Phonology in the English Language


Phonology is the study of the basic sounds and speech patterns of a language.

Phonology of English

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The English language is full of words and sounds borrowed from other languages, giving it a mixture of sound patterns.

Examples:

English word Origin
pizza Italian
skunk Native American
academy  Greek
tobacco Spanish
robot Czech
kidnap Danish
lottery Dutch
mammoth Russian
data Latin

Vowel sounds:

There are only five vowels in the American English language.

Aa    Ee    Ii    Oo    Uu

Depending on the word and blend, these five vowels can make up about 21 unique sounds.

Vowel Long sound Short sound Additional sound Blended
sounds
A baby
trade
day
apple
dad
sad
father
water
ball
wheat
lead
train
E teeth
need
green
next
bed
red
cried
bread
I wide
like
side
pick
trip
lip
said
laid
tried
O open
bone
nose
olive
October
on
book
loose
road
toad
crowd
U use
unicorn
under
up
umbrella
purple blue
true
loud
thought

Consonant sounds:

There are 21 consonants in the American English language. Consonants are all letters in the alphabet except for the vowels.

Bb    Cc    Dd    Ff    Gg    Hh    Jj    Kk    Ll    Mm    Nn   

Pp     Qq    Rr    Ss    Tt    Vv    Ww    Xx    Yy    Zz

Consonant Sounds
B ball
boy
C color
city
D dog
daughter
F fight
father
G girl
giant
H happy
hard
J jump
January
K kid
king
L long
love
M mom
may
N November
nice
P purple
pink
Q quick
queen
R row
river
S September
wise
T teacher
time
V visit
vampire
W word
wife
X x-ray
extra
Y yellow
lady
Z zipper
zap
        
Note: the letters c and g can have a hard sound or a soft sound.
  • When the letter c is pronounced as in cat or corner, we call it hard.

  • When the letter c is pronounced as in city or center, we call it soft.

  • When the letter g is pronounced as in go or get, we call it hard.

  • When the letter g is pronounced as in giant or gentle, we call it soft.


The same sounds

The consonants only make 18 unique sounds individually. Some of the letters can make the same sound.

Examples:    
  • city and snake 
  • cake and kids    
  • zip and rose


Blended consonants

Blended consonants make many more sounds. Let us look at a few examples of blended consonant sounds.

Examples:

Word Explanation
cracker The blended ck makes a hard K sound.
white The blended wh makes an airy sound.
with th blended together can make a few sounds
the
thin
rough gh blended in this word makes an F sound
ghost gh blended in this word makes a G sound
through gh blended in this word makes an /oo/ sound
daughter gh blended in this word is silent
quick q and u work together to make a /kw/ wound
Christmas ch blended in this word makes a hard K sound
English sh makes a blended sound like shut

Dialects

A dialect is a form of the language that is spoken in a certain area. It may be different than the forms of the languages spoken in other areas.

In addition to the basic sounds of the American English alphabet, pronunciation of words can vary from dialect to dialect.

There are eight major identified dialects in North America and Canada.
(source: http://aschmann.net/AmEng/)
  1. Canada
  2. Northern New England
  3. North
  4. Greater New York City
  5. The Midland
  6. The South
  7. North Central
  8. The West
Examples of pronunciations by dialect:
  • Calm
    some dialects pronounce the /l/ while others leave it silent.

  • Pin and pen
    some pronounce both words with a short /i/ while others say each word uniquely.

  • Far
    In Southern dialects far is said like father, dropping /r/.

  • Cart
    In Northern dialects the /r/ is dropped so cart = cot.

This was a review of some of the basic terms and concepts in phonology of the English language.

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