Phonetics - Unit One - Lesson No. 5


When the glottis are in vibration, the vocal cords are alternately brought into contact and blown apart by the force of pulmonic airstream (ingressive or egressive) which flows through the glottis. The force of the airstream and the tension of the vocal cords are adjusted so that the latter flap open and shut many times in  a second. This allows the airstream to pass through in a series of rapid tiny puffs. Such flapping, opening and shutting or vibration of the vocal cords forms a process called the phonation.

The term phonation refers to vocal folds vibration but it can also refer to the all the means by which the larynx function as a source of sounds, not all of which involve vibration of the folds in a strict sense.

There are several types of phonations: voiced and voiceless phonation, breathing phonation, creaky phonation and glottal stops.

1. Voiced and voiceless phonation

Most of the languages employ two points along the phonation continuum in making contrasts between speech sounds: voiced and voiceless sounds. This contrast is particularly common among stop consonants and is exploited in a number of widely-spoken languages, such as English, Japanese, Arabic and other languages. The minimal voiced /g/ vs. voiceless /k/ illustrates the contrast between voiced and voiceless consonants in English. Certain Arabic dialects, such as Egyptian Arabic exhibit such contrast.

2. Breathing phonation

Another type of phonation is the breathing voice. Breathing phonation is characterized by a fair abduction of the vocal cords and little longitudinal tension. This results in some turbulent airflow through the glottis and the auditory impression of voiced mixed in with breathing. An example from Gujarati language illustrates this type of phonation:










3. Creaky voice

Another type of phonation is the creaky voice, which contrasts with modal voice in many languages and with both modal voice and breathing voice in other languages. Creaky phonation is typically associated with vocal folds that are tightly abducted but open enough along a position of their length to allow for voicing. The acoustic effect of this laryngeal setting is a series of irregularly spaced vocal pulses which give the auditory impressions of a rapid series of taps, like a stick being run along a railing. Like the contrast between breathing and modal voiced among obstruent, contrast between creaky and modal voice are also relatively rare in obstruents. In some languages, the creaky stops are implosives and involve larynx lowering as well as a creaky voice quality. Examples from Kwakw’ala illustrates the creaky voice:









4. Glottal stop

Glottal stop involves a complete absence of vocal fold vibration, as it occurs in the middle of the English interjection uh-oh. Arabic /ʔ/ is another instance of the glottal stop. Glottal stops are very common in languages of the world, often contrasting with oral stops. Dialects of languages also employ glottal stops as substitution of other sounds. For example, Egyptian Arabic substitutes /ʔ/ for the sound /q/, e.g. /ʔa:l/ for the standard Arabic /qa:l/ which means ‘said’.

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