The Story of Sounds: Episode 4. How 11 consonant sounds are made using only 3 mouth positions …

In which we discover that 11 consonant sounds are made using only 3 mouth positions …

The story so far: In the first three episodes we discovered that five consonants sounds /t/ /d/ /n/ /z/ and /s/ are all made using the same place in the mouth. This is most easily demonstrated using /n/ as the starting position. I have found that this kind of simplifying and demystifying insight has a beneficial impact on learners’ confidence, curiosity and desire to progress, providing such insights are discovered and not given. If you would like to check these insights and how to take your students there, please have a look at the first three episodes.

Now I’d like to take you on two further journeys of discovery

Journey 1, starting from /m/and arriving at /p/ and /b/

  1. Take the position for /m/, lips together, but don’t say anything. Just notice the position of your tongue (lying along the bottom of your mouth) and note that no air can exit through your mouth.
  2. Ok, now without engaging your voice simply “whisper” the sound /m/. And what are you doing? Effectively just exhaling through your nose with your mouth shut … but you may also notice a sort of aspirated whispering sound coming from a slight constriction of the top of your throat.
  3. Now do the same thing but engage your voice and you have the voiced sound /m/
  4. Go back to point 1 and hold the position for /m/ without saying or whispering it, and now let the air pressure from your lungs build up a little behind your closed lips. When you can feel this, let your lips be “blown open” by this air pressure, making a slight popping sound but without engaging your voice.  So now you have arrived at the sound /p/
  5. And now follow point 4 again, abut this time when your lips are blown open, at that precise moment engage your voice, and you arrive at the sound /b/
  6. So, from the position for the sound /m/ we have been able to make two other sounds /p/ and /b/ simply by doing something different in that same place. We have made three sounds from a single position.

 Journey 2, starting from /ŋ/and arriving at /k/ and /g/

  1. Now take the position for /ŋ/, but don’t say it, and notice how this time your lips are apart and the back of your tongue is pulled back and in contact with your soft palate. Notice too that no air can exit through your mouth because although the lips are open, the tongue against the soft palate completely blocks the flow of air through the mouth.
  2. Now exhale the only way you can which is through the nose, engage your voice, and you have the sound /ŋ/.
  3. Go back to point 1 and hold the position for /ŋ/ without saying or whispering it, and now let the air pressure from your lungs build up a little behind the back of your tongue pressed against your soft palate, then suddenly release your tongue from the palate, and without engaging the voice you will make the sound /k/
  4. Do point 3 again but this time engage your voice and you have the sound /g/
  5. So, from the position for the sound /ŋ/ we have been able to make two other sounds /k/ and /g/, again simply by doing something different in that same place. And again we have made three sounds from a single position.

 Conclusion

We have made three sounds from the /m/ position, and three more sounds from the /ŋ/ position. And in the previous episode we made 5 sounds from the /n/ position.

This makes a total of 11 consonant sounds from just three positions. When I take my students on this journey of insight, I use as the starting point the three nasal sounds  /m/ /n/ and /ŋ/ conveniently grouped together at the bottom left of the chart.

In Episode 5 we will find how 2 other consonants, the infamous pair of liquids /l/ and /r/ are also related to /n/, providing further connections between sounds and demystifying the famous Japanese l and r confusion.

 

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