Phonetics and phonology tutorial and resources
Please contribute resources ->here<-. Also, remarks on content (and typos, etc.) are welcome!
A section about phonology will follow soon.
Meanwhile, thank you all for your contributions!
Please note that the use of parenthesis indicates the kind of notation:
[fiːɫ] = phonetic notation: more or less "written as spoken". Often further marks (diacritics) are added to reflect more accurately the sound denoted. Square brackets  are used.
/fiːl/ = phonemic notation: used by most dictionaries. There is no attempt at detailed representations of the sounds because these vary so much from speaker to speaker. Only distinctive sounds are differentiated. For example the /l/ of "leaf" and of "feel" are pronounced very differently ([l] and [ɫ] respectively) but, because they are felt to be the same sound in English, dictionaries tend to use the one symbol /l/ in the transcription. For this reason dictionary transcription is often just an indication of pronunciation. In other languages these two sounds might be meaningful - that is two words differ in meaning based on which is used - and in this case a phonemic transcription for that language would differentiate them. Slashes // are traditionally used for phonemic notation but phonetic square brackets are often found in dictionaries also.
<feel> = graphemical notation: written according to spelling conventions (misspellings included ;-)
- IPA alphabet (international standard):
Its advantage is that it is standardised internationally; so it is supposed to be universal, IPA sounds are supposed to sound "exactly" the same all over the world. However that's not entirely true in real life as many times IPA is used as a half-way phonemic script, as explained above.
Further examples would be the sound [v], used both in German and French even though in German this sound very often is realised as an approximant [ʋ] while it is a true labiodental fricative in French; or vowel [uː] which is much less rounded (and less back) in English <boot> than in German <gut>: German long [uː] sounds significantly "darker".
An exact, that is a narrow phonetic transcription should mark these differencies by diacritics, but this is rarely done: broad transcriptions are much more common, they're also used in dictionaries - and they suggest more accuracy than they give.
So here you have the problem with IPA: it is highly formalised and very complex in order to be precise, thus it is difficult to learn; and it isn't even consistantly used - you will find that many dictionaries use more or less phonemic notation when using phonetic square brackets . Further it may be hard work to write something in IPA - and some browsers and other applications do not support all IPA characters (or any, in some cases); only fully Unicode compatible applications will have no problem with it.
- SAMPA alphabet (simplified version):
This is a simplified alphabet (here the German version) which one can easily type on any typewriter - so decoding is no problem here: that is its main advantage.
The problem however is that you still have to learn SAMPA (and different versions for different languages at that); also it is more or less a phonemic alphabet only which allows to write the most important allophones - it is no match for a precise phonetic alphabet like IPA; finally, SAMPA is not as common and broadly known as IPA characters, and a SAMPA transliteration of a French text will be read incorrectly by someone who only knows Bulgarian or English SAMPA.
If you need SAMPA characters for a specific language just google SAMPA + language name and the SAMPA chart for this language most likely will appear as first hit of the page.
- IE alphabet (used exclusively by historical linguists):
Its sole advantage is that it is used in authoritative dictionaries and works of historical linguists: it is the standard alphabet of IE science.
There are quite some problems with this script: encoding (there's not even yet a full IE character list even in Unicode, as far as I know, you need to improvise with diacritics); it is difficult to learn; also this alphabet is more or less a phonemic alphabet - or more precisely, it certainly isn't phonetic; and last but not least in some cases it is quite unclear which sounds are represented with some graphemes.
The most extreme case is the one of IE "laryngeals" of which there may have been up to three: *h1 (neutral) *h2 (a-coloured) *h3 (o-coloured). No one ever managed to pronounce an IE laryngeal of this kind correctly (and most likely no one ever will) because we do not know how they were pronounced, nor do we even know if those three laryngeals even existed.
The vocal tract
Don't worry, there won't be any medical descriptions of the vocal tract:
- lips: there exist articulations lip-to-lip and lip-to-teeth
- teeth: involved with sibilants and lip-to-teeth-articulations
- alveoles: the sockets of our teeth, involved in tongue-to-alveoles-articulations
- palatum (hard palate, front part): the hard palate is involved in tongue-to-palate-articulations
- velum (soft palate, back part): same with the soft palate, tongue-to-palate
- tongue: also used as main organ for articulation in trills and flaps
- uvula: is used both for tongue-to-uvula and trills
- pharynx: lies behind the root of our tongue, thus beyond the region where in most languages sounds are produced; however, some languages use pharyngeal sounds
- epiglottis: an elastic membrane just above the glottis; it is only very rarely used to produce sounds
- glottis: used in all languages to produce sounds, but mostly only for voicing (which is produced here) and glottal stops; it is also involved in some more exotic articulations which will be explained below
- nose: is involved with nasal vowels and nasal consonants