Tuesday, 20 August 2013

phonetic scheme - segmental articulation - place of stricture

When we describe the individual sound segments of English, we need to take various features into consideration. One of them is the place of stricture, i.e. the place within the vocal tract from the glottis to the lips or nose where there is some degree of narrowing or approximation between articulators. The degrees of stricture range from complete closure of the vocal tract and narrow stricture with resultant turbulent airflow to an opening of the vocal tract leading to laminar airflow.

A further distinction is appropriate here. Most English sounds have a single place of stricture, e.g. /p, f, j, r/. The name for such a place of stricture corresponds to the articulators involved in forming the stricture. Most of the places are named after the passive articulator. An articulator is called passive if neither its shape nor its position can be changed. The hard palate is such a passive articulator. The soft palate (or velum) is moveable, but I guess there aren't many people who do this voluntarily on a daily basis. Be that as it may, some phoneticians call the velum a passive articulator.

There's an English phoneme with a double place of articulation: /w/. Two strictures are required at the same time to articulate a proper /w/ - a labial and a velar stricture.

Besides single and double place of stricture there are also secondary strictures. The adjective 'secondary' points to the fact that one stricture is of lesser importance than another. Pronounce the word <zoo> and watch or feel what your lips do shortly before and while you pronounce the /z/. Your lips are rounded - [zw]. Try to say the same word with a neutral lip position for /z/. The word is still recognisable as <zoo>, but normally you round your lips. This is the reason why labialisation is of lesser importance than the alveolar stricture of /z/.

Palatalisation is the term for another secondary stricture involving an approximation between the tongue blade and the hard palate. It's indicated in IPA by a superscript j as in the transcriptions [ljiːf] and [ʌnjjən] of the words <leaf> and <onion>.

Velarisation involves a secondary stricture between the tongue back and the velum as in [ɫ].

Laryngealisation (or glottalisation, glottal reinforcement, pre-glottalisation) describes the fact that a glottal closure is formed just before the formation of a syllable-final or word-final voiceless stop. The pronunciation of <look> as [ʔk] is a case in point.

More on segmental articulation in a future blog entry when we talk about degrees of stricture.


  1. Excellent summary!
    (You mean "Next", in the second paragraph?)

  2. Sorry, er... the FOURTH paragraph!

  3. Emilio: Thanks for your kind words. I've tried to make my wording clearer.