Hey everyone, how is your reading and experimenting going? Any questions or thoughts on these first two chapters?
I'm mostly posting just to invite open discussion, but here are just a few things in these initial chapters that I thought I'd call attention to...1.2.
We can think of speech as consisting of different phases, and phonetics is mainly concerned with three of them: the organic phase, the aerodynamic phase, and the acoustic phase. We shape or configure the vocal tract in a certain way (organic phase). The shape or configuration of the vocal tract affects the air flowing through it (aerodynamic phase). And the airflow produces sound waves (acoustic phase).
And actually, phonetics does go further than that, investigating the listener's perception of the sounds of speech. But in this book the emphasis is on the organic and aerodynamic phases: How are we configuring the organs of the vocal tract, and how does that configuration affect the airflow?
No need to memorize any of these terms! It's just good to understand that what we do with the organs of the vocal tract changes the "course" that the air flows through, and that changes the airflow itself and the sound that's produced.1.3
Figure 1 (p. 8) shows how the vocal tract can be represented as a "pneumatic device—a device consisting of a bellows and various tubes and valves and chambers whose function is to set air in motion and to control its flow" (p. 7). No need to memorize anything in this illustration, but it might be helpful to refer back to it every now and again.
As Catford says on p. 7: "The student of practical phonetics does not require a very detailed knowledge of the vocal tract and vocal organs." We don't need to learn anatomy the way a medical student would. Instead, we can think of the organs in terms of simple, "mechanical" functions: expanding and contracting, opening and closing, moving up and down, etc.
For example, in chapter 2 we experiment with different ways of initiating airflow. There are basically three ways, but then each of those can move air in or out, for a total of six. It might be helpful to look at the pneumatic device in figure 1 and think about what parts of the device can move to initiate airflow.
1. Pulmonic initiation: The lungs can expand or contract like a bellows, pushing air out or pulling it in.
2. Glottalic initiation: The glottis (the opening between the vocal folds) can close like a valve and
the larynx (the "housing" for the vocal folds) can move up or down like a piston. If the vocal tract is also closed off further on (for example, if the lips are closed and if the passage to the nasal chamber is closed), there will be a pocket of trapped air. With the glottis closed, moving the larynx up will increase pressure in that pocket, and moving it down will decrease pressure and produce suction.
3. Velaric initiation (with this one the idea of a pneumatic device may be less helpful): A closure can be made between the back of the tongue and the velum or soft palate (the soft rear part of the roof of the mouth where you make a [k]), and another closure can be made with the front of the tongue, or with the lips. This also creates a pocket of air. The tongue can then be moved to increase or decrease pressure in that pocket.1.4.
Along with initiation, the other essential component of speech is articulation, which is introduced in chapter 2 and explored in much more detail in chapters 4 and 5. And then a third component of speech, involved in many but not all sounds, is phonation—basically, what the vocal folds are doing—and that'll be the subject of chapter 3.2.1.
Here we experiment with [f] and [s]. Those are IPA symbols that conveniently represent the same sounds that they most often do in English.
Some people might be wondering what the difference is between an IPA symbol in square brackets [f] and one in slashes /f/. An IPA symbol in square brackets such as [f] simply represents a sound of speech, whereas an IPA symbol in slashes such as /f/ represents a phoneme, a unit of sound that can distinguish one word from another in a particular language. Happy to answer questions about this, or we can hold off, since we won't really deal with phonemes until chapter 10.
And then the main thing we discover in the six experiments in section 2.1 is that it takes both initiation and articulation to produce a specific sound of speech. Remove initiation and you get silent articulation. Remove articulation from pulmonic sounds and you get the non-specific sound of the breath.2.2.
Here we learn that [f] and [s] have different places of articulation but the same manner of articulation: They're both fricatives, or sounds produced by airflow passing quickly through a narrow channel and becoming turbulent.
And we also experiment with another manner of articulation: [p], [t], and [k] are all stops, produced by air building up behind a complete closure and then bursting forth when the closure is released.
I mostly say no need to memorize terminology, but I do think it's worth remembering those terms fricative
Here we see what happens when we make the same articulations as before but inhale instead of exhale. And we discover that [f] sounds pretty much the same whether inhaled or exhaled, but [s] sounds quite different when inhaled.
In any fricative sound, the air passes quickly through a narrow channel and shoots out in a turbulent jet which then hits relatively inert air. That's what happens with [f] and with inhaled [s]. But with normal exhaled [s], the turbulent jet hits an obstacle, namely the back of the teeth, and this produces additional turbulence (swirling "wake turbulence" beyond the obstacle) that adds a high-frequency component to the hissing sound. Probably not essential to know, but some folks might be interested. 2.4.
Here we experiment with making ejectives. If you've never made these sounds before, this might be challenging. The main thing I would suggest if your ejectives aren't coming together in experiment 13 is to practice closing your glottis (experiment 11) and moving your larynx up and down (experiment 12). Successfully making ejectives depends on being able to do both those things at once.
Here again is the link to our recent thread on ejectives
with good tips and resources, and happy to troubleshoot if anyone is finding this part challenging.
As I said in an earlier post, if you're not planning to learn a language with ejectives, it's not absolutely essential to master this, but it's still well worth trying the exercises, since it will give you a fuller sense of the various ways that you can configure the vocal tract. And tangleweeds's success story above shows how satisfying it can be to figure out how to make unfamiliar sounds.
OK, can't think of much to say at the moment about the remaining sections.
Very interested to hear how all of your experiences with the book are going. Looking forward to discussing!