /et/ to rhyme with met ; but a large minority favour the pronunciation /eɪt/ like eight . The two pronunciations are therefore in free variation, as are /ekəˈnɒmiks/ or /iːkəˈnɒmiks/ for …

Minimal Pairs

Minimal pairs are pairs of words that have one phonological element that is different.

pin bin /pɪn/ /bɪn/ initial consonant
rot lot /rɒt/ /lɒt/
zeal seal /ziːl/ /siːl/
bin bean /bɪn/ /biːn/ vowel
pen pan /pɛn/ /pæn/
hat had /hæt/ /hæd/ final consonant

Examples of Vowel Contrast Pairs & Sentences
leave-live deal-dill fell-fill
cheek-chick seek-sick bean-bin
deep-dip sleep-slip eat-it
greet-grit wheat-whit heat-hit

Please SIT in this SEAT.

These shoes should FIT your FEET.

He lost the LEAD/LID.

She wore the NEAT/KNIT suit.

Don’t SLEEP/SLIP on the deck.
bead-bed speed-sped seed-said
mean-men peat-pet sweet-sweat
steam-stem beast-best beacon-beckon
teen-ten cheek-check feed-fed


We MET while buying MEAT.

Some MEN are MEAN.


We FEED/FED the cat.
beer-bear wit-wet sill-sell
bitter-better tint-tent wrist-rest
rid-red him-hem fear-fair
hat-hit pin-pen steer-stair

He HID his HEAD.

The girl SLID on the SLED.

This one is BITTER/BETTER.

They LIFT/LEFT ten-pound weights at the gym.

A list of common minimal pairs:
pear-bear choke-joke dare-their
boy-buy cheap-jeep dough-though
pig-big chin-gin shot-shout
path-bath choice-Joyce dime-time
rib-crib coat-goat die-tie
cap-cab cold-gold waiting-wading
park-bark coast-ghost best-bed
pill-bill come-gum yes-chess
Paul-ball could-good you-chew
tank-thank came-game teethe-teeth
tin-thin kick-king year-cheer
true-through sick-sing taught-thought
sank-thank they-day worthy-wordy
safe-save sin-thin sell-shell
tug-tough free-three hand-hanged
wins-wings stun-stung tour-poor
proof-prove fan-than use-chews
married-marriage chained-change stayed-stage
wedding-wedging rained-range climb-crime
clutch-crutch glass-grass stole-store
fought-thought clown-crown watching-washing
badge-bash bagging-banging tugs-tongues
raced-raised priced-prized wench-quench
heed-healed tide-tired bugged-buzzed
sting-string skit-skip hiss-hips
won-run mow-more wig-rig
west-vest wait-gate rifle-rival
grief-grieve half-have fasten-fashion
place-plays grace-graze piggy-picky
grease-crease braid-bride neat-knit
sow-sue pegging-pecking bigger-bicker

Multiple Contrasts
bead bade booed bode bide bowed
teal tail tool toll tile towel
feel fail fool foal file foul
bead bid bayed bed bad
deal dale duel dole dial
meat mitt mate met mat
heel hill hail hell Hal
speak spake spook spoke spike
peat pit pet pate pat
cooed could cud code
heat hit hate hat
doom dumb dome
greed grid grade

(Glides and Liquids)

The glides (/j/ and /w/) and the liquids (/9r/ and /l/) in American English can be grouped together in a larger category called the approximants. This name comes from the fact that the articulators are brought into closer contact, or approximation, than in any of the vowels. However, the constriction is less than for the obstruents (fricatives and plosives).
The glides /j/ and /w/ are similar to diphthongs in that they consist of vowel-like movements. They differ from diphthongs, which are moving vowels, in that:
Their energy is usually less than that that of a vowel.
Their formants do things which vowels never do.
In the case of /j/, F2 and F3 almost collide before going their separate ways. This near-miss leaves a characteristic X pattern which is the hallmark of the /j/. Think of /j/ as an exaggerated /i:/, where the tongue nearly touches the roof of the mouth. It may be divided into two phases: a period of maximal constriction followed by a rapid breakaway. Because the constriction for /j/ is so narrow, this phoneme is often marked by frication as well as voicing.
The phoneme /w/ usually starts as a single F1 at 200-400 Hz, with all significant energy below 800-900 Hz, and only gradually takes on very low F2 and F3 components as the following vowel unfolds. As soon as F3 is visible, however, it is above 2000 Hz, which helps distinguish /w/ from /9r/. Think of /w/ as a “super” /u/, where the lips are nearly in the bilabial position, leaving only a small constriction from which something less than a vowel emerges. Lip rounding is an essential part of /w/, as with /u/. In addition, /w/ is also marked by a velar constriction.
As usual with speech, these observations only represent the best-behaved examples of /j/ and /w/; we will see that there is a great deal of variation.
We call these phonemes “glides” because they glide into the syllable nucleus. They cannot form the nucleus of a syllable, and occur only in prevocalic position. When a glide follows a vowel within a syllable, the combination is considered a diphthong and not two separate phonemes.
The liquids /9r/ and /l/ are among the most interesting of English phonemes. This is because of the position of the tongue which is in each case unique:
In the case of /9r/, the retroflex liquid, the sides of the blade of the tongue are curled up to the alveolar ridge, and further back the tongue sides are brought into contact with the molars. These blockages force air to pass out through a narrow ellipse in the center of the mouth. The tip of the tongue may also be curled back; this is the original meaning of the word “retroflexion”, although different sorts of r-flavoring or rhotacization occur in the repertory of the world’s languages: the uvular fricative in French “rouge”, a /d_(/-like flap in the Spanish “pero”, the trilled double r in the Spanish “perro”, and the real retroflexes in Hindi and other Indian languages.

The main sign of the retroflex in spectrograms is that F3 comes very close to F2, in the extreme case being swallowed up into it, and in either case restricting all significant energy below 2000 Hz (higher in females and children). /9r/ is different from /3r/ in that in /9r/, the formants show a great deal of movement; in intervocalic position F3 will swing down below 2000 Hz and back above it. In /3r/, the formants seem to move instantly together and to stay there as long as the syllable persists.
The lateral liquid /l/ is in a sense the reverse of /9r/. In the lateral, it is the tip of the tongue which is placed on the alveolar ridge, while the sides of the tongue are left in their normal horizontal, open position. Air thus escapes from the two sides of the tongue out the mouth, but not from the center. The splitting and rejoining of the sound waves cause an antiresonance around 1500 Hz which is a good clue for /l/.

The phoneme /l/ shows a lot of variety in the spectrogram. Before a vowel, F3 may descend or stay even, while F2 rises, giving the phoneme a forked appearance. This is particularly true for the syllable `ly’ as in “daily.” In other cases, the formants F2 and F3 move directly into the next vowel without any marked frequency variations, but the /l/ shows less energy than the vowel. There is often a clear spectral discontinuity where the tongue touches the alveolar ridge, causing the antiresonance to form, and again when it is taken away. In postvocalic contexts, /l/ is signalled by the crushing down of F2 with F1 near or below 1000 Hz, with F3 simultaneously moving up toward 3000 Hz, again leaving the hole in the normal F2 range. The two cases may be combined in the case of intervocalic /l/, where an elliptical low-energy pattern may be detected. /l/ is easy to confuse with /oU/.

One thing which /3r/ and /l/ have in common is that their duration can be as short or long as desired. The glides must move; we cannot pronounce a long /w/ or /j/; if we try to do so, they become /u/ or /i:/. But the liquids can be pronounced as long as we wish: try saying “well” and draw out the /l/, or “father” and draw out the /3r/. Both phonemes can become syllabic nuclei: for /l/ the symbol is /l_=/, while we have already seen the vowels /3r/ and /&r/.
There are variants of the glides and liquids which occur in consonant clusters. Examples are the beginnings of the following words:

/s/ swipe, Sri, sly
/f/ few, foie gras, flood, from
/T/ thwart, thrice
/ph/ pew, poids, ply, pry
/th/ tune, twice, try
/kh/ cue, quiet, clay, cry
/b/ beautiful, bwana, blue, brute
/d/ dew, Dwight, dry
/g/ gewgaw, guava, glide, grind

Notice that in English we do not like combinations such as /th l/ or /d l/, although these exist in other languages. The voiced /z/ and /v/ occur in very few such combinations; again, this is probably an English preference since there are words such as zouave and voir in French.

In cases where the preceding consonant is voiceless, the glide or liquid may be partially or totally devoiced; in this case it is realized in aspiration bands rather than as voicing bands, and would be labelled phonetically as /j_0/, /w_0/, /9r_0/, or /l_0/. In all cases, the two phonemes interact and make recognition more difficult.
Some phoneticians speak of the dark and light variants of /l/. What they call light /l/ might also be termed pre-vocalic /l/; while dark /l/ is post-vocalic. In cases of intervocalic /l/, the liquid will tend to group either with the preceding syllable, in which case it is dark, or with the following syllable, in which case it is light. But there are many cases where the distinction is not so clear, and we get elements of both, leading to the nice diamond or O shape between F2 and F3 which is an easy marker for /l/.

Consonant Clusters index
beginning with voiced bilabial nasal —- / m / ———

001———mp (final) ——-bump, camp, hemp, limp, lump, ramp

002———mps (final) —– amps, camps, lamps, lumps, mumps, trumps

003———mf (final) ——-lymph, nymph

004———mft (final) ——triumphed

005———mfs (final) ——nymphs

006———mt (final) ——-camped, dreamt revamped, lumped

007———mt (medial) ——empty, temptation

008———mtr (medial) —–temptress

009———mts (final) ——-tempts

010———md (final) ——-aimed, assumed, formed, roamed, shamed

011———mst (final) ——glimpsed

012———mz (final) ——-comes, terms, times

beginning with voiceless bilabial plosive—- / p / —-

013———pθ (final)——–depth

014———pθs (final)——-depths

015———pθr (medial)——upthrust

016———pt (final) ——–abrupt, Egypt, except, harped, kept, opt

017———pt (medial)——abruptly, absorption, acceptable

018———pts (final) ——-accepts, adopts

019———ps (final) ——–cups, equips, jumps, perhaps, steps

020———ps (medial) ——Epsom, Ipswich, lopsided, upside down

021———pst (final) ——-lapsed

beginning with voiced bilabial plosive—- / b / —-

022———bd (final) ——–absorbed, bribed, curbed, lobbed, robed, robbed

023———bz (final) ——–cabs, fibs, jabs, knobs, verbs, yobs

beginning with voiceless labiodental fricative—- / f / —-

024———fθ (final) ———fifth, twelfth

025———fθs (final) ——–fifths, twelfths

026———fθl (medial) ——fifthly

027———ft (final) ———craft, drift, gift, left, lift, loft, soft

028———ft (medial) ——-after, daftest, often rafter, softly, swiftly, thrifty

029———fts (final) ——–crofts, drifts, gifts, lifts, lofts

030———fs (final) ———beliefs, cliffs, chefs, chiefs, hankerchiefs, laughs

beginning with voiced labiodental fricative—- / v / —-

031———vd (final) ——–arrived, believed, involved, lived, proved, saved

032———vz (final) ——–additives, captives, loaves, loves, serves, waves

beginning with voiceless dental fricative—- / θ / —-

033———θs (final) ——–baths, cloths, maths, oaths, paths, truths

beginning with voiced dental fricative—- / ð / —-[ Back ]

034———ðd (final) ——–bathed, betrothed, clothed, seethed, swathed

035———ðz (final) ——–bathes, breathes, clothes, loathes, seethes, soothes

beginning with voiced alveolar nasal—- / n / —-

036———nθ (final) ——-month, tenth

037———nθ (medial) —–anthem

038———nt (final) ——–ant, aren´t, aunt, bent, can´t, font, want

039———nts (final) ——-ants, fonts, grunts, hints, hunts, pants

040———ntst (final) ——chintzed

041———nd (final) ——-behind, concerned, find, found, friend, owned

042———nd (medial) —–friendship, landlord —–* Note rules for deletion of / d /

043———ndz (final) ——bends, ends, friends, sounds

044———ns (final) ——-hence, pence, since, tense

045———ns (medial) —–pensive, tenses

046———nz (final) ——-hens, lens, pens, runs, tens

047———nʧ (final) ——-lunch, pinch

048———nʧt (final) ——lunched, pinched

049———nʤ (final) ——change, hinge

050———nʤd (final) —–changed, hinged

beginning with voiceless alveolar plosive—- / t / —-

051———tθ (final) ——–breadth, eighth, hundredth, thousandth, width

052———tθs (final) ——-breadths, eighths, hundredths, thousandths, widths

053———ts (final) ——–cats, eats, fights, its, meets, parts, puts, waits

054———tst (final) ——amidst, midst

beginning with voiced alveolar plosive—- / d / —-

055———dz (final) ——-almonds, beds, birds, hands, kinds, weeds, words

beginning with voiceless alveolar fricative—- / s / —-

056———sp (final) ——-clasp, crisp, gasp, lisp, wasp

057———st (final) ——-chased, first, pursed

058———sts (final) ——thirsts

059———sk (final) ——-ask, desk, dusk, risk

beginning with voiced alveolar fricative—- / z / —-

060———zd (final) ——-amazed, crazed, gazed, lazed, phased, phrased

beginning with voiced alveolar lateral approximant—- / l / —-

061———lmd (final) ——filmed

062———lmz (final) ——elms, films

063———lp (final) ——–help

064———lpt (final) ——-helped

065———lps (final) ——-helps

066———lbd (final) ——-bulbed

067———lbz (final) ——-bulbs

068———lf (final) ———self

069———lfθs (final) ——-twelfths, Alf´s

070———lft (final) ——–elfed

071———lvd (final) ——-delved

072———lθ (final) ——–health

073———lθs (final) ——-tilths

074———lnd (final) ——-kilned

075———lnz (final) ——-kilns

076———lt (final) ——–difficult

077———ltst (final) ——-waltzed

078———ld (final) ——–cold, held

079———ldz (final) ——-holds, worlds

080———ls (final) ——–else

081———lz (final) ——–fills, girls

082———lʧt (final) ——-filched

083———lʤd (final) ——bilged

084———lʃt (final) ——–welshed

085———lk (final) ——–milk, silk

086———lks (final) ——-milks

087———lkt (final) ——-milked

088———lkts (final) ——mulcts

beginning with voiced alveolar approximant —— / r / —-

rm (final) ——-silent before a consonant in England & Wales——- “alarm” / əˈlɑ:m /, “arm” / ˈɑ:m /, “warm” / ˈwɔ:m /

rm (final) ——-generally pronounced (& sometimes rolled) in Scotland & Ireland
—————- “alarm” / əˈlɑ:rm /, “arm” / ˈɑ:rm /, “warm” / ˈwɔ:rm /

The / r / within these consonant clusters is generally pronounced in Canada most parts of the USA.

The / r / is pronounced by all English speakers when it precedes a vowel sound, as in “angry” / ˈærɪ / or “zebra” / ˈzebrə /.

/ r / can precede several other consonants sounds, though in these contexts it is rarely pronounced in England and Wales.

beginning with voiceless post-alveolar affricate—- / ʧ / —-

089———ʧt (final) ——-hitched, matched, watched

beginning with voiceless post-alveolar affricate—- / ʤ / —-[ Back ]

090———ʤd (final) ——caged, edged, forged, judged, waged

beginning with voiceless post-alveolar fricative—- / ʃ / —-

091———ʃt (final) ——-cashed, fished, mashed, washed

beginning with voiceless post-alveolar fricative—- / ʒ / —-

092———ʒd (final) ——-leisured, measured, pleasured, treasured

beginning with voiced palatal semi-vocalic—- / j / —-

/ t / + / j / is often replaced by / ʧ / in words such as “nature” / ˈneɪʧəʳ /, “future” / ˈfju:ʧəʳ /, “feature” / ˈfi:ʧəʳ /, and “creature” / ˈkri:ʧəʳ /. This type of assimilation is known as coalescence. See Wikipedia on Yod-coalescence.

/ d / + / j / is often replaced by / ʤ / in words such as “gradual” / ˈgræʤʊəl / and individual / . This type of assimilation is known as coalescence. See Wikipedia on Yod-coalescence.

beginning with voiced velar nasal—- / ŋ / —-

093———ŋθ (final) ——-length

094———ŋt (final) ——-instinct

095———ŋts (final) ——instincts

096———ŋd (final) ——-longed

097———ŋst (medial) —–minxed

098———ŋz (final) ——-things

099———ŋk (final) ——-think

100———ŋg (final) ——-thing

beginning with voiceless velar plosive—- / k / —-

101———kθ (final) ——-sixth

102———kθs (final) ——sixths

103———kt (final) ——-fact, worked

104———kts (final) ——conflicts, contexts, expects texts

105———ks (final) ——-six, works

106———kst (final) ——context, next, oversexed, pretext, text

beginning with voiced velar plosive—- / g / —-

107———gd (final) ——-bagged, hugged, logged, tagged, wagged

108———gz (final) ——-eggs, figs, mugs, rugs

as⋅pi⋅rate [v. as-puh-reyt; n., adj., as-per-it]
–verb (used with object)
1. Phonetics.
a. to articulate (a speech sound, esp. a stop) so as to produce an audible puff of breath, as with the first t of total, the second t being unaspirated.
b. to articulate (the beginning of a word or syllable) with an h-sound, as in which, pronounced (hwich), or hitch as opposed to witch or itch.

Generally the “h” is not sounded by itself but instead indicates a pronunciation change in the consonant directly ahead of it. This change, called “aspiration”, occurs in other languages, too. In English, for example, you know that the word “philosophy” is pronounced with “f” sounds, not “p” sounds. The “h” after the “p” tells you this, as it does in “Philip” and “triumph.” A German pronounces “ach” differently from “ac” or “ak”, too, because he knows that the “h” indicates a change, which we call “aspiration” in Irish.

Stop consonant
A stop or plosive is a consonant sound produced by obstructing airflow in the vocal tract by the lips or tongue.

In the case of oral stops, the airflow is blocked completely, causing pressure to build up. The obstruction in the mouth is then suddenly opened; the released airflow produces a sudden impulse in pressure causing an audible sound.

The oral cavity can also be completely obstructed while allowing air to escape through the nose; this may be called a nasal stop. Usually the term “stop” is used to refer to oral stops only, with nasal stops called simply nasals. Since nasals are always continuous, not abrupt, it seems strange to call them stops, though strictly the definition of stops given above allows it.

Here are some of the oral stops. (The figures in square brackets are from the IPA.)
[p] voiceless bilabial plosive
[b] voiced bilabial plosive
[t] voiceless alveolar plosive
[d] voiced alveolar plosive
[ʈ] voiceless retroflex plosive
[ɖ] voiced retroflex plosive
[c] voiceless palatal plosive
[ɟ] voiced palatal plosive
[k] voiceless velar plosive
[g] voiced velar plosive
[q] voiceless uvular plosive
[ɢ] voiced uvular plosive
[ʔ] glottal stop

English has the following stops:

[p], [t], [k] (voiceless)

[b], [d], [g] (voiced)

[m], [n], [n] (nasal)

[ʔ] (glottal stop, though not as a phoneme in most dialects)

All languages in the world have stops. Some Polynesian languages have only three. Swiss German has [p, t, k, pp, tt, kk]; some also have [p_h t_h k_h]. Most
languages have at least [p], [t], and [k], and usually more.

Stops may be made with more than one airstream mechanism. The normal mechanism is pulmonic, that is with air flowing outward from the lungs. A pulmonic stop is called a plosive. All languages have plosives. Some languages have stops made with other mechanisms too: these are called ejective, implosive , or click dependent on the mechanism.


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