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English Vowels. Contrasting elements. • • •

Vowels are determined by changes in position of the lips, tongue and palate. These changes can be very slight and difficult to detect. In English, vowels can also glide into (move quietly) one another to form diphthongs and even triphthongs.

/i: /

Approximate Castilian Production. Being a long vowel, it almost sounds like a diphthong in RP. It is long enough to be one, but it does not actually glide into another vowel sound. The lips are only slightly spread. It is found in the tonic Castillian /i/ accompanied by dental or palatal consonants. e.g. capilla, castillo, sí (emphatic), chino Quantity is a very important distinctive feature of this phoneme; to produce this vowel give approximately double duration to the approximate Castilian phoneme. b. Most important spellings that represent /i:/ see, feed, bee. read, be shield, field. scene [si:n], be, these. people key quay [ki:]

ee ea ie e eo ey ay

c. Minimal Pairs. / i: / in contrast to /i/ st

Phonetics. 1 Year. Julio Torrecillas Ramírez


read peach leap(saltar) seen feet sheep beach bean

rid pitch lip sin fit ship bitch bin

/i/ Approximate Castilian Production. When you say this vowel sound, the front of the tongue is raised towards the palate. The position of the whole tongue is relatively high in the mouth, making it a closed vowel. The lips are slightly spread. In the first stages of learning English, Spanish-speakers usually have difficulties in distinguishing / i / and / i: /, since both are varieties but don’t make any difference in meaning. We can find an approximate production when the Castilian /i/ is in unstressed position: e.g. Último, cursi, pitar. The Castilian vowel is more closed and tenser, nevertheless; as the /i / English /i / is more relaxed and lightly more centralized, some perceive it as / e /, especially in words like these: e.g. milk, fill, pin. Most important spellings that represent /i:/ i, y

rich, lady, body, milk, tin.

In unstressed position it can be represented by any vowel. -

Language [‘l ], wanted [‘w ntid]/[wa:ntid], Money [‘m n ], minute.[‘m t]

c. Minimal Pairs.


Phonetics. 1 Year. Julio Torrecillas Ramírez


sit bid rid will till fill built

Set bed red well tell fell belt


Approximate Castilian Production. The Castilian /e/ is usually more closed and tenser that the English equivalent. Nevertheless you can get a more open realization in the following cases: 1. when it is in contact with the vibrant / r /: cerro,reto. 2. followed by / x / (jota): 3. diphthong / ei /: b. Most important spellings that represent /e/ e ea a

bed, have, pen, sell. head, dead many, any.

/ĂŚ /

Approximate Castilian Production. It is the lowest front vowel of English. It is a short, lax, unrounded vowel, a little higher than the cardinal vowel [a]. In Castilian there is not a similar vowel, on the other hand it is in the speech of many valencianos. The most approximate sound can be found in syllables containing a palatal consonant. e.g. chanza, wide, plain, failure. A didactic resource to get an approach would be to pronounce the phoneme /e/ st

Phonetics. 1 Year. Julio Torrecillas RamĂ­rez


with a much bigger separation between the jaws. b. Most important spellings that represent a

mass, flash, match, lamp, hand.

c. Minimal Pairs. /æ / flash mass rack bad bag man pat

/e / flesh mess wrech bed beg men pet

/a: / Approximate Castilian Production. There is no similar vowel in Castilian; this vowel and / æ / and / / are a focus of confusion for beginners. Some Spanish people pronounce / g / as a guttural instead of velar, specially between vowels, this /a/ is similar to the English corresponding. • e.g. haga, traga, saga, ... The important aspect is to give double quantity, because it’s a long vowel. b. Most important spellings that represent It is normally spelt by the letter a followed by a silent r in syllable or word-final position: jar, carpet. It is often followed by a silent l in words like palm, calm, balm. Sometimes f or ff can follow: after, staff; or ss: pass, class, or s or n followed by another consonant: past, demand; or th in word-final position: path, bath or, exceptionally, other letters: aunt [a:nt], Berkeley [ba:klı], hearth [ha: ], father [fa: ], sergeant [sa:d nt]. a er,ear al au

ask, grass, car. clerk, heart half, calm. aunt, laugh

c. Minimal Pairs. / a: /


Phonetics. 1 Year. Julio Torrecillas Ramírez

/æ /


March lark bark carp Barn

match lack back cap ban

/ / Approximate Castilian Production. For the realization of / o / the articulation organs maintain very similar positions to those of / a: /, with the difference that the lips can be lightly widened for / o /. Another difference is the double duration of / a: / and their potion. e.g. Portal, cortar, cordial, loro. b. Most important spellings that represent o a au ou

not, box, dog. want, what, watch because cough

c. Minimal Pairs. /


/ /

cop shot lock strong mock long gone

cup shut luck strung muck lung gun

/ :/ For many English speakers in the opposition between / / and / / quantity is a fundamental feature. In these cases, the Castilian realizations are the same ones that those presented when speaking of / /.

Approximate Castilian Production. But it is evident that / st

Phonetics. 1 Year. Julio Torrecillas RamĂ­rez

/ it is a much more open vowel that the next Castilian 5

one, and nowadays more English people do not base the opposition on quantity but on other features, as, for example, rounding of the lips, almost null in / /. To many Spanish-speakers it sounds more proximate to /u/ than to /o /. b. - Most important spellings that represent / or oor ore aw oar ou our a

horse poor more saw board. bought four. all

c. Minimal Pairs.


/ :/

/ /

caught sport short stalk

cot spot shot stock


Approximate Castilian Production. Articulation: The tongue and jaw are raised as the back of the tongue is used to articulate this vowel. Hence it is a back, close (high) vowel. Approximate Castilian Production. The Spanish sound is produced at the back and it is more tenser. A similar sound can be heard when it is next to “r” and “l”: hurto, pulso, … b. Most important spellings that represent. o full put. oo book, look. ou could, should. o woman. / u: / st

Phonetics. 1 Year. Julio Torrecillas Ramírez


Production: This vowel is towards the back and is a close sound. The lips are only moderately rounded. Approximate Castilian Production: It is more closed and tenser than the Spanish “u” ( apart from being longer) b. Most important spellings that represent that represent / u: / oo ou o u

spoon, shoot, troop, boom. soup, route do June, flu. ew, ue, ui, oe jew, blue, suit, shoe

c. Minimal Pairs. / u: / fool Luke cooed shoed pool

/ / full Look could should pull

/ / Articulation:This is a central vowel, and one which is more open than mid-ranged. The lip position is a neutral one. Approximate Castilian Production: This phoneme together with /a:/ and / / is a focus of confusion for Spanish speakers who can assimilate it to an “a” sound. This sound seems to be more approximate to the Spanish “A” when it is accompanied by velar consonants: regate, coja, jaque, … b. Most important spellings that represent. u o ou oo

sun, run, fun. won, come, done. country, southern, young. blood, flood.

c. Minimal Pairs. æ


Phonetics. 1 Year. Julio Torrecillas Ramírez


cup but run some uncle much

cap bat ran Sam ankle match

/ /

/e /

money but won done

many bet when den

/ :/ - / :/ Approximate Castilian Production. o There is no similar sound in Spanish. o This is a central vowel. The lips are not rounded. o A didactic procedure would be to produce a Spanish “e” and, little by little, to approximate it to an “o”, not reaching it. b. Most important spellings that represent. ir er ear ur or our

first serve earth nurse word journey

c. Minimal Pairs.

/ :/

/e /

bird learned turn burn world

bed lend have Ben wed.

/ / Approximate Castilian Production. o The schwa is an unstressed central vowel and is the most common vowel to appear in English. 8 st Phonetics. 1 Year. Julio Torrecillas Ramírez

o There is no similar sound in Spanish. We tend to assimilate it to an unstressed “e” when it is not final (another- ' n ) o In final position we assimilate it to an “a”. (letter) Spellings. o It has no regular character to represent it. o Any vowel or group of vowels may, in unstressed position, represent / /. e.g. famous [feim s], woman [w m n], letter [let ], cupboard [k b d], should [ d] Minimal Pairs. As it never occurs in stressed position, there are no contrastive elements. On the other hand it is fundamental for the correct formation of rhythm in English.


Phonetics. 1 Year. Julio Torrecillas Ramírez


Vowels in English: a summary  

Summary of vowels in English

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