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International Phonetic Alphabet

Consonant 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).

Affricatives involve 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).

Fricatives involve 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.

Lateral Resonants, 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.

Medial Resonants 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 noises.

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:


All those 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



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Copyright Dr. L. Kip Wheeler 1998-2017. Permission is granted for non-profit, educational, and student reproduction. Last updated January 5, 2017. Contact: kwheeler@cn.edu Please e-mail corrections, suggestions, or comments to help me improve this site. Click here for credits, thanks, and additional copyright information.