The Story of Sounds: Episode 26: Discovering the vowel /ɒ/

Example words: stop, hot, pop, cross, foreign, lobby, knowledge

General setting of /ɒ/ The lips are rounded though not as forward as with /ɔː/ and /uː/, and the jaw is low creating quite a bit of resonant space in the mouth. The tongue is back, and low. It might help to imagine a whole orange in your mouth, pushing your jaw down and your tongue back and down. Imagine also that you try to close your lips in front of the orange, so that although there is a lot of space in your mouth above and in front of your tongue, and your jaw is low, yet your lips are not open wide.

To see my one-minute video on the sound /ɒ/ click here and select video no 22

Try to sense the position of your lips, jaw and tongue, and to feel these positions internally. One way to strengthen the sensation of the muscles is to make very small changes to the positions of lips, jaw and tongue, while noticing the slight changes in the resulting vowel sound. Try this with the sample words given above.

The more you can relate variations of vowel sound to muscle posture the better you will become at finding new pronunciations.

Static and dynamic minimal pairs

Static minimal pairs (as I call them) refer to the widely practised technique of saying two words that differ only in one sound, so that you can contrast the sound you are learning with a different one, while the other sounds stay the same, for example:

Static minimal pair /ɔː/ and /ɒ/, using these examples:

caught v cot

naught v not

port v pot

stalk/stork v stock

(Click here for Story of Sounds Episode 24 on the vowel /ɔː/)

One difference you notice is that the first vowel /ɔː/ is relatively long, while /ɒ/ is quite short.

It’s especially interesting if you make the static minimal pairs from two vowels that are close to each other in the mouth, that border each other. You can do this very easily when you look at the chart, at the vowels in the top left section. The vowels that are neighbours in your mouth are also neighbours on the chart. So you can see that /ɔː/ is immediately ‘above’ /ɒ/ on the chart. Using a pair of sounds that are close together helps you feel the small movement in a very precise way.

Try a different minimal pair using the sound /ɑː/ which is a neighbour to the front of /ɒ/ as you can see from the chart. (Click here for Story of Sounds Episode 24 on the vowel /ɑː/)

Static minimal pairs /ɑː/ v /ɒ/

cart v cot

part v pot

heart v hot

sharp shop

dark v dock

Once again you can notice that the first vowel /ɑː/ is relatively long, compared with /ɒ/.

Dynamic minimal pairs

In this case you slide slowly and gradually from one vowel to the other.

Dynamic pair /ɔː/ v /ɒ/

Start with /ɔː/, keep saying it but slowly change the sound to /ɒ/. If you change the vowel sound gradually you can:

1.. Feel the muscles of lips, tongue and jaw moving slowly.

2.. Hear the vowel changing slowly, and hear the in-between sounds

Now make the return journey several times in one breath, like this

/ɔː … ɒ … ɔː … ɒ … ɔː … ɒ … /   and you can discover for yourself that as you move from /ɔː/ to /ɒ/

  • your jaw opens
  • the back of your tongue lowers
  • the lips remain somewhat rounded, though may spread a little.

Dynamic pair /ɑː/ v /ɒ/

Do the same activities with this pair of vowels . And try them like this /ɑː … ɒ … ɑː … ɒ … ɑː … ɒ … / When you do this you see for yourself that as you move from /ɑː/ to /ɒ/ you can feel the muscles of lips, tongue and jaw moving, and you can hear the vowel changing, and you can hear the in-between sounds. Specifically

  • your jaw stays at approximately the same openness
  • the back of your tongue moves back and lowers
  • the lips become less spread

Proprioception: Throughout The Story of Sounds I have been emphasizing the benefits of sensing internally what your pronunciation muscles are doing, of attending to the physicality of pronunciation. The term for this from neurology is Proprioception. If you would like to see the video of my talk Proprioception in learning new sounds and connected speech and talks of other speakers on pronunciation, recorded at the British Council London in 2015 click here

Teacher Training mini videos  If you’d like a close up description and demonstration of any vowel or consonant have a look my series of 39 x 3-minute pronunciation teacher training videos click here and then make your selection.

The Inside Story of Sounds has now attended to consonants and monophthong vowels. The final episodes in this particular series will be devoted to diphthongs.



This entry was posted in The chart and physicality, The physicality of pronunciation, The Story of Sounds. Bookmark the permalink.

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