>Learning>Sounds>Vowel Diagram
Vowel Diagram
Last Post 04 Dec 2010 08:02 PM by Mandy. 6 Replies.
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VadimUser is Offline
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24 Nov 2010 06:04 AM
    Hello, Mandy!

    I'm trying to figure out how the Vowel Diagram could help to master vowels, diphthongs, and R-controlled vowels.
    It looks as if it could be useful for comparing different vowels, telling the difference between 'normal' sounds and similar sounds in the diphthongs, for example.

    Q1. What is your opinion: do you think the Vowel Diagram is a useful tool for students? Or is it rather for professional liguists only?

    Q2. What Vowel Diagram for AmEng would you recommend to use for reference?

    Q3. I found one here: http://www.yek.me.uk/gavgb.html , section 46.
    Do I understand it correct about diphthongs that Figure 1 shows the first sound in the diphthongs; Figures 3 and 5 show the second sound in the diphthongs?

    Q4. As the beginning of R-controlled sounds (like 'OR') may sound different than similar 'normal' sound, are there any Vowel Diagrams that show that?

    Q5. A quote from Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vowel_diagram
    "Vertical position on the diagram denotes the vowel closeness, with close vowels at the top of the diagram, and horizontal position denotes the vowel backness, with front vowels at the left of the diagram."
    Could you please give simple definitions of 'closeness' and 'backness'?
    Is 'closeness' about how low the jaw is?
    Is 'backness' about how distant the tongue is from the teeth?  

    Q6. Is 'Roundedness' a less important characteristic for AmEng sounds than 'closeness' and 'backness'.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roundedness


    Thank you very much!

    SupportUser is Offline
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    24 Nov 2010 01:34 PM
    Posted By Vadim on 24 Nov 2010 07:04 AM
    Could you please give simple definitions of 'closeness' and 'backness'?
    Is 'closeness' about how low the jaw is?
    Is 'backness' about how distant the tongue is from the teeth?  


    I have a question right back for you on this one, furthering a debate we've been having here at SLA for some time... we use a similar terminology in many of our materials, and I personally find it somewhat unclear (although from what you have uncovered, perhaps it is simply standard in the community). If you were to pick some terms that clearly indicated the qualities of "closeness" of the jaw or "backness" of the tongue in the mouth, what might they be? Have you seen terms in other materials that make more sense to you? I'm trying to marshal my arguments to convince Mandy to search for other terminology. :)

    Thanks!
    VadimUser is Offline
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    24 Nov 2010 10:19 PM
    Hello, Support!

    It was yesterday that I first have discovered to myself the existence of terms 'closeness' and 'backness', while reading an article in Wikipedia. :) However, I had met terms 'open'/'close', 'front'/back' as characteristics of the sounds before. I just had not known that the former falls into 'closeness' and the latter falls into 'backness'.

    Regarding how I would name 'closeness' and 'backness'... I am still not sure that I understand completely correctly what stands behind them, but I will try. :)

    'Closeness': Term 'Height' might make more sense to me -- the height of tongue in the mouth, the height of opened mouth. This term is used in another article in Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vowel_...ght#Height
    But then you would have to replace 'open'/'close' with something like 'low'/'high'.
    It makes more effort to me to make 'open'  sounds, so chosing between 'closeness' and 'openness', I would chose 'Openness'. :)

    'Backness': I was thinking of something deriving from 'depth', 'reach', 'front', but 'backness' still sounds better. :)


    P.S. I thought that 'sound height' may be a littlte confusing for Russian students. 'Height' and 'Pitch' are both translated as 'высота'. So it may be taken as 'sound pitch'.)
    SupportUser is Offline
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    27 Nov 2010 08:11 PM
    Okay, thanks, Vadim. I think height sounds good, myself. We'll see what Mandy has to say about it!
    MandyUser is Offline
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    01 Dec 2010 03:02 PM
    Hi Vadie,

    As usual, your questions sent me deep into my reference books with the thought, "I've read about this somewhere before!

    A1. I think the vowel diagram can be useful for students, if students really understand what it represents. Like many aspects of language, old terminology gets entrenched, even when it is discovered to not be adequate anymore. I'll explain more throughout the next answers.

    A2. I very much like that this page shows a different diagram for American English and British English. The problem with vowel diagrams is stated in the first sentence of section 46:

    The following diagrams are highly simplified and stylised representations...


    Another problem is listed in Answer 5 below.

    A3. I think you're reading it right, in general, although figure 1 does not  include the beginning sound for the diphthongs shown in Figure 5. I'm not sure why that is.

    A4. I  wouldn't be surprised if someone has created a diagram like that, although I've never seen one. Few teachers seem to want to recognize that they may be different sounds, possibly due to over-reliance on these kinds of vowel diagrams. Linguists do a better job of that, since they do not have the added responsibility of then trying to simplify it again to describe to non-native speakers. Of course, linguists usually have a deeper understanding of the topic as well.

    A5.  Actually, there is a reason that I do not usually use those words to describe sound qualities.  Here is what Ladefoged has to say:

    Remember that the labels high-low and front-back should not be taken as descriptions of tongue positions....

    Students of phonetics often ask why we use terms like high, low, back and front if we are simply labeling auditory qualities and not describing tongue positions.  The answer is that it is largely a matter of tradition.  For many years phoneticians though they were describing tongue positions when they used these terms to specify vowel quality.  But there is only a rough correspondence between the traditional descriptions in terms of tongue positions and the actual auditory qualities of vowels.


    So, I do describe tongue position, because it is broadly relevant and sometimes even critical to the formation of a particular sound.  But I don't describe the sound itself on that basis (despite what Support has to say about it; I think they need to learn some close-reading techniques over there!) because it's just not consistent enough between how the sound is described in auditory terms and the actual tongue positions used.  When you're looking at those diagrams, you shouldn't try to correlate them too much with what your tongue is doing... they simply indicate the relationship of the auditory qualities of the sounds between one another.

    For instance, on the diagram, it shows that /i/ and /u/ are both high vowels, and it shows them at the same height on the chart. However, in actuality, /i/ is produced with a much higher tongue position than /u/. The sound of /u/ is "higher" than /ɔ/ because they are relative to one another in terms of "front" and "back. So, /u/ is in the top back corner because it is the highest of the back vowels, not because it is equal in tongue height with /i/.

    When I am describing how to create a sound, I try to relate the sound to how high a certain part of the tongue is in relationship to something else (how close the front of the tongue is to tooth ridge or how close the back of the tongue to the soft palate in the back of the mouth). The vowel charts can help give ideas of what the tongue is doing, but they cannot be taken as true descriptions.

    Also
    P.S. I thought that 'sound height' may be a littlte confusing for Russian students. 'Height' and 'Pitch' are both translated as 'высота'. So it may be taken as 'sound pitch'.)


    "Height" in the vowel diagrams, Ladefoged says, is also referring to pitch, although it is the pitch of one sound relative to another, and not pitch as we describe regarding intonation. This, of course, only makes it all even more confusing.

    Does that make any sense?

    Have I ever told you that you ask VERY complex questions?  ;)

    Cheers,
    Mandy
    VadimUser is Offline
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    02 Dec 2010 10:31 PM
    Mandy, thanks a lot for the explanation!
    Everything about the vowel diagram happened to be not that simple as I had thought it would have...
    MandyUser is Offline
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    04 Dec 2010 08:02 PM
    I couldn't agree more!
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