Pronunciation Activation Pack – 21
There are 24 consonant sounds in British English.
The consonant sounds are shown in the blue box at the bottom of the British English IPA chart, under the vowels.
The top row shows the plosives.
The middle row shows the fricatives and affricates.
The bottom row shows the nasal sounds highlighted in red, the voiceless glottal fricative highlighted in blue, and the approximants, highlighted in green.
A consonant is a basic speech sound in which the breath is at least partially obstructed and which can be combined with a vowel to form a syllable.
Consonants can only be produced with a vowel.
There are 21 letters in the English alphabet which represent consonants but there are 24 consonant sounds.
The consonant letters of the alphabet are, B, C, D, F, G, H, J, K, L, M, N, P, Q, R, S, T, V, X, Z, and usually W and Y.
The consonant sounds are grouped into several types.
There are the plosives, the fricatives, the affricates, the nasals and the approximants.
English consonants are classified by technical terms which refer to the way air escapes as we say the sound, where the obstruction to the air flow takes place, and whether the vocal cords are used.
On our chart, the voiced sounds are green and the unvoiced sounds are blue.
Plosives are consonants made by completely blocking the air flow and then releasing it explosively.
The plosive sounds are highlighted in red on the chart to the right.
One type of plosive not shown on the chart is the glottal stop.
The symbol for the glottal stop is like a question mark: / ʔ /
The glottal stop is made by stopping the unvoiced / t / sound with the glottis.
A fricative is a consonant produced by forcing air through a narrow channel. The narrow channel is typically formed by bringing the tongue near the teeth or some part of the inside of the mouth. The lips and teeth can also be used to form the narrow channel through which air is forced.
By forcing air through the narrow channel it becomes turbulent. This turbulent airflow is called frication.
British English only has two affricates.
Affricates begin with an explosive stop, highlighted in blue, and are released as fricatives in the same position.
The affricates are most commonly spelt with the letters ch and j respectively.
We find the afficates in words like chair / tʃeə / and jazz / dʒæz /.
In phonetics, a nasal can also be called a nasal occlusive or a nasal stop.
These sounds are called nasals because they depend on the air escaping from the nose rather than the mouth when you say them.
When you have a cold and your nose is blocked, these sounds become impossible to say.
My mum’s monkey sings
/ maɪ mʌmɪz ˈmʌŋk.i sɪŋz /
while pinching your nose closed with your fingers.
All of the three English nasals are voiced sounds – all marked in green on our chart.
Voiceless Glottal Fricative
The voiceless glottal fricative is a pseudo-fricative.
Unlike the true fricatives, / h / does not come in a voiced and unvoiced pair and is always unvoiced.
These are sounds that fall between the fricatives and the vowels.
Fricatives produce a turbulent air-stream in the vocal tract, while vowels produce no turbulence.
The two sounds highlighted in blue are so close to vowels that they are often called semivowels.
In British English, all the approximants, like the vowels, are voiced.
The letter Y can stand as both a consonant and a vowel. We find it as a consonant in the word yolk / jəʊk / and as a vowel in the word myth / mɪθ / and the word funny / ˈfʌ.ni /.
The letter W can also be a vowel sound in very rare words such as those borrowed from the Welsh, as in cwm / kuːm /
I talked about syllables in Pronunciation Activation Pack 1 – The Vowel in Tree.
The smallest syllables consist of only the nucleus, as we saw in eye / aɪ / and ear / ɪə /.
A nucleus or peak that is not followed by a coda is called an open or free syllable.
A nucleus that is followed by a coda is called a closed or checked syllable.
English allows both closed and open syllables.
Revisit Pronunciation Activation Pack 1 – The Vowel in Tree to refresh your memory about syllables.
In some words, the peak of a syllable is formed by a consonant not a vowel. We call this a syllabic consonant.
- cotton / ˈkɒn̩ /
- cattle / ˈkæl̩ /
- rhythm / ˈrɪðm̩̩ /
Letter and Sound Same
Some of these symbols in the IPA chart match the letters of the alphabet and have their usual English sound values. That is, the letter of the alphabet and the sound represented by the IPA symbol are always the same.
This is only true of the following consonants: p, b, t, d, k, f, v, z, m, n, h, l, r, and w.
The rest of the consonant letters of the alphabet have no set sound value: c, g, j, q, s, x, and y.
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