Words in English public website
LING 216 course information
Rice University
Prof. S. Kemmer

Sound Terminology

Parsings/etymologies of
articulatory terminology for English consonants

The following parsings of the sound terminology used in class and in Chapter 5 are provided to help you understand and remember the terms, and in part to reinforce your parsing knowledge and experience.

Most of the following terms come from Latin. The exceptions are glottal, glottis which are based on a Greek root.

Places of articulation

bilabial        bi  + lab + i +     al    'produced with the two lips'
                two   lip  (linker) ADJ

labiodental     lab +   i  +     o  +    dent  +  al 'produced with front teeth against bottom lip'
                lip  (linker) (linker)   tooth    ADJ  

interdental     inter +  dent + al        'produced with tongue between
                between  tooth  ADJ        the teeth'

alveolar        alveol    +    ar         'produced at the alveolus,
                a small        ADJ         i.e. the alveolar ridge'
                hollow                     (so called because it
                                           abuts on the tooth sockets,
                                           or alveoli 'little hollows')

alveo-palatal   alveo(l)  +  palat + al   'produced starting at the 
                a small      palate  ADJ   alveolar ridge then immediately
                hollow                     afterwards at the palate'

                alveol is from alveol-us, the diminutive form
                of alveus 'a cavity, hollow'

palatal         palat +  al               'produced at the palate'
                palate   ADJ                  
                (palate has an uncertain etymology; possibly
                 Latin borrowed it from Etruscan)

velar           vel   +    ar             'produced at the velum,
                flap,      ADJ             or soft palate'

glottal         glott/gloss  + al         'produced at the glottis'
                glottis        ADJ         (see below)

glottis        glott  +    is            'the vocal chord part of
                tongue,     'N'            the upper larynx'
                Glottis can be thought of as meaning literally 'speech organ',
                but its actual present meaning is of course more specific.

Manners of articulation

The adjective endings -ive and -al below are in these articulatory terms being used as noun endings, via leaving out the nouns they modify (e.g. 'plosive sounds' > 'plosives' etc.) We can think of this as a zero-derivation of nouns from adjectives. I gloss them here as adjective endings because that is their primary use and these terms are still easily used as adjectives.

stop           (native word)             'sound produced with total
                                          stoppage of airflow in the
same as: 
plosive        plod/plos  +  ive          (see above)
               burst,        ADJ

fricative      fric + at/ate + ive       'sound produced with partial
               rub    V        ADJ        occlusion of vocal tract,
                                          producing audible friction'

affricate      ad/af +   fric  +  ate    'sound produced by stopping
               to,       rub      ADJ     airflow and then partial
               towards                    release into a fricative
                                          at or near same point of

nasal          nas    +  al              'sound produced by stopping
               nose      ADJ              airflow in mouth, but allowing
                                          it to continue flowing through
                                          nasal tract'

liquid         liqu   +  id              'l and r sounds.' So called because
               fluid     ADJ, N           they give the acoustic impression 
                                          sounding like water flowing

lateral        later  +  al              'sound produced by touching tongue
               side      ADJ              to roof of mouth and letting 
                                          air pass at one or both
                                          sides of the tongue' l is
                                          the only lateral in English.

approximant    ad/ap  +  proxim  + ant   'consonant produced with relatively
               to,       near,     ADJ    wide opening between articulators;
               towards   nearest          an in-between sound that approxi-
                                          mates or comes near to a vowel 
                                          sound.' y and w are the main English
                                          approximants; sometimes l is 
                                          called a lateral approximant.

Other sound terminology

assimilation    ad/as     +  simil  + ate  + ion   
                to,          same     V      N,
                towards      like

'process of one sound becoming more similar to another that it is close
to (typically next to) in the speech stream'

© Suzanne Kemmer