In this episode: How /t/ and /d/ are closely related to /n/ /z/ and /s/

This is the inside story of sounds in which I take you ‘on location’ with each sound inside your mouth, and I point out the surrounding mouthscape as we go. The stories need to be heard with your body, so do these things as you read, and if you don’t get it first time you’ll be in an even better position to help your students.

OK, the story so far: We have found that all three of the sounds /n/ /z/ and /s/ are articulated from the same place in the mouth, that is from an obstruction to the airflow between the tooth ridge just behind the top front teeth (alveolar ridge) and the blade of the tongue (the bit of the tongue just behind the tip).

And what gives each of the three sounds /n/ /z/ and /s/ its characteristic and different sound is the way that air is allowed to flow. So go live to your mouth now and check it out:

1.. /n/ uses the blade of the tongue to completely stop the air flowing through the mouth, forcing the air instead to flow up and out through the nose, so you get the acoustics of a voiced nasal sound, with the back part of the mouth cavity also resonating the voice, though nothing is coming out of the mouth. The fact that only the back part of the mouth is resonating can be shown if you close your lips while keeping the tongue in the /n/ position…. so it looks like you are saying /m/ but in fact you are still saying /n/ …. and it makes no difference to the sound since the front of the mouth cavity is closed off by the tongue and cannot vibrate. Do this so it makes sense to you.

2.. /z/ and /s/ make their restriction in the same way as each other by allowing air to hiss between the blade of the tongue and the tooth ridge. So for these two air does come out of the mouth, in the case of /z/ voiced and lenis, and in the case of /s/ unvoiced and fortis. See episode 2 for more on this.

3.. Now, there are two other sounds /t/ and /d/ which are articulated in the same place, that is from a restriction to the airflow produced by the blade of your tongue against the tooth ridge. Try this experiment: take the initial position for /n/ (as if you are about to say it, but don’t) then instead of allowing the air to flow up through your nose to make /n/ you allow the air up behind your tongue and then suddenly release the tongue. Try this a few times and you’ll see that you’re making /d/ if you voice it or /t/ if you don’t.

4.. What does all this add up to? That there are 5 consonants all articulated from the same place in the mouth. The place is the same but you do something different from that place. You get five sounds for the price of one, and in this way /t/ and /d/ are closely related to /n/ /z/ and /s/

4.. This is really just a geography lesson, and it is important that you try this for yourself and get to know the geography of your mouth.  If you do each of these little experiments you will get to know your mouth and soon see how incredibly simple it all is. You’ll also realise that just having the idea of pron in your head is not the same as having the activity of pron in your body, just as having the idea of dance in your head is not the same as the activity of dancing with your body. This will liberate you, and then you can liberate your students from the trap of thinking that pron is impossible.

5.. Remember, this is not text book stuff, this is physical exploration stuff

In Episode 4 we will find how 6 other consonants come from only 2 other positions. This is getting better and better. It adds up to 11 consonants from 3 positions! Further amazing economies

All this and more

In Episode four