English language | phonology

Phonology

The phonetics and phonology of the English language differ from one dialect to another, usually without interfering with mutual communication. Phonological variation affects the inventory of phonemes (i.e. speech sounds that distinguish meaning), and phonetic variation consists in differences in pronunciation of the phonemes. [136] This overview mainly describes the standard pronunciations of the United Kingdom and the United States: Received Pronunciation (RP) and General American (GA). (See § Dialects, accents, and varieties, below.)

The phonetic symbols used below are from the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA).[137][138][139]

Consonants

Most English dialects share the same 24 consonant phonemes. The consonant inventory shown below is valid for Californian American English,[140] and for RP.[141]

Consonant phonemes
Labial Dental Alveolar Post-
alveolar
Palatal Velar Glottal
Nasal m n ŋ
Stop p b t d k ɡ
Fricative f v θ ð s z ʃ ʒ h
Approximant l ɹ* j w

* Conventionally transcribed /r/.

In the table, when obstruents (stops, affricates, and fricatives) appear in pairs, such as /p b/, /tʃ dʒ/, and /s z/, the first is fortis (strong) and the second is lenis (weak). Fortis obstruents, such as /p tʃ s/ are pronounced with more muscular tension and breath force than lenis consonants, such as /b dʒ z/, and are always voiceless. Lenis consonants are partly voiced at the beginning and end of utterances, and fully voiced between vowels. Fortis stops such as /p/ have additional articulatory or acoustic features in most dialects: they are aspirated [pʰ] when they occur alone at the beginning of a stressed syllable, often unaspirated in other cases, and often unreleased [p̚] or pre-glottalised [ʔp] at the end of a syllable. In a single-syllable word, a vowel before a fortis stop is shortened: thus nip has a noticeably shorter vowel (phonetically, but not phonemically) than nib [nɪˑb̥] (see below).[142]

  • lenis stops: bin [b̥ɪˑn], about [əˈbaʊt], nib [nɪˑb̥]
  • fortis stops: pin [pʰɪn]; spin [spɪn]; happy [ˈhæpi]; nip [nɪp̚] or [nɪʔp]

In RP, the lateral approximant /l/, has two main allophones (pronunciation variants): the clear or plain [l], as in light, and the dark or velarised [ɫ], as in full.[143] GA has dark l in most cases.[144]

  • clear l: RP light [laɪt]
  • dark l: RP and GA full [fʊɫ], GA light [ɫaɪt]

All sonorants (liquids /l, r/ and nasals /m, n, ŋ/) devoice when following a voiceless obstruent, and they are syllabic when following a consonant at the end of a word.[145]

  • voiceless sonorants: clay [kl̥eɪ̯]; snow RP [sn̥əʊ̯], GA [sn̥oʊ̯]
  • syllabic sonorants: paddle [ˈpad.l̩], button [ˈbʌt.n̩]

Vowels

The pronunciation of vowels varies a great deal between dialects and is one of the most detectable aspects of a speaker's accent. The table below lists the vowel phonemes in Received Pronunciation (RP) and General American (GA), with examples of words in which they occur from lexical sets compiled by linguists. The vowels are represented with symbols from the International Phonetic Alphabet; those given for RP are standard in British dictionaries and other publications.[146]

Monophthongs
RP GA Word
i need
ɪ bid
e ɛ bed
æ back
ɑː ɑ bra
ɒ box
ɔ, ɑ cloth
ɔː paw
u food
ʊ good
ʌ but
ɜː ɜr bird
ə comma
Closing diphthongs
RP GA Word
bay
əʊ road
cry
cow
ɔɪ boy
Centering diphthongs
RP GA word
ɪə ɪɹ peer
ɛɹ pair
ʊə ʊɹ poor

In RP, vowel length is phonemic; long vowels are marked with a triangular colonː⟩ in the table above, such as the vowel of need [niːd] as opposed to bid [bɪd]. In GA, vowel length is non-distinctive.

In both RP and GA, vowels are phonetically shortened before fortis consonants in the same syllable, like /t tʃ f/, but not before lenis consonants like /d dʒ v/ or in open syllables: thus, the vowels of rich [rɪtʃ], neat [nit], and safe [seɪ̯f] are noticeably shorter than the vowels of ridge [rɪˑdʒ], need [niˑd], and save [seˑɪ̯v], and the vowel of light [laɪ̯t] is shorter than that of lie [laˑɪ̯]. Because lenis consonants are frequently voiceless at the end of a syllable, vowel length is an important cue as to whether the following consonant is lenis or fortis.[147]

The vowel /ə/ only occurs in unstressed syllables and is more open in quality in stem-final positions.[148][149] Some dialects do not contrast /ɪ/ and /ə/ in unstressed positions, so that rabbit and abbot rhyme and Lenin and Lennon are homophonous, a dialect feature called weak vowel merger.[150] GA /ɜr/ and /ər/ are realised as an r-coloured vowel [ɚ], as in further [ˈfɚðɚ] (phonemically /ˈfɜrðər/), which in RP is realised as [ˈfəːðə] (phonemically /ˈfɜːðə/).[151]

Phonotactics

An English syllable includes a syllable nucleus consisting of a vowel sound. Syllable onset and coda (start and end) are optional. A syllable can start with up to three consonant sounds, as in sprint /sprɪnt/, and end with up to four, as in texts /teksts/. This gives an English syllable the following structure, (CCC)V(CCCC) where C represents a consonant and V a vowel; the word strengths /strɛŋkθs/ is thus an example of the most complex syllable possible in English. The consonants that may appear together in onsets or codas are restricted, as is the order in which they may appear. Onsets can only have four types of consonant clusters: a stop and approximant, as in play; a voiceless fricative and approximant, as in fly or sly; s and a voiceless stop, as in stay; and s, a voiceless stop, and an approximant, as in string.[152] Clusters of nasal and stop are only allowed in codas. Clusters of obstruents always agree invoicing, and clusters of sibilants and of plosives with the same point of articulation are prohibited. Furthermore, several consonants have limited distributions: /h/ can only occur in syllable-initial position, and /ŋ/ only in syllable-final position.[153]

Stress, rhythm and intonation

Stress plays an important role in English. Certain syllables are stressed, while others are unstressed. Stress is a combination of duration, intensity, vowel quality, and sometimes changes in pitch. Stressed syllables are pronounced longer and louder than unstressed syllables, and vowels in unstressed syllables are frequently reduced while vowels in stressed syllables are not.[154] Some words, primarily short function words but also some modal verbs such as can, have weak and strong forms depending on whether they occur in stressed or non-stressed position within a sentence.

Stress in English is phonemic, and some pairs of words are distinguished by stress. For instance, the word contract is stressed on the first syllable (t/ KON-trakt) when used as a noun, but on the last syllable (t/ TRAKT) for most meanings (for example, "reduce in size") when used as a verb.[155][156][157] Here stress is connected to vowel reduction: in the noun "contract" the first syllable is stressed and has the unreduced vowel /ɒ/, but in the verb "contract" the first syllable is unstressed and its vowel is reduced to /ə/. Stress is also used to distinguish between words and phrases, so that a compound word receives a single stress unit, but the corresponding phrase has two: e.g. a burnout (t/) versus to burn out (t/), and a hotdog (ɡ/) versus a hot dog (ɡ/).[158]

In terms of rhythm, English is generally described as a stress-timed language, meaning that the amount of time between stressed syllables tends to be equal. Stressed syllables are pronounced longer, but unstressed syllables (syllables between stresses) are shortened. Vowels in unstressed syllables are shortened as well, and vowel shortening causes changes in vowel quality: vowel reduction.

Regional variation

Dialects and low vowels
Lexical set RP GA Can Sound change
THOUGHT /ɔː/ /ɔ/ or /ɑ/ /ɑ/ cotcaught merger
CLOTH /ɒ/ lotcloth split
LOT /ɑ/ fatherbother merger
PALM /ɑː/
BATH /æ/ /æ/ trapbath split
TRAP /æ/

Varieties of English vary the most in pronunciation of vowels. The best known national varieties used as standards for education in non English-speaking countries are British (BrE) and American (AmE). Countries such as Canada, Australia, Ireland, New Zealand and South Africa have their own standard varieties which are less often used as standards for education internationally. Some differences between the various dialects are shown in the table "Varieties of Standard English and their features".[159]

English has undergone many historical sound changes, some of them affecting all varieties, and others affecting only a few. Most standard varieties are affected by the Great Vowel Shift, which changed the pronunciation of long vowels, but a few dialects have slightly different results. In North America, a number of chain shifts such as the Northern Cities Vowel Shift and Canadian Shift have produced very different vowel landscapes in some regional accents.

Some dialects have fewer or more consonant phonemes and phones than the standard varieties. Some conservative varieties like Scottish English have a voiceless [ʍ] sound in whine that contrasts with the voiced [w] in wine, but most other dialects pronounce both words with voiced [w], a dialect feature called winewhine merger. The unvoiced velar fricative sound /x/ is found in Scottish English, which distinguishes loch /lɔx/ from lock /lɔk/. Accents like Cockney with "h-dropping" lack the glottal fricative /h/, and dialects with th-stopping and th-fronting like African American Vernacular and Estuary English do not have the dental fricatives /θ, ð/, but replace them with dental or alveolar stops /t, d/ or labiodental fricatives /f, v/.[160][161] Other changes affecting the phonology of local varieties are processes such as yod-dropping, yod-coalescence, and reduction of consonant clusters.

General American and Received Pronunciation vary in their pronunciation of historical /r/ after a vowel at the end of a syllable (in the syllable coda). GA is a rhotic dialect, meaning that it pronounces /r/ at the end of a syllable, but RP is non-rhotic, meaning that it loses /r/ in that position. English dialects are classified as rhotic or non-rhotic depending on whether they elide /r/ like RP or keep it like GA.[162]

There is complex dialectal variation in words with the open front and open back vowels /æ ɑː ɒ ɔː/. These four vowels are only distinguished in RP, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. In GA, these vowels merge to three /æ ɑ ɔ/,[163] and in Canadian English, they merge to two /æ ɑ/.[164] In addition, the words that have each vowel vary by dialect. The table "Dialects and open vowels" shows this variation with lexical sets in which these sounds occur.

Other Languages
Адыгэбзэ: Инджылыбзэ
адыгабзэ: Инджылызыбзэ
Afrikaans: Engels
Akan: English
Alemannisch: Englische Sprache
አማርኛ: እንግሊዝኛ
العربية: لغة إنجليزية
aragonés: Idioma anglés
armãneashti: Limba anglicheascã
arpetan: Anglès
অসমীয়া: ইংৰাজী ভাষা
asturianu: Idioma inglés
Avañe'ẽ: Ingleñe'ẽ
Aymar aru: Inlish aru
azərbaycanca: İngilis dili
bamanankan: Angilɛkan
Bahasa Banjar: Bahasa Inggris
Bân-lâm-gú: Eng-gí
Basa Banyumasan: Basa Inggris
башҡортса: Инглиз теле
беларуская: Англійская мова
беларуская (тарашкевіца)‎: Ангельская мова
भोजपुरी: अंगरेजी
Bikol Central: Ingles
български: Английски език
bosanski: Engleski jezik
brezhoneg: Saozneg
буряад: Англи хэлэн
català: Anglès
Cebuano: Iningles
čeština: Angličtina
Chavacano de Zamboanga: Lengua Inglés
Chi-Chewa: Chingerezi
chiShona: Chirungu
Cymraeg: Saesneg
davvisámegiella: Eaŋgalsgiella
ދިވެހިބަސް: އިނގިރޭސި
Diné bizaad: Bilagáana bizaad
dolnoserbski: Engelšćina
Ελληνικά: Αγγλική γλώσσα
emiliàn e rumagnòl: Inglés
español: Idioma inglés
Esperanto: Angla lingvo
estremeñu: Luenga ingresa
euskara: Ingeles
eʋegbe: Eŋlisigbe
Fiji Hindi: English bhasa
føroyskt: Enskt mál
français: Anglais
Frysk: Ingelsk
Gaeilge: An Béarla
Gaelg: Baarle
Gàidhlig: Beurla
ГӀалгӀай: Ингалсий мотт
贛語: 英語
गोंयची कोंकणी / Gõychi Konknni: Inglez
客家語/Hak-kâ-ngî: Yîn-ngî
한국어: 영어
Hausa: Turanci
հայերեն: Անգլերեն
hornjoserbsce: Jendźelšćina
hrvatski: Engleski jezik
বিষ্ণুপ্রিয়া মণিপুরী: ইংরেজি ঠার
Bahasa Indonesia: Bahasa Inggris
interlingua: Lingua anglese
Interlingue: Anglesi
ᐃᓄᒃᑎᑐᑦ/inuktitut: ᖃᓪᓗᓈᑎᑐᑦ
isiXhosa: IsiNgesi
isiZulu: IsiNgisi
íslenska: Enska
italiano: Lingua inglese
עברית: אנגלית
Basa Jawa: Basa Inggris
kalaallisut: Tuluttut
ಕನ್ನಡ: ಆಂಗ್ಲ
Kapampangan: Amanung Ingles
къарачай-малкъар: Ингилиз тил
कॉशुर / کٲشُر: اَنٖگرَیزی زَبانَ
kaszëbsczi: Anielsczi jãzëk
қазақша: Ағылшын тілі
kernowek: Sowsnek
Kinyarwanda: Icyongereza
Kiswahili: Kiingereza
Kongo: Kingelezi
Kreyòl ayisyen: Lang angle
Кыргызча: Англис тили
кырык мары: Англ йӹлмӹ
لۊری شومالی: زۊن اینگیلیسی
latviešu: Angļu valoda
Lëtzebuergesch: Englesch
lietuvių: Anglų kalba
Limburgs: Ingels
lingála: Lingɛlɛ́sa
Lingua Franca Nova: Engles (lingua)
la .lojban.: glibau
lumbaart: Lengua inglesa
magyar: Angol nyelv
македонски: Англиски јазик
Malagasy: Fiteny anglisy
Māori: Reo Pākehā
მარგალური: ინგლისური ნინა
مصرى: انجليزى
مازِرونی: اینگلیسی زبون
Bahasa Melayu: Bahasa Inggeris
Baso Minangkabau: Bahaso Inggirih
Mìng-dĕ̤ng-ngṳ̄: Ĭng-ngṳ̄
Mirandés: Léngua anglesa
мокшень: Англань кяль
монгол: Англи хэл
Dorerin Naoero: Dorerin Iburubur
Nederlands: Engels
Nedersaksies: Engels
Nēhiyawēwin / ᓀᐦᐃᔭᐍᐏᐣ: ᐧᐁᒥᔥᑎᑯᔒᐤ ᐊᔨᒧᐧᐃᓐ
नेपाल भाषा: अंग्रेजी भाषा
日本語: 英語
Napulitano: Lengua ngrese
Nordfriisk: Ingelsk spriak
Norfuk / Pitkern: Inglish
norsk: Engelsk
norsk nynorsk: Engelsk
Nouormand: Angliais
Novial: Anglum
occitan: Anglés
олык марий: Англичан йылме
Oshiwambo: English
oʻzbekcha/ўзбекча: Ingliz tili
Pangasinan: Salitan Ingles
پنجابی: انگریزی
Papiamentu: Ingles
Patois: Ingglish
Перем Коми: Инглиш кыв
ភាសាខ្មែរ: ភាសាអង់គ្លេស
Picard: Inglé
Piemontèis: Lenga anglèisa
Tok Pisin: Tokples Inglis
Plattdüütsch: Engelsche Spraak
português: Língua inglesa
Qaraqalpaqsha: Ingliz tili
qırımtatarca: İngliz tili
reo tahiti: Anglès
Ripoarisch: Änglische Sproch
română: Limba engleză
rumantsch: Lingua englaisa
Runa Simi: Inlish simi
русиньскый: Анґліцькый язык
саха тыла: Ааҥыл тыла
ᱥᱟᱱᱛᱟᱲᱤ: ᱤᱝᱞᱤᱥ ᱯᱟᱹᱨᱥᱤ
Gagana Samoa: Fa'aperetania
संस्कृतम्: आङ्ग्लभाषा
Sängö: Anglëe
Sesotho: Senyesemane
Sesotho sa Leboa: Seisimane
Setswana: Sekgoga
sicilianu: Lingua ngrisa
Simple English: English language
SiSwati: SíNgísi
slovenčina: Angličtina
slovenščina: Angleščina
словѣньскъ / ⰔⰎⰑⰂⰡⰐⰠⰔⰍⰟ: Англїискъ ѩꙁꙑкъ
ślůnski: Angelsko godka
Soomaaliga: Af-Ingiriisi
Sranantongo: Ingristongo
српски / srpski: Енглески језик
srpskohrvatski / српскохрватски: Engleski jezik
Basa Sunda: Basa Inggris
svenska: Engelska
Tagalog: Wikang Ingles
தமிழ்: ஆங்கிலம்
Taqbaylit: Taglizit
tarandíne: Lènga 'nglese
татарча/tatarça: Инглиз теле
తెలుగు: ఆంగ్ల భాష
Tshivenda: English
Türkçe: İngilizce
Türkmençe: Iňlis dili
Twi: English
тыва дыл: Англи дыл
удмурт: Англи кыл
ᨅᨔ ᨕᨘᨁᨗ: ᨅᨔ ᨕᨗᨋᨗᨔᨗ
українська: Англійська мова
ئۇيغۇرچە / Uyghurche: ئىنگلىز تىلى
Vahcuengh: Vah Yinghgoz
vepsän kel’: Anglijan kel'
Tiếng Việt: Tiếng Anh
Volapük: Linglänapük
文言: 英語
West-Vlams: Iengels
Winaray: Ininglis
吴语: 英语
Xitsonga: Xinghezi
ייִדיש: ענגליש
粵語: 英文
Zazaki: İngılızki
Zeêuws: Iengels
žemaitėška: Onglu kalba
中文: 英语