By Fasold R., Connor-Linton J.

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Recall that different objects have different characteristic patterns of vibration, depending on their size and shape (handbells vs. churchbells, for instance). What is true of bells is also true of enclosed bodies of air. Differently shaped bodies of air will tend to vibrate at different frequencies. Harmonics that are “in tune” with the characteristic frequencies of a particular vocal tract shape will be amplified, those that are not in tune will be reduced. The speaker controls the filter by moving the tongue and lips to different positions, amplifying some harmonics and blocking out others.

Nasal stops, approximants, and vowels (anything that’s not an obstruent) form a class of sounds called sonorants. They make audible sounds not by obstructing the airflow, but by letting the air resonate. Sonorant sounds are almost always voiced. The vibration of the vocal folds causes the air inside the vocal tract to vibrate. If the vibration is strong enough, it produces an audible sound, like the ringing of a bell. Different vocal tract shapes (which we control by moving the active articulators) produce different patterns of vibration, which we hear as different sounds (more on this below).

The r-sounds are called rhotics. The rhotic sounds of the languages of the world are quite varied, including quick taps of the tongue against the alveolar ridge, trills in which the tongue is set into vibration by air flowing over it, and the very odd shape of the American English [r], in which the body of the tongue is bunched up high and the tongue tip may be raised or curled backwards. ) Vowels are the most open manner of articulation. Different vowel sounds are made by moving the tongue body up or down, front or back, and by rounding or spreading the lips.

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