Sounds: 26 in Middle English
The consonants are divided
into stops, affricates,
fricatives, nasals, and
lateral resonants. These ten-dollar words
basically refer to the parts of the mouth necessary to make
the sounds--lips, blade of tongue, back of tongue, top of
the mouth, and so on. You can go back to the earlier chart
of the human body for reference if necessary.
Stops involve the
complete closure of the air passage (i.e., the lips or parts
of the tongue are completely closed to make the sound initially).
a stop plus a movment through a fricative position (i.e.,
the blade of the tongue initially moves up in the position
of a stop, but then move through a fricative or spirant position
rather than remaining in the "stop" position).
a constriction of the air passage, but air still "hisses"
around the edges of the lip or tongue.
Nasals involve complete
closure of the oral passage with the nasal passage open. The
vibrating air often makes it feel like something is vibrating
just behind or under your nose when you make this sound.
or "liquids," occur when air is expelled through
passages on the sides of the tongue. This is a sound very
common in Welsh and in some "lilting" languages.
involve so much vowel sound it's difficult to pinpoint exactly
where these sounds end and vowel sounds begin. That's why
some linguists call them "semi-vowels."
It's easier to understand
these terms with examples, so look below at the complete chart
and sound through the examples aloud. If anybody near you
gives you funny looks, simply make the sounds more loudly
until they go away in fear of this crazy person making weird
If you have
trouble seeing the chart below, you can click here to download
and print out a pdf
file of this material. Also available is a lengthier
International Phonetics Chart of consonants not
limited to Middle English sounds. Note that some sounds
are "voiced" and others
are "unvoiced." This
means the sounds are made exactly the same way in each case,
in terms of where your lips and tongue are, but in
the case of "voiced"
sounds, your vocal cords vibrate as you make the noise.
(Get it? Voiced=vocal, as in vocal
cords?) To feel the difference, tilt your head back,
and put your hand on the front of your throat. Say the unvoiced
sound a few times, and you shouldn't feel the vocal vibrations.
Then try saying the voiced version of the same sound, and
your fingers should feel the vibration. Those virgules (diagonal
slashes like /this/) in the far left-hand column are secret
linguist code. These virgules tell linguists that the symbols
or materials between the backslashes represent a physical
sound rather than a written symbol. For instance, this example
refers to the sound of the word spoon:
On the other
hand, this example refers to the way we write the
word spoon, the way it appears on a page of text:
slashes and brackets look a bit like html code, don't they?
You should keep that difference between // and <>
straight in your mind, or the next few sections will be
really confusing. When you are done looking at the material
on this page, click here to
move on to the vowels.
- This webpage is adapted
from materials Professor James Boren designed for his
Chaucer students at the University of Oregon. Any errors
in this webpage are the result of my own scribal corruptions
rather than a product of the original work. --Kip Wheeler