Articulatory Phonetics (L-450)

An Introduction to Phonological Analysis Part I (6 credit hours)

Accurate phonetic skills are necessary for all other linguistic work and are vital for learning to correctly speak a new language. Thus, considerably more time is dedicated to the Phonetics course than to others.

The student is taught how the human vocal apparatus produces various sounds. He studies the different types of sounds (manners of articulation), and he learns the place in the vocal cavity where each sound is formed (point of articulation). He is also taught the various articulators such as the lower lip, the tip, blade, or back of the tongue, etc. There are hundreds of possible consonant sounds; and by the end of the course, the student can hear the sounds, know where and how they are formed, and write the correct symbols that describe the utterance. To avoid confusion, every sound has its own symbol, and another phonetician will be able to pronounce the written symbols and be perfectly understood by the native speaker.

The student is trained to hear and say approximately 20 distinct vowel sounds and write them with the correct symbol. There are also many possible modifications of these vowels, which the student learns to accurately recognize, repeat, and describe as well.

Besides vowels and consonants, there are other very important phonetic features. Such things as stress, intonation, tone, pauses, etc. give each language its unique rhythm; and the BBTI student also learns to write these supra-segmental phonetic features. The missionary who goes to the field without this phonetic skill will usually develop bad habits and superimpose his English intonation and rhythm on the new language, speaking with a distracting accent during his ministry in that country.

All languages use intonation, but many of the world’s languages are tonal languages. Therefore, much time is given to the tonal aspect of phonetics. In Thailand, for example, the word that sounds like “cow” can be spoken with five different tone patterns without changing the vowels or consonants, giving five different meanings to the same word.

The Phonetics course consists of extensive theory and hours of practice. The student not only knows in his head how sounds are made and how to write each sound with its unique symbol, but he can also reproduce these sounds accurately. He is given daily practice speaking and writing words and phrases that would seem very strange to the untrained ear.

The goal of the course can be described with the four “R’s.” The student can recognize the distinctions in sounds, repeat them accurately, record them with a symbol, and even after months or years have passed, he can recall them from the phonetic symbols he wrote.