Letters and sounds. Sounds and phonemes. Vowels and consonants.

Letters and sounds must never be mixed up. Letters are written, sounds are spoken. It very useful to have written letters to remind us of corresponding sounds, but this is all they do. They cannot make us pronounce sounds which we don’t already know; they simply remind us. In ordinary English spelling is not always easy to know what sounds the letters stand for. We have 24 consonants and 20 vowels to consider.

Speech sounds are grouped into language units called phonemes. A phoneme may be thought of as the smallest contrastive language unit which exists in the speech of all people be­longing to the same language community in the form of speech sounds and may bring about a change of meaning.

The phoneme is realized in speech in the material form of speech sounds of different type. Various speech realizations of the phoneme are called its allophones.

The organs of speech are capable of uttering many different kinds of sounds. From the practical point of view it is convenient to distinguish two types of speech sounds: vowels and conso­nants. Vowels are voiced sounds produced without any ob­struction in the supra-glottal cavities and consequently have no noise component. In the articulation of consonants a kind of noise producing obstruction is formed in the supra-glottal cav­ities. Such sounds may be pronounced with or without vocal cords vibration.

Principles of classification of English consonants.

Consonants are made with air stream that meets an obstruc­tion in the mouth or nasal cavities. That is why in the produc­tion of consonant sounds there is a certain degree of noise.

Consonants are the bones of a word and give it its basic shape. English accents differ mainly in vowels, the consonants are more or less the same wherever English is spoken. So if your vowels are not perfect you may still be understood by the listen­er, but if the consonants are imperfect there may be some misun­derstanding.

The sentence "W-l y- -nv-t- m-1- th- p-t-?" "Will you invite me to the party?" is easy for understanding even if all the vowel letters would be left out. But if we leave all the consonant letters out : "-i- -ou i—i-e -e -o —e -a-y" it is impossible to make any sense out of it.

On the articulatory level the consonants change:

1. In the degree of noise.

2. In the manner of articulation.

3. In the place of articulation.