American English consonant chart

A consonant is a sound produced with an obstruction to the air stream. The organs of speech are tense at the place of obstruction. In the articulation of voiceless consonants, the air stream is strong, while in voiced consonants it is weaker.

Lips (Bilabial)
Tongue-Gum Ridge 
Tongue-Soft Palate 

Consonants: Place of Articulation

• Consonants are sounds produced with some restriction or closure in the vocal tract

  • Consonants are classified based in part on where in the vocal tract the airflow is being restricted (the place of articulation)

• The major places of articulation are:

bilabial, labiodental, interdental, alveolar, palatal, velar, uvular, and glottal

  • Bilabials: [p] [b] [m]
    • Produced by bringing both lips together

  • Labiodentals: [f] [v]
    • Produced by touching the bottom lip to the upper teeth

  • Interdentals [θ] [ð]
    • Produced by putting the tip of the tongue between the teeth
  • Alveolars: [t] [d] [n] [s] [z] [l] [r]
    • All of these are produced by raising the tongue to the alveolar ridge in some way

  • [t, d, n]: produced by the tip of the tongue touching the alveolar ridge (or just in front of it)

  • [s, z]: produced with the sides of the front of the tongue raised but the tip lowered to allow air to escape

  • [l]: the tongue tip is raised while the rest of the tongue remains down so air can escape over the sides of the tongue (thus [l] is a lateral sound)

  • [r]: air escapes through the central part of the mouth; either the tip of the tongue is curled back behind the alveolar ridge or the top of the tongue is bunched up behind the alveolar ridge

  • Palatals: [ʃ] [ʒ] [ʧ] [ʤ][ʝ]
    • Produced by raising the front part of the tongue to the palate

  • Velars: [k] [g] [ŋ]
    • Produced by raising the back of the tongue to the soft palate or velum

  • Uvulars: [ʀ] [q] [ɢ]
    • Produced by raising the back of the tongue to the uvula

  • Glottals: [h] [Ɂ]
    • Produced by restricting the airflow through the open glottis ([h]) or by stopping the air completely at the glottis (a glottal stop: [Ɂ])

Consonants: Manner of Articulation

• The manner of articulation is the way the airstream is affected as it flows from the lungs and out of the mouth and nose

  • Voiceless sounds are those produced with the vocal cords apart so the air flows freely through the glottis

  • Voiced sounds are those produced when the vocal cords are together and vibrate as air passes through

• The voiced/voiceless distinction is important in English because it helps us distinguish words like:

rope/robe fine/vine seal/zeal

[rop]/[rob] [faɪn]/[vaɪn] [sil]/[zil]

  • But some voiceless sounds can be further distinguished as aspirated or unaspirated aspirated unaspirated

pool [phul] spool [spul]

tale [thel] stale [stel]

kale [khel] scale [skel]

  • Oral sounds are those produced with the velum raised to prevent air from escaping out the nose

  • Nasal sounds are those produced with the velum lowered to allow air to escape out the nose

  • So far we have three ways of classifying sounds based on phonetic features: by voicing, by place of articulation, and by nasalization

  • [p] is a voiceless, bilabial, oral sound
  • [n] is a voiced, alveolar, nasal sound

  • Stops: [p] [b] [m] [t] [d] [n] [k] [g] [ŋ] [ʧ][ʤ] [Ɂ]

– Produced by completely stopping the air flow in the oral cavity for a fraction of a second

  • All other sounds are continuants, meaning that the airflow is continuous through the oral cavity

  • Fricatives: [f] [v] [θ] [ð] [s] [z] [ʃ] [ʒ] [x] [ɣ] [h]
    • Produced by severely obstructing the airflow so as to cause friction

  • Affricates: [ʧ] [ʤ]
    • Produced by a stop closure that is released with a lot of friction

  • Liquids: [l] [r]
    • Produced by causing some obstruction of the airstream in the mouth, but not enough to cause any real friction

  • Glides: [j] [w]
    • Produced with very little obstruction of the airstream and are always followed by a vowel

Consonants: Manner of Articulation

  • Approximants: [w] [j] [r] [l]
    • Sometimes liquids and glides are put together into one category because the articulators approximate a frictional closeness but do not actually cause friction

  • Trills and flaps: [r]* [ɾ]
    • Trills are produced by rapidly vibrating an articulator
    • Flaps are produced by a flick of the tongue against the alveolar ridge

  • Clicks:
    • Produced by moving air in the mouth between various articulators
    • The disapproving sound tsk in English is a consonant in Zulu and some other southern African languages
    • The lateral click used to encourage a horse in English is a consonant in Xhosa

*The textbook uses [r] to represent the central liquid as in the word ready rather than as a trill