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Department of Linguistics


Manner of Articulation

Robert Mannell

Consonant Manner of Articulation

There is considerable variation in the names applied to manners of articulation in the literature. In some cases different names are applied to the same manner of articulation, whilst in other cases labels divided up consonants in different ways.

In the present course we will mostly use the following labels for place or articulation:-

1) Oral Stops

Oral stops have stop stricture and have a closed velum (ie. no nasal airflow). Oral stops are sometimes referred to as "plosives" or simply as "stops". Be warned that in the literature the term "stop" can refer specifically to oral stops, to oral stops and nasal stops collectively, or to stop stricture.

2) Nasal Stops

Nasal stops have stop stricture and have an open velum (ie. nasal airflow and nasal resonance). Nasal stops are very often referred to simply as "nasals".

4) Fricatives

Fricatives are consonants with fricative stricture. Many systems include central and lateral fricatives in the same manner category (but the IPA Pulmonic Consonant chart and the chart below separates them). In most of the course notes for this subject the central and lateral fricatives are included in a single manner category. Fricatives are sometimes referred to as "spirants" but this term is now considered obsolete.

The strong fricatives [s ʃ z ʒ] are often termed "sibilant" fricatives.

5) Affricates

Affricates are commonly described as a complex combination of stop plus fricative. Affricates can also be considered to represent one extreme end of a continuum of stop aspiration. See the topic "Complex Articulations: Affrication" for more information. In this course we will treat affricates as a manner of articulation because this is the customary way of classifying /t͡ʃ/ and /d͡ʒ/ in English.

6) Approximants

Approximants are consonants with approximant stricture, although some approximants also commonly display resonant stricture. It is very easy to become confused about the terminology used in the literature when referring to this class of consonants. Very often approximants are divided into the following two sub-classes:-

  1. liquids (e.g. English, [ɹ] and [l])
  2. semi-vowels (e.g. English, [w] and [j]) - also known as "glides"

When this system is used, liquids are effectively those approximants that are not classified as semi-vowels. Semi-vowels are those consonants that are most like vowels in their acoustic and articulatory characteristics and the semi-vowels often exhibit resonant stricture. Very often semi-vowels are only distinguishable from vowels using phonological criteria (see the topic "Distinction Between Consonants and Vowels" for details on the phonological distinction between vowels and consonants).

The division of approximants into liquids and semi-vowels is of particular relevance in this course to the topic "Distinctive Features", where the feature set for is different for liquids and semi-vowels.

7) Rhotics

Sometimes this further class of consonants is defined, but it is not strictly a manner of articulation. The rhotic sounds are the so-called r-like sounds and include the alveolar and retroflex approximants and the alveolar and uvular trills. In this course the term "rhotic" is used when dealing with the consonants of Australian Aboriginal languages (see the topic "The Phonetics and Phonology of Australian Aboriginal Languages"). In many Australian languages there are two consonants in the rhotic class, the alveolar trill [r] and the alveolar or post-alveolar approximant [ɹ]. Also, the term "rhotic" is also used when referring to the "rhotic" (eg. American) and "non-rhotic" (eg. Australian) dialects of English (see the topic "The vowel systems of four English dialects : Centring Diphthongs and Non-rhotic Dialects of English" for more information).

8) Obstruents versus Sonorants

Sometimes you will see consonants classified as "obstruents" or "sonorants". Obstruents include the oral stops, the affricates and the fricatives. Sonorants include the nasal stops, approximants and the vowels. For more information on these classes of consonants see the topic "Distinctive Features".

Defining Manner of Articulation in Terms of Laterality, Nasality and Stricture

Manner of articulation can be described in terms of Laterality, Nasality and Stricture. The following diagram shows how the various manners of articulation can be defined in terms of their laterality, nasality and stricture features.

Relationship between Manner of Articulation and laterality, nasality and stricture.

Note that there can be no lateral (oral or nasal) stops; lateral requires the air to be directed around the sides of the tongue, stop requires the air to be totally obstructed in the mouth. The features are therefore incompatible.