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  • Hi, this is Gabe from TowerofBabelfish.com.

  • This is the third and final tutorial on English pronunciation and the International Phonetic

  • Alphabet. In the first two videos, we talked about the three characteristics of consonants:

  • Voicing, Place and Manner. In this video, we're going to talk about vowels.

  • So.. where consonants were all about how you obstructed your airflow, vowels are about

  • how you let the air through. They, too, have 3 characteristics. They are: Height, Rounding,

  • and Backness. We'll discuss them in that order.

  • I'll be discussing three English dialects here:

  • General American, which is a sort of average dialect of the central Midwest

  • Received Pronunciation or the queen's english, or BBC english, which originally

  • came out of Southeastern England and we'll talk a little bit about

  • Californian, my dialect.

  • If you have another dialect, there's a pretty good chart over at Wikipedia with 10 different

  • dialects and all the differences between them. That's linked in the video description below.

  • The concepts will be the same, only some of the vowels you use will be a bit different

  • than the ones I use.

  • So!

  • Let's start with three vowels,

  • • i - see • E - bed

  • ae - cat

  • If you say them in that order, you'll probably notice that your jaw drops more for E than

  • i, and even more for ae. You can say these vowels without your jaw's involvement, and

  • it's what many classical singers learn to do over time. They go [singing]

  • What your jaw or your tongue are doing is increasing the distance between the back of

  • tongue and the roof of your mouth. This is vowel height.

  • i is a closed vowel (or sometimes called a high vowel), and ae is a more open (or low)

  • vowel. Every vowel has a measurable vowel height, and it's measured by the sound it

  • makes. If I sing a series of vowels and change their vowel height, if you listen carefully,

  • you'll hear one pitch moving up and down - it's a really high whistle. It should be around

  • these pitches [whistles] i e ae a. If you've heard of Tuvan throat singing, that's a big

  • part of what they're doing. And if you haven't, you should - it's really neat stuff.

  • Linguists measure this pitch to determine the height of whatever vowel you're saying.

  • Now let's compare i and u as in food. First focus on your lips. You'll notice that they

  • come together in a circle for u and are relatively relaxed with i. This is rounding. Just like

  • with consonant voicing where you had voiced/unvoiced pairs like d and t and z and s, each vowel

  • comes in rounded and unfounded forms, and on the IPA vowel chart, here, the rounded

  • vowels are on the right side of each line and unrounded on left, so i is on the left

  • side of this pair, and u is on the right.

  • Now start paying attention to your tongue and compare I and u. Go back and forth between

  • them for a couple of seconds. You should start to notice that the back of your tongue pulls

  • back around a centimeter for u and goes forward for i. You'll get the same effect with uh

  • and eh, although the tongue will move back a little less between those two. As you might

  • have guessed, this is vowel backness. U and uh are backed vowels, and I and eh are fronted

  • vowels. At this point, we have the vocabulary we need to talk about vowels and look at a

  • vowel chart for English.

  • Here are the vowels in the English dialects we're discussing. You'll notice that height

  • is arranged up and down, and backness left and right. Rounded vowels are written on the

  • right, and unrounded on the left. The backed vowels in most English dialects are

  • father, butt, put, food

  • U takes some practice to isolate, because it never occurs alone in English - there's

  • always a consonant after it. Like in book, look and foot. It's written a bit to the left

  • on the chart because it's not as far back as u, if you go U u U u, your tongue will

  • come forward on U.

  • The fronted vowels are: ae E ih i

  • cat, bed, sit, see. again you'll notice that your tongue retracts a bit on ih as in sit

  • because it's a slightly more backed vowel than i.

  • this sound is O, as in caught, law. it's a rounded vowel, and my dialect - californian

  • - doesn't have it at all. When I say caught, I use the same vowel as in father - the open

  • backed unrounded a, and I really have to force myself to make a difference between them it's

  • not natural at all to my mouth. Father - caught.

  • This symbol in the middle is called a schwa, and it's important to note that it's different

  • in every language. In English, It's the sound in about and a tree, the bushes, and it has

  • most of the same characteristics as uh, like sun.

  • The main difference is that sun is accented and clear about its three characteristics,

  • and schwa, as in about, is unaccented and a bit indistinct. It's not quite clear what

  • it is, really. Many languages have unaccented schwa vowels, and part of picking up a good

  • accent is figuring out their rough characteristics - in German, it's is somewhere between eh

  • and ih, Liebe, and French is pretty-much in the same place as deux, - le feu, for example.

  • Now American English has two schwas, actually - the normal one, and the R-colored one. You

  • can see there's a little squiggly R added to it - this is a diacritic, and it modifies

  • the vowel it's attached to. We've already seen a couple of these in the consonant section

  • - the velarizing diacritic - we used it in the voiced alveolar lateral consonant l, and

  • the devoicing diacritic, for the icelandic hnifur. So the R-colored or rhotic diacritic

  • just means that during the vowel, either the tip of your tongue goes up - RR- , or the

  • back of your tongue bunches up -RR-, or both. If the vowel is unaccented, then you use the

  • r-colored schwa - winter, runner. RP speakers don't have this sound, and say winter and

  • runner. If the vowel is accented, then you can't use a schwa anymore - part of the definition

  • of a schwa is that it's unaccented and unclear - and so in received pronunciation, we use

  • the only really central vowel in English - 3, as in turkey, and in america, we color this

  • vowel with R and get URkey. AR[ɑ˞ and OR ɔ˞ can exist, but since it happens at the

  • end of the vowel instead of all the way through (most people say start and not stRRRRt), it's

  • usually written like this or this [ɑɚ] or [ɑɹ].

  • There's another back open a vowel, and you'll notice from its placement on the right that

  • it must be rounded. This vowel doesn't exist in general american, but in received pronunciation,

  • you round on the word hot

  • There are only a few vowels left, and we'll get to them in a little bit.

  • This chart is arranged in a trapezoid for a clever reason, because if you think of it

  • as a side view of your mouth, with your lips on the left and your throat on the right,

  • then you can trace this trapezoid with the back of your tongue. Say i, and Imagine a

  • point right at the highest part of your tongue, here. If you say u i, that point will move

  • from here to here in your mouth. You can trace the sides of that trapezoid with I ae and

  • u a, and you can make a diagonal line between ae and a, since ae is not as open as a. If

  • you think about the directions you go when you do this, you can get a pretty good sense

  • of what's going on. You start with i and you go back, u, down, u a, forward, a ae, and

  • back up to i.

  • Many vowels in your target languages can be found by taking your vowels and modifying

  • just one of their characteristics, particularly rounding, since you either round or you don't,

  • for the most part. If you take i and round it, you get y, which you'll find in German

  • and French. If you take u and unround it, you'll get m, which shows up in many Asian

  • languages.

  • Now there's something important that's missing here. When you ask most people what the vowels

  • are in English, they'll typically say AEIOU. Now we have i; where are the others? And what

  • may be surprising for some of you (it was surprising to me when I learned it) is that

  • none of the others are single vowels at all - they're mostly two vowels, or diphthongs.

  • When you say "ay" as in say, you're combining two vowels - eh and Ih. In general, you spend

  • most of the time on the eh and glide up to ih right at the end. Learning to separate

  • these two sounds can be helpful, because the more single vowels, or monothongs you have,

  • the more versatile your tongue and ears will be when learning the vowels in a new language,

  • and you might as well take advantage of the vowels you already have in English.

  • If you learn to stop on the first vowel of EI as in SAY, you'll find a more closed e,

  • which brings you much closer to the /e/ vowel in, say, German in the word "seele". Now if

  • this is your first time hearing it, they might sound pretty similar. say, seele, but if I

  • pronounce the german word with an English diphthong, it might get easier to hear the

  • difference. sayle, seele, sayle seele. Learning to hear the two vowels in your diphthongs

  • can help out a lot in figuring out a new language's sounds.

  • Ju isn't exactly a diphthong, it's written like this in IPA and you're already familiar

  • with the palatal approximant j. This approximant is quite close to the vowel i, and The main

  • difference between ju and iu is that most of the time is spent on the u instead of the

  • i. So you say 'ju' instead of 'i'

  • The American diphthongs are day my boy no and now, and if you add combinations with

  • R, you get near, hair and tour.

  • RP has most of the same ones, but for O, RP switches the closed o for a schwa in "no",

  • and all of the R combinations - since they don't have R-colored shwas - use normal schwas

  • as well, so you get near, hair, tour.

  • Now there's one last thing that's pretty important, and it's something that makes vowels significantly

  • trickier than consonants to master

  • Here is another way of depicting the vowel chart - this one is a graph of the sound made

  • when pronouncing these vowels. It still forms a trapezoid, and when you graph it this way,

  • than you still get frontal vowels on the left, backed vowels on the right, open vowels on

  • the bottom and closed ones on top. There are two things I want to point out here: one,

  • take a look at the differences between the two graphs. On the left we have general American

  • and on the right received pronunciation. Look at these vowels. In American, this is eh as

  • in bed. In British, it's more closed, e as in bed. You can use graphs like this to adjust

  • your own vowels in the direction of the new vowels you're trying to learn. The other thing

  • to notice is the large circles around each vowel. Vowels don't land in an exact spot

  • on these charts, and if you'll notice, the British e even switches symbols to a closed

  • e. These are average locations for a vowel, and each of these symbols can only give you

  • a general idea about the character of a vowel. E in British, for example, is much more open

  • than the e in German seele, even if they use the same symbol. These symbols correspond

  • to regions or categories of vowels with a decent amount of wiggle room.

  • When you're learning vowels, you'll need to keep in mind that to get the exact character

  • of your target vowels, IPA isn't enough - you will need to listen to and mimic recordings.

  • the IPA is there to give you two things:

  • First, it gives you the general sense of the vowel in terms of its height, backness and

  • roundness, and second, to keep the vowels consistent within a language.

  • Every time you see i in English, it will be the same - seat, eat , feet, keep. Same thing

  • with bed - an American is going to say bed red said, and a Brit, depending on where he's

  • from, may say bed red said, but no one is going to be switching between them for different

  • words, bed red said. So a closed o in Italian o as in cosa rosa can be different than a

  • closed o in another language - German's closed o is Significantly more closed. Sohn. Rose.

  • But once you learn the Italian closed o, it's going to be exactly the same for every word

  • that uses that IPA symbol in Italian, so where that symbol is a little bit vague when it

  • comes to describing all languages, it means something very specific when it comes to describing

  • one language.

  • So, to quickly sum up the English vowels, in General American, you have: