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Pronunciation Terms

A glossary of terms and expressions used when talking about pronunciation, with definitions and explanations

term definition
accent the unique speech patterns of a person or group
affricate a speech sound (consonant) that contains a stop followed by an immediate fricative, as in the ch /ʧ/ in "chair"
air flow/airstream the flow or passage of air out of the mouth
alveolar sound formed by touching the tip of the tongue to the upper alveolar ridge, as in /t/ or /d/
alveolar ridge the bony region at the roof and bottom of the mouth behind the front teeth; contains the tooth sockets
approximants consonants with a partial obstruction of airflow, as in /w/ and /r/
articulation the act of making speech sounds
aspiration a small "explosion" of air when you make a sound
auditory hearing (not seeing)
bilabial consonant sounds formed using both lips, as in /p/ or /b/
close vowel (sometimes called "high" vowel) a vowel sound that is pronounced with the tongue close to the roof of the mouth (but not close enough to constrict the air and make a consonant), as in /i:/ in the word "free"
consonant a speech sound made when there is complete or partial obstruction of air in the mouth, as in /v/, /h/, /d/ (compare vowel)
clusters blended sounds put together to make a single sound
curl a position of the tongue where the tongue is shaped in a curve, not flat
dental a consonant sound made when the tongue touches the upper teeth, as in /t/ and /n/
dialect unique vocabulary, pronunciation and usage that is typical of a certain group of people
diphthong a sound made by the combination of two vowel sounds in a single syllable, as in "boy", "loud" or "wide", where the sound starts as one vowel and moves towards another vowel
flatten a positioning of the tongue where the tongue is flat not round
fricative a speech sound (consonant) in which air is forced to pass through a small opening and creates friction, as in /f/ and /v/
glide/slide moving the tongue while saying a word
glottal stop the sound that is made when the vocal folds are closed very briefly; as in the middle of the word "uh-oh" (common in American English)
gum the tissue around the base of the teeth
hard palate hard part of the roof of the mouth
intonation change in pitch of a sentence, up and down; the music or rhythm of speech
labiodental sounds that are made with the lower lip and upper teeth, as in /f/ and /v/
larynx the hollow, muscular organ in the throat that holds the vocal chords; the voice box
lateral a speech sound that is made by touching the tongue to the middle of the alveolar ridge, allowing air to pass on both sides
lengthen sound make the duration of the sound longer
linking the joining of words when speaking, as in "Ca-nI-ha-va-bi-to-fegg?" (Can I have a bit of egg?)
lips spread lips are open slightly and pulled back
lower bottom of mouth
minimal pairs two words that differ only in terms of one sound, as in "cat and bat" OR "fine and vine"
monophthong a single vowel sound that does not change in auditory quality; also called a "pure vowel"
nasal consonants consonant sounds made by pushing air through the nose, as in /m/, /n/ and /ŋ/
non-pulmonic when the air comes from a source other than the lungs
obstruction a blockage of air flow
open vowel (also called "low" vowel) a vowel that is produced with the tongue far down from the roof of the mouth, as in the /a:/ sound in "far"
palatal a sound that is made when the tongue is near or touching the roof of the mouth
palate the roof of the mouth
phoneme an individual speech sound
phonetic alphabet an alphabet that represents the sounds of speech
phonetic transcription a form of notation that uses symbols to identify the individual sounds (phonemes) in a word
plosive a consonant sound produced when there is a complete obstruction of air followed by its sudden release, as in the /p/ of "pot"
pitch amount of highness or lowness of a sound or speech
postalveolar a consonant sound made with the tip of the tongue slightly back from the alveolar ridge, as in /ʃ/ in "shut"
pressed lips top and bottom lips touching
protruded lips rounded lips, pushed out
pulmonic a sound that is made using the airstream directly from the lungs
raised higher than the neutral position
reduction the natural shortening of sounds when speaking (e.g. "going to" reduced to "gonna")
rhotic a variety or dialect of English in which "r" is pronounced before a consonant (as in "hard") and at the end of words (as in "car"); Midwestern American English, for example, is "rhotic"
roof the inside top part of the mouth
rounded lips lips formed into the shape of a circle
rounded vowel a vowel made with rounded lips
sentence stress the placement of emphasis on specific words within a sentence or phrase
shorten sound make the duration of a sound shorter
soft palate soft part of the roof of the mouth
sonorant sounds that are made when air is impeded only slightly, as in /m/, /n/
stop (stop consonant) a consonant sound that is produced when the airflow is (temporarily) stopped entirely by the lips or tongue, as in /p/
syllable a single unit of sound that creates one beat in a word; the word "coffee" has two syllables (cof-fee)
syllable nucleus the central part of a syllable, usually a vowel
tap touch quickly
tone the emotion that is conveyed through the sound of speech (e.g. anger or sadness)
tongue muscular tissue in the mouth used for tasting and articulating
tooth ridge the hard area directly behind the top front teeth
trill a vibrating sound made with a flapping tongue, as in the rolled "r" sound made when people roll their r's
upper top of mouth
velar of a sound that is made with the back of the tongue near the soft palate, as in the the /ŋ/ in "sing"
velum a soft membrane on the roof of the mouth (also called "soft palate")
vocal chords (AmE cords) two muscles inside the larynx that vibrate and create the voice
vocal tract the entire apparatus that produces voice, starting in the lungs and ending at the lips and nostrils (openings of the mouth and nose)
voiced of a sound made with the vocal chords (voice box) vibrating
voiceless/unvoiced of a sound made without the vocal chords (voice box) vibrating
vowel a speech sound made when air is free to pass through the mouth with little or no obstruction, as in sounds made with the letters a, e, i, o, u, and sometimes y (compare consonant)
vowel backness position of the tongue in relation to the back of the mouth when making a vowel sound (positions include front, near-front, centre, near-back, back)
vowel height distance between the tongue and the roof of the mouth when pronouncing a vowel sound (IPA has 7 heights: close (highest), near-close, mid-close, mid, open-mid, near-open, open (lowest)
word stress the placement of emphasis within a word that has more than one syllable