top of page

How many sounds?!

Can you say “Caterpillar” out loud.

Now can you say “Cycle

What about “Pacific Ocean

Look carefully at the “c”s in all the words given above. If you didn’t catch the pronunciation, repeat the words. There are three pronunciations of c (all of them exist in the words “Pacific Ocean”). Well, this is the IPA translation of the “Pacific Ocean” pəsɪ́fɪk ə́wʃən.

The first c is pronounced “s”; the second c is pronounced “k”; the third c is pronounced “sh”.

Yes, sounds can be really confusing. Even professional linguists struggle to utter some syllables of certain languages — English included. That’s why tools such as the IPA exist. They help linguists categorize all the sounds that can possibly be made by your mouth. The IPA is always changing (as new sounds are being discovered in newly discovered languages). Sounds on the IPA chart are categorized with tongue placement, movement of vocal cords, and lip placement.

To first describe sounds, we need to clarify what the two glottal (thoat) states are — voiced and voiceless. Voiced sounds occur when your vocal folds inside your vocal cords are mostly closed with the vibrations of the folds creating the sounds. Voiceless sounds occur when the vocal folds are completely open. To test whether a sound is voiced or voiceless, put your finger under your adam’s apple and check if your vocal cords are vibrating. Let’s quickly try this: Try saying “fff” and place your finger underneath your adam's apple. Now try saying “vvv”. If you did this exercise correctly, you will notice that “fff” is voiceless because there were no vibrations and “vvv” is voiced because there were vibrations in the vocal cords when pronounced.

Now we have classified the glottal states, consonants are the next sounds we should classify. We classify consonants with three features: its voicing, place of articulation, and manner of articulation. We have already talked about the voicing, so let's move onto the place of articulation. The place of articulation refers to the placement of the tongue in the mouth when something is said. I have provided a chart below with the pictures of all the tongue placements. Try saying the words above the symbols and notice your tongue placement. The tongue placement is categorized into different sections (these sections are written out underneath the symbols).

Now the places of articulation have been explained, lets go over the manner of articulation. There are five main manners of articulation. A stop happens where the airstream is completely obstructed in the oral cavity. Examples of stops include, but are not limited to: p b ɡ ʔ. A fricative happens where there is a near complete obstruction of airstream; small opening of air. Examples of stops include, but are not limited to: f v θ ð. Affricates are complex sounds. They briefly stop the airstream and then slowly release air out. The two affricates are ʤ ʧ. Nasal sounds relax and lower the velum so that the airstream has a passage from the vocal tract into the nasal cavity. The three nasals are m n ŋ. Lastly approximants have some constriction in the vocal tract, but the stop is not constricted enough to create turbulence. Examples of approximants include, but are not limited to: l ɹ w. If you are ever confused on how a symbol in this blog is pronounced, here is a link to an interactive IPA chart.

Consonants are only one part of the sounds in a language. Vowels are very important to all languages and consonants cannot properly function without them. In the next blog we will cover vowels and go over the IPA chart and the symbols more in detail.

21 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page