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Stops

In phonetics, we learn how to identify and categorize human speech sounds. Speech sounds can be split into vowels and consonants, the latter of which are described by their place of articulation, manner of articulation, and voicing. 

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In phonetics, we learn how to identify and categorize human speech sounds. Speech sounds can be split into vowels and consonants, the latter of which are described by their place of articulation, manner of articulation, and voicing.

Place of articulation refers to where a sound is produced in the mouth.

Manner of articulation refers to how a sound is articulated (i.e., how air is released through the oral or nasal cavity).

Voicing refers to if a speech sound is voiced (creates a vibration in the vocal cords) or voiceless (does not create a vibration).

There are eight different manners of articulation when producing speech sounds. Some of these can be referred to as stops, which we'll be looking at today.

Stops Meaning in Phonetics

In phonetics, a stop is a sound that is produced when there is a complete obstruction to the airflow in the oral cavity. The stop sound is then produced when the air is allowed to pass through either the oral cavity or the nasal cavity.

The oral cavity refers to the area inside the mouth where air passes through.

The nasal cavity refers to the space inside the nose from the nostrils down to the throat.

Stops Oral and nasal cavity StudySmarterFig. 1. The oral cavity is the area inside the mouth (the lips to the back of the throat), and the nasal cavity is the area from the nostrils to the throat.

Stops can be either voiced or voiceless and oral or nasal (we'll get onto these later).

The term stop can get confused with the term plosive. Although these terms have similar meanings, they're not interchangeable terms.

A stop is created when there is a complete obstruction in the oral cavity, causing a build-up of air.

A plosive is a consonant sound produced when the air is released through the oral cavity after a stop.

So, all plosives are stops, but not all stops create plosive consonants.

Like most consonant sounds, plosives can be either voiced or voiceless (we'll come to what this means later on). You might find that the term voiceless stop is used to refer to

voiceless plosives, or that the two terms are used interchangeably.

Identifying Stop Sounds

You can tell if a speech sound is a stop by putting your hand in front of your mouth while making the sound.

For example, hold your hand in front of your mouth while you say elongated "f" and "m" sounds.

When we refer to the elongated forms of these sounds, we mean in words such as wife and monkey, respectively (as opposed to in whiff and whim).

When you're doing this, you should be able to feel your breath on your hand when saying the "f" sound, but not when saying the long "m" sound.

If you are releasing air through your mouth while making a sound, then you're not creating a stop sound.

Consonant Stop Sounds

Although speech sounds can be split into consonants and vowels, stop sounds can only be consonants.

Vowel sounds can only be produced when air is being released through the oral tract, so none of them can be produced as stops.

There are 15 possible stop speech sounds:

/p/, /b/, /t/, /d/, /ʈ/, /ɖ/, /c/, /ɟ/, /k/, /g/, /q/, /G/, /ʔ/, /m/, /ɱ/, /n/, /ɳ/, /ɲ/, /ŋ/, /ɴ/

These are all of the possible stop sounds in the world's languages.

Stops Consonants StudySmarterFig. 2. All of the plosive consonants are types of stop sounds.

Let's now have a look at the stop sounds used in the English language.

Oral Stops vs. Nasal Stops

Consonant stop sounds used in the English language can be split into either oral or nasal sounds.

These are the stop sounds used in English: /p/, /b/, /t/, /d/, /k/, /g/, /ʔ/, /m/, /n/, /ŋ/

Can you identify which are oral sounds and which are nasal sounds?

Oral Stops in English

How do you identify an oral stop sound?

Oral stops are stop sounds produced when airflow is completely obstructed and then released through the oral tract.

Here are the oral stop sounds in English:

  • /p/ - voiceless bilabial plosive

  • /b/ - voiced bilabial plosive

  • /t/ - voiceless alveolar plosive

  • /d/ - voiced alveolar plosive

  • /k/ - voiceless velar plosive

  • /g/ - voiced velar plosive

  • /ʔ/ - voiceless glottal plosive

These are all plosive sounds and are used in words such as:

  • pop - /pɒp/

  • bib - /bɪb/

  • target - /tɑ:gət/

  • deed - /di:d/

  • kite - /kaɪt/

  • bag - /bæg/

  • bottle - /bɒʔəl/

The first six of these examples are all transcribed into Standard English. The last example uses a glottal stop in place of the /t/ sound - the glottal stop isn't used in Standard English but is used in regional accents such as Cockney and Yorkshire.

The Voiceless Glottal Plosive

The voiceless glottal plosive can also be referred to as a glottal stop and is represented by this symbol /ʔ/. This speech sound is most often used in the place of /t/, when /t/ is in the middle or at the end of a word.

For example, words like little and what may be spoken as /lɪʔl/ (lɪtl/) and /wɒʔ/ (/wɒt/).

The glottal stop doesn't appear in Standard English; however, it is often used in regional accents and dialects such as Yorkshire, Cockney, and Geordie.

Nasal Stops in English

The nasal stop sounds in English are most often found when m or n appear at the beginning of a word before the mouth opens.

Nasal sounds are stop sounds that are created when there is a complete obstruction to the airflow in the oral cavity. Unlike other stops, nasal speech sounds are created when an obstruction in the oral cavity remains. The sound is produced when air is released through the nasal cavity.

Nasal stops can also appear in the middle or at the end of words; however, these tend to be shorter sounds.

You can make nasal stop sounds when humming.

The nasal stop sounds used in English are:

  • /m/ voiced bilabial nasal

  • /n/ voiced labiodental nasal

  • /ŋ/ voiced velar nasal

Some examples of words or phrases that use nasal stops are:

  • mmm yummy - /m: jʌmi/
  • mum - /mʌm/
  • noon - /nu:n/
  • might - /maɪt/
  • mine - /maɪn/

Stops humming StudySmarterFig. 3. When you're humming, you're most likely producing a voiced bilabial nasal sound (/m/), which is a nasal plosive.

Voiced vs. Voiceless Stops

As with any other consonant speech sounds, stops can be split into either voiced or voiceless sounds.

Voiced Stops

Let's start with voiced stops.

Voiced refers to speech sounds that are produced when the vocal cords are vibrating.

You can tell if a speech sound is voiced by placing your fingers on your throat while making a speech sound. If you can feel vibrations, it's a voiced sound.

The voiced stop sounds are:

  • /b/ as in Bob

  • /d/ as in dad

  • /g/ as in gig

  • /m/ as in mum

  • /n/ as in nan

Voiceless Stops

So, what are voiceless stops?

Voiceless refers to a speech sound that is created without the vocal cords vibrating.

Some speech sounds are always voiceless (such as /s/, /f/, and /ʃ/), but some are usually voiced and can sometimes be produced in a voiceless manner.

Think about whispering - you should notice that, when whispering, sounds that are usually voiced become voiceless.

Stops whispering StudySmarterFig. 4. If you're whispering, you'll be producing voiceless sounds.

The voiceless stop sounds in English are:

  • /p/ as in pip

  • /t/ as in tat

  • /k/ as in kick

  • /ʔ/ as in /wɒʔ/ when the /t/ of what is swapped with a glottal stop

These stop sounds fall into the group of speech sounds that are always voiceless - they are produced in the same manner both when speaking 'normally' and when whispering. You may notice here that there are no nasal stop sounds listed. As nasal stops are voiced sounds, the term voiceless stop may be used to refer to voiceless plosive stops.

Stops - Key takeaways

  • A stop sound is produced when there is a complete obstruction of airflow in the vocal tract.
  • Only consonants can be stops, as vowels require unobstructed airflow.
  • Stop sounds can be either oral or nasal.
  • The oral stops used in English are /p/, /b/, /t/, /d/, /g/, /k/, and /ʔ/.
    • These are all plosive sounds.
  • The nasal stops used in English are /m/ and /n/.

References

  1. Fig. 2. Users Nickshanks, Grendelkhan, Nohat on en.wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Frequently Asked Questions about Stops

Stops are speech sounds produced when there is a complete obstruction to the airflow in the vocal tract.

In English, there are 10 stop sounds - 7 oral stops and 3 nasal stops. These are: /p/, /b/, /t/, /d/, /k/, /g/, /ʔ/, /m/, /n/ and /ŋ/.

Stop consonants are consonant sounds produced when there is an obstruction of airflow in the vocal tract. Some examples of stop consonants are /b/, /t/, /m/, and /n/.

Yes, there are voiced stops in the English language. These are /b/, /d/, /g/, /m/, /n/ and /ŋ/.

Stop sounds are produced when there is an obstruction to airflow in the oral cavity. Oral stops are created when the air is then released through the oral cavity. Nasal stops are created when the air is released through the nasal cavity.

Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

What type of speech sound does place of articulation, manner of articulation, and voicing refer to?

What is the name of the area between the nostrils and the throat?

True or false: Stops can only be produced when air is released through the nasal cavity.

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