Sunday, 30 August 2009

An Introduction to Phonetics and Phonology: The Sounds of English

The first unit of the Phonetics and Phonology course, as its title suggests, looks at the sounds of English.

All learners of English (and native speakers!) are very aware of the fact that there is often a great deal of incoherence between the written word and the spoken word in the language. As an example we took the words cough, though, through, rough and bough. Even though they all end in the same combination of letters, they have very different pronunciations. In case you don't know how they are pronounced, there they are again with a word they rhyme with:
  • cough - off
  • though - slow
  • though - new
  • rough - stuff
  • bough - now
One of the reasons for these differences in pronunciation is the fact that there are many more sounds than English than there are letters in the alphabet. Whilst there are only 26 letters (5 vowels and 21 consonants), there are over 40 phonemes in English. Of these phonemes, there are 24 consonants (or 25 if you have a Scottish accent like me!) and at least 20 vowels.

In addition to phonemes, the sounds of any language can also be classified using allophones. Allophones are the regional variations of phonemes. As learners of English, we will first focus on the phonemes and leave the more complex allophones to later.

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