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Classifications of consonants in modern English

Articulatory and physiological classification of English consonants

I. According to the work of the vocal cords and the force of exhalation the English consonants are subdivided into voiced and voiceless. Voiced consonants are: /b, d, g, z, v, ?, 3, m, n, ?, 1, r, j, w, d3/. Voiceless consonants are: /p, t, k, s, f, ?, h, ?, t?/.

The force of exhalation and the degree of muscular tension are greater in the production of

voiceless consonants therefore they are called by the Latin word “fortis”, which means “strong,

energetic”. Voiced consonants are called “lenis”, “soft, weak”, because the force of exhalation

and the degree of muscular tension in their articulation are weaker, e.g.

FORTIS          LENIS

/p/ pipe                                                       /b/ Bible

/t/ tight                                                        /d/ died

/k/ cake                                                       /g/ gag

/ t?/church                                                   /d3/judge

/f/ five                                                        /v/ vibrant

/ ? / three                                                    / ? / thee

/s/ soup                                                       /z/ zoo

/?/ pressure                                                  /3/ pleasure

The English consonants /h, m, n, ?, 1, w, j, r/ do not enter into fortis-lenis opposition which can

be represented by the following minimal pairs:

Pat-bat, tip-dip, come-gum, etc.

II. According to the position of the active organ of speech against the point of articulation (the
place of obstruction) consonants are classified into: 1) labial, 2) lingual, 3) glottal.

This principle provides the basis for the following distinctive oppositions: labial vs. lingual (what-hot), lingual vs. glottal (that-hat), labial vs. glottal (foam-home).

Labial consonants are subdivided into: a) bilabial and b) labio-dental. Bilabial consonants are produced with both lips. They are the /p, b, m, w/. Labio-dental consonants are articulated with the lower lip against the edge of the upper teeth. They are /f, v/.

Labial consonants enter into bilabial vs. labiodental opposition which can be represented by the following minimal pairs:

Wear-fair, mice-vice, etc.

Lingual consonants are subdivided into: a) forelingual, b) mediolingual and c) backlingual.

Forelingual consonants are articulated with the tip or the blade of the tongue. According to the position of the tip of the tongue they may be: apical articulated by the tip of the tongue against either the upper teeth or the alveolar ridge /t, d, s, z, ?, ?, ?, 3, t?, d3, n, l/ and cacuminal /r/. According to the place of obstruction forelingual consonants may be: (1) interdental / ?, ? /, (2) alveolar /t, d, s, n, l/, (3) post-alveolar /r/, (4) palato-alveolar /?, 3, t?, d3/.

Within the group of forelingual apical can be opposed to cacuminal: dim-rim; oppositions can be found among interdental, alveolar, post-alveolar and palato-alveolar: same-shame (alveolar vs. palato-alveolar),  those-rose (interdental vs. post-alveolar), etc.

Mediolingual consonants are produced with the front part of the tongue. They are always palatal. Palatal consonants are articulated with the front part of the tongue raised high to the hard palate /j/.

Backlingual consonants are also called velar, they are produced with the back part of the tongue raised towards the soft palate “velum”  /k, g, ? /.

Within the group of lingual oppositions can be found among forelingual, mediolingual and backlingual: yet-get (medio vs. back), yes-less (medio vs. fore), tame-game (fore vs. back).

The glottal consonant /h/ is articulated in the glottis.

III. The classification of consonants according to the manner of noise production from the
viewpoint of the closure, which is formed in their articulation may be:

  • 1) complete closure, then occlusive consonants 1. noise /p, b, t, d, k, g/ and 2. sonorants /m,
    n, ? / are produced; within the group of occlusive noise can be opposed to sonorant (pine-mine).
  • 2) incomplete closure, then constrictive consonants 1. noise /f, v, ?, ? , h, s, z, ? , 3/ and 2. sonorants / w, j, 1, r/; within the group of constrictive noise can be opposed to sonorant (fine- wine)

3)        the combination of the two closures, then occlusive-constrictive, or affricates, are
produced / t?, d3 /.

This principle provides the basis for the following distinctive oppositions: occlusive vs. constrictive (came-lame), constrictive vs. affricate (fail-jail), occlusive vs. affricate (must-just).IV. According to the position of the soft palate all consonants are subdivided into oral and
nasal.
When the soft palate is raised and the air from the lungs gets into the pharynx and then
into the mouth cavity, oral consonants are produced /p, t, k, f, v/ etc. When the soft palate is
lowered and the air on its way out passes through the nasal cavity, nasal consonants are
produced: /m, n, ? /.

This principle provides the basis for the following distinctive opposition: oral vs. nasal (sick-sing).As it has been pointed out the main method of establishing phonemes of a given language is the commutation test or discovery of minimal pairs through which the establishment of the phonemic status of each sound is accomplished. It helps to establish 24 phonemes of consonants:

/p, b, t, d, k, g, f, v, ?, ? , s, z, ?, 3, h, t? , d3, m, n, ? , w, r, j, l/.

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