English Vowel Pronunciation
Articulation peculiarities of English language vowels. Their positional changes and reduction.
In articulating vowels lips can be:
- neutral (in the [æ], [a], [a:], [e:], [ә] monophthongs and the [ai], [au], [eә] diphthongs’ 1st elements)
- spread (in [e], [i:], [i] and [ei], [iә])
- rounded (in [u:], [u], [o:], [o] and [uә], [әu], [oi]).
English rounded vowels feature a flat lip shape.
In word beginnings English vowels feature a loose start and weak articulation without a glottal stop. The glottal stop is a glottal plosion like a slight cough created in closing and quickly opening the vocal cords.
In word stress, vowel length can change especially in long monophthongs and diphthongs. Positional vowel length depends on some factors.
The same sound is pronounced longest at word ends, shortens before voiced consonants and shortens most before voiceless consonants. But its quality stays the same as in “knee-need-niece” [ni:-ni:d-ni:s], “pie-pine-pipe” [pai-pain-paip]. In short vowels, positional length changes are deepest in [æ] prolonged before voiced consonants especially [b], [d], [g].
The same vowel sounds longer when stressed as in “Carl” [ka:l] – “carnation” [ka:’nei∫n].
Vowel length also depends on a stressed syllable tone. A low fall tone syllable sounds shorter while a low rise prolongs it as in “May” [˛mei]-[¸mei]. Stressed vowels in words pronounced with a complex tone ending (like a fall-rise) sound longer – [ˇmei].
The [ә] monophthong is a neutral vowel of unclear quality, quite different from the rest vowel timbres. It’s pronounced only in unstressed syllables and differs as to word position. At the beginning it’s not prolonged. In words with the ending “r” (-er, -or, -ar, -ure) it sounds longer like [a] than at the beginning.
English help (auxiliary) words are usually unstressed. However sometimes help words may keep their full-sound articulation, thus pronounced in its strong form – in isolation and logical/rhythmic emphasis with phrase stress. Unstressed position changes English vowel quality in help words by shortening.
This reduction (vowel shortening) may be
- qualitative (weakening a vowel, changing its quality and neutralizing it)
- quantitative (reducing a vowel)
- zero (removing a vowel, sometimes a consonant).
Reduced forms are called weak.
- strong forms (as in “she” [∫i:], “you” [ju:], “at” [æt]. “Have you read it?” [‘hæv ju· ¸red it])
- weak forms (as in “she” [∫i·, ∫i], “you” [ju·, ju], “at” [әt], “I’ve read it” [aiv ˛red it].
Reduction degree and its form choice depend on speech tempo and style.
“There Is/Are” Pronunciation
In “there is/are” sentences stress typically falls on a following thing existing somewhere. The introductory “there” is unstressed, usually reduced with the neutral vowel – [ðә] or [ðeә] in slow speech. The full form features the linking [r] – “there is” [ðeriz], “there are” [ðerә]. In the singular reduced form [r] disappears – “there’s” [ðәz]. The plural reduced form sounds the same with its full form – “there’re” [ðerә].