Consonants: Manner


By definition, a phoneme is a consonant if air flow is restricted in some way. The format for Articulatory Analysis of consonants involves three main things: passive place of articulation, manner of articulation, and active place of articulation. The manner of articulation is the relationship of the articulators to each other. That is, how they configure and interact with each other and what is going on around them that allows a certain sound to be produced.


I find manner of articulation to be a rather stressful part of articulatory phonetics, probably due to the countless number of possible parameters and combinations. Lets start with obstructed vs constricted manners.

Every type of manner has either obstructed or constricted stricture. Stricture refers to how close the articulators get to each other to restrict air flow. If it is obstructed, that means that at some point, air flow has been completely cut off. Obstructive manners include plosives, flaps, affricates, and depending on who you ask, taps. Some linguists consider taps to be the same as a flap. Constrictive manners are those where air flow is only partially restricted. These include fricatives, approximates, and glides.

In addition to the main stricture, a phoneme might have a sub-stricture, spread, sequence of aspiration, nasality(determined by angle of aspiration) and sonorance. Not all of these will be present in each phoneme, but there will usually be some kind of combination of more than one. Sometimes, organizing which parameters belong in which category can be tedious and never will one dictionary truly be able to contain a complete list of every possible parameter. But that’s ok because our mathematical system of notation does not require a massive dictionary of every possibility. It only requires us to know how to calculate a vocal equation when we encounter a new phoneme.

Some things are important to define however…


This is vocalization. If a sound is vocalized, it has sonorance. Put your hand on your throat and pronounce the ‘ch’ sound as in “chuck” while being mindful of what you are doing with your articulators. Now keep your hand over your throat and pronounce the ‘j’ sound as in “just” while being mindful of what you do with your articulators. You will notice that you are doing the exact same thing with your articulators for both sounds, but you will feel your throat vibrate when you say the ‘j’ sound. That is because the two phonemes are identical except for sonorance. The ‘j’ sound has sonorance while the ‘ch’ does not. Sonorance is simply the vibrating of the vocal cords and is often the only difference between two sounds.


Aspiration is exactly what it sounds like, but there are two different parameters that deal with aspiration. The first is sequence of aspiration.

Sequence of aspiration determines at what point in pronunciation the speaker actually creates air flow. Consider the ‘p’ sounds in the words cup and pat. In the first one, the sequence of aspiration is: aspirate, stop. In the second one, it is: stop, aspirate. Notice how the ‘p’ in the word cup ends with your lips together but in the word pat, it starts with the lips together. This is not a big deal in English, but in some languages, the difference is significant and can completely alter the meaning of a word.


The second is angle of aspiration. This is also known as nasality. If a person is aspirating at 45 degrees angle or less, the phoneme is a nasal one. Some phonemes are nasal just because that is how they are pronounced(m, n, ng) but any phoneme can be nasal, including vowels. The smaller the angle of aspiration, the more nasal it will sound. This is why some people are said to have nasal voices even when not producing sounds that are supposed to be nasal. They are aspirating through the nasal cavity either in addition to or instead of the oral cavity.

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