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August 19, 2013

The English Fricatives


Definition

Fricatives (also known as spirants, continuants), types of consonant sounds, which are produced by forcing the breath squeeze through a narrow gap with audible friction, hence these are termed fricatives.

Discussion: During the production of fricatives, the articulators are brought nearly close together. But as the closure is not quite complete, the oral cavity is not blocked totally, leaving sufficient opening for the airflow to continue. Due to this close approximation of the articulators, the air coming from the lungs has to pass through a narrow gap with great pace, generating audible friction, which is heard as hissing for a voiceless fricative, and buzzing for a voiced one.

Classification

We have nine fricative sounds in English. Except for /h/, all fricatives come in pairs, that is, accompanied by one voiceless and one voiced variant:

Group
Labio-dental
Dental
Alveolar
Palato-alveolar
Glottal
Fricatives
/f/v/
/θ/ð/
/s/z/
/ʃ/ʒ/
/h/




The above sounds are customarily described on the following bases:
  1. Manner of Articulation: The manner of articulation is concerned with airflow i.e. the paths it takes and the degree to which it is impeded by vocal tract constrictions. In other words, manner of articulation describes how the sound is produced.
  2. Place of Articulation: The place of articulation refers to where the sound is produced.
  3. Voicing/Phonation: Voicing refers to whether or not the vocal folds are vibrating. Some phoneticians use the terms Lenis and Fortis to describe the voiced and voiceless sounds respectively.
Discussion: The following discussion endeavours to describe the fricative consonants on the basis of the above criteria:
/f/v/ - Labio-dental Fricatives:
Place of Articulation: The upper teeth and the lower lip.

Labio-dental Fricatives

Manner of Articulation: The lower lip comes very close to the upper teeth and creates a narrow gap. The air escapes through the narrow gap with audible friction.

Voicing:

Fricatives Voicing Reason
/f/ Voiceless
(Fortis)
Vocal folds do not vibrate while producing voice
/v/ Voiced
(Lenis)
Vocal folds vibrate while producing voice

Distribution: /f/ and /v/ can occur initially, medially and finally.

Fricatives Initial Medial Final
/f/ fast confer deaf
/v/ void bevel dove

/θ/ð/ - Dental Fricatives:
Place of Articulation: The upper and the lower teeth and the tip and the blade of the tongue.

Dental Fricatives

Manner of Articulation: The tip of the tongue touches the lower teeth and the blade touches the edge of the upper teeth. The air escapes through the narrow gap between the tip and the blade of the tongue and the front upper teeth and causes audible friction. However, these sounds could be produced in other manners as well:
  • The tongue tip may come close to the back of the upper teeth.
  • The tip or blade of the tongue may approach or touch the upper teeth.
Voicing:

Fricatives Voicing Reason
/θ/ Voiceless
(Fortis)
Vocal folds do not vibrate while producing voice
/ð/ Voiced
(Lenis)
Vocal folds vibrate while producing voice

Distribution: /θ/and /ð/can occur initially, medially and finally.

Fricatives Initial Medial Final
/θ/ theme ether sheath
/ð/ thus brother breathe

/s/z/ - Alveolar Fricatives:
Place of Articulation: Tip and blade of the tongue and the alveolar ridge.

Alveolar Fricatives

Manner of Articulation: The tip and the blade of the tongue come very close to the alveolar ridge and create a narrow gap. The air passes through the narrow gap with audible friction.

Voicing:

Fricatives Voicing Reason
/s/ Voiceless
(Fortis)
Vocal folds do not vibrate while producing voice
/z/ Voiced
(Lenis)
Vocal folds vibrate while producing voice

Distribution: /s/and /z/can occur initially, medially and finally.

Fricatives Initial Medial Final
/s/ sit beside gas
/z/ zoo dazzle nose

/ʃ/ʒ/ - Palato-alveolar Fricatives:
Place of Articulation: The tip and the blade of the tongue; the alveolar ridge.

Palato-alveolar Fricatives

Manner of Articulation: The air passage is blocked by the above articulators. But in contrast with /s/ and /z/, the tongue is placed further back of the alveolar ridge. The closure is then released slowly and the air escapes with audible friction.

 Voicing:

Fricatives Voicing Reason
/ʃ/ Voiceless
(Fortis)
Vocal folds do not vibrate while producing voice
/ʒ/ Voiced
(Lenis)
Vocal folds vibrate while producing voice

Distribution: /ʃ/ can occur initially, medially and finally. Contrariwise, /ʒ/ occurs only medially.

Fricatives Initial Medial Final
/ʃ/ ship pressure wash
/ʒ/ - Pleasure -

/h/ Glottal Fricative:
Place of Articulation: The glottis.

Glottal Fricative

Manner of Articulation: This sound is produced differently than the other fricatives since it does not involve the tongue or the teeth as articulators. For /h/, the sole articulator is the glottis, which is the opening between the vocal folds. The sound is produced when the air passes through the glottis as it is narrowed. The said opening is narrow enough to create some audible friction in the airstream flowing past the vocal folds.

Voicing:

Fricatives Voicing Reason
/h/ Voiceless
(Fortis)
Vocal folds do not vibrate while producing voice

Distribution: /h/ can occur initially and medially.

Fricative Initial Medial Final
/h/ hen behave -

References

Roach, Peter. English Phonetics and Phonology: A self-contained, comprehensive pronunciation course.
3rd ed. Cambridge: CUP, 2000.

 “Sounds of English: Fricatives.” CALLE. 2013. CALLE. 14 August 2013
<http://calleteach.wordpress.com/2010/01/10/sounds-of-english-fricatives/>.

Varshney, Dr. R.L.  An Introduction of Linguistics & Phonetics. Dhaka: BOC, n.d. 94-98.

Yule, George. The Study of Language. 2nd ed. Cambridge: CUP, 1996. 46.

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