English Consonant Pronunciation
Articulation peculiarities of English consonants. Their positional changes and assimilation.
The voiceless plosive [p], [t], [k] consonants are pronounced with aspiration like with some exhalation noise right after voiceless consonants. This weak exhalation comes from air friction with the closing vocal cords to remind the [h] consonant sound – [ph], [th], [kh]. In forming syllables starting with [p], [t], [k], vowels are pronounced after a pause as in [khil], [khi:l], not right after these consonants.
[p], [t], [k] lose aspiration after the constrictive voiceless [s] consonant as in [spi:k]. Voiceless plosive consonants are pronounced without aspiration in unstressed syllables as in “potato, tobacco”.
This consonant softening happens after raising the tongue’s middle part to the hard palate.
English consonant pronunciation is hard, not palatalized. However before front-row vowels like [i], [i:], [iә], [e], [ei] consonants may take on an undesirable palatalization shade. To avoid mistaken palatalization, pronounce a consonant and vowel apart, slightly holding vowel articulation start not to raise the tongue’s middle part to the palate in pronouncing a consonant as in [s-in], [l-es].
End Sonants and Voiced Consonants
In end position English sonants usually prolong as in [kil:], [sin:].
End voiced consonants are pronounced weakly without extra speech organ tension. Needless end consonant voicing may result in pronouncing an English-alien [ә] vowel overtone as in [digә], [izә] changing word meaning. Contrarily, end voiced consonants become slightly devoiced. For training one can prolong articulating for example the end [z] sound gradually to [s] as in [izzzs], [i:zzzs].
End Voiceless Consonants
They’re pronounced energetically, distinctly with speech organ tension. They’re fortis as in “date” [deit], “peak” [pi:k].
Syllables can be of one/some sounds, equal a word (“I” [ai], 10 [ten]) or word part as in “sofa” [‘sәu-fә]. English vowels and sonants are syllable-building. Often syllables are built with the [l], [n] sonants, sometimes [m] as in [‘litl], [‘se:tn], [‘riðm]. They build syllables when apart from syllable-building vowels via a consonant sound, i.e. when not bordering vowels.
Speech sounds affect each other so that neighboring sounds can take on their features. Assimilation is quality likening between neighboring consonant sounds.
In progressive assimilation the 1st sound affects the following one like in voiceless consonant and sonant combinations where the sonant becomes devoiced as in [pj]-“piano”, [kl]-“clear”, [sw]-“sweet”.
In regressive assimilation the 2nd sound affects the previous one like apical alveolar sounds before interdentals becoming interdental too as in [tθ], [nð].
In reciprocal assimilation both sounds affect each other. In the [tw] combination the [t] consonant becomes lipped while the [w] sonant is pronounced with a devoiced start. In [tr] the apical alveolar [t] is pronounced as a cacuminal sound while the [r] sonant becomes semi-devoiced.
Isolated English consonants pronunciation includes 3 stages:
- closure (when speech organs shape from neutrality to a position for pronouncing the sound)
- stop (when speech organs keep the position for pronouncing the sound)
- plosion (when speech organs retract to neutrality).
Speech sounds are seldom pronounced isolatedly but join in words/phrases. Linking sounds in/between words follows certain rules. The previous sound’s plosion links to the next sound’s closure, thus making up joint sound pronunciation in speech. It happens differently depending on sound type.
This way 2 plosive consonants of the same formation place like [-pb-] in the word combinations “cheap book” or [-dd-] in “midday” are pronounced without the 1st consonant’s plosion. The 1st consonant has the 1st 2 stages while the 2nd consonant has the 3rd stage. So the combination sounds with double consonant plosion.
In combining 2 plosive consonants of different origin (like [-kt-] in “asked” or [-tg-] in “don’t go”) both have all the 3 articulation stages though with the 1st consonant’s plosion being very weak, almost inaudible.
The [t], [d] plosives are pronounced together with the lateral [l] sonant, without a vowel overtone in between. In the [tl], [dl] combinations both sounds are apical alveolar. In their articulation the tongue’s front edge stays on the alveoli, the sides lower and air leaves the mouth cavity with some plosion noise as “middle” [-dl], “little” [-tl].
Joining the [t], [d] plosives and the nasal [n] sonant features their pronunciation unification. In pronouncing the apical alveolar [tn], [dn] combinations the tongue’s front edge sticks to the alveoli while air leaves the nasal cavity with some plosion as in “burden” [-dn], “button” [-tn].
The “r” letter and the “re/er” combination don’t read at words ends. However when between words before a English vowel sounds, “r/re/er” create the linking [r]. Here it blends the 2 words as in “far away” [‘fa:r_ә’wei].
[r] with Plosive Consonants
The [r] sonant after voiced plosive [b], [g] consonants is pronounced weakly, not rollingly. Both sounds are pronounced as one.
In articulating the apical alveolar [t], [d] before the cacuminal [r] sonant there’s reciprocal assimilation. Affected by the post-alveolar [r], the tongue’s front edge articulates [t], [d] by retracting, making [t], [d] post-alveolar too. At the same time the plosive [t], [d] affect the [r] sonant. The voiceless plosive [t] devoices the sonant making its start fricative like [∫] as in [tri:]. The voiced [d] also partially changes the sonant’s articulation, [r] loses sonority at its start resembling [ʒ] as in [dri:m].