Descriptive Grammar of English

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  • Topic: Vowel, Cardinal vowel, Vowels
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  • Published : March 6, 2011
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Descriptive Grammar of English

WSJO 2010/2011 – Year 2

Vowels – general characteristics (8)
1. 2. Definition of a vowel – the type of sound, depending largely on very slight variations of tongue position, which is most easily described in terms of auditory relationships, since there is no constriction which we can feel with any precision. Characteristic features: • generally voiced • produced with unimpeded airflow • no noise component but a characteristic patterning of formants • made with egressive airstream • the air escapes over the central line of the tongue • shaped by such movable organs as the tongue, the lips and the velum A description of vowel-like sounds must include: • the part of the tongue which is raised (FRONT, CENTRAL BACK) and the degree of raising (HIGH, MID, LOW) • the kind of aperture formed by the lips (SPREAD, NEUTRAL, ROUNDED) • the position of the soft palate (ORAL, NASAL) Difficulties of description: • position of the tongue – tactile sensation is not helpful > normally no contact of the tongue with the roof of the mouth • degree of raising – how many millimeters from the palate? • vowel sounds form a continuum • relating the vowel quality to a value in a particular language > not helpful either The Cardinal Vowel Scale (Daniel Jones)




Figure 1. The primary cardinal vowels (left) and the secondary cardinal vowels (right) (after Ashby and Maidment 2005: 78). 6. The classification of vowel type articulations: • high, mid-high, mid-low, low (or close, half-close, half-open, low) • front, central, back • spread, neutral, back • quality vs. quantity • short vs. long (inherent and relative length) • lax vs. tense (open and closed syllables) The English vowels – the vowel chart (Wells 2008: xxiii-xxv):




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