Menu

Places of Articulation

Places of articulation

Understanding how to produce sounds of language can be a difficult endeavour.

But it turns out that by knowing about the Places and Manners of articulation, you get a much better grasp of how these sounds are produced.

Luckily for you, I've compiled a comprehensive and up-to-date list of all the places of articulation. I've even thrown in some examples in English and in other languages when there were none in English.

Bilabial

Bilabials are consonant sounds produced by using both lips together.

Bilabial consonants

Read this word out loud and notice how you're using both lips to pronounce the letters in bold: bump.

Advertisement

Labiodental

Labiodentals are also pretty straightforward; they are articulated by using both the lower lip and the upper front teeth.

Labiodental consonants

Examples of these sounds in English are pretty much in any word that contains the letters F and V.

Pronounce the word favor and notice the point of articulation.

Linguolabial

Linguolabials are articulated by using both the tongue and the upper lip.

Linguolabial consonants

There are very few known linguolabials in languages and I don't know any language which has any.

However, I can still show you how they can be produced. Let's try to pronounce the linguolabial consonant []:

1. Do as if you're about to say the letter p. You'll notice that both your lips will be joined together.

2. Now, replace your lower lip with the tip of your tongue.

3. Do the p this way.

The result should be the linguolabial [].

Pro Tip: If you're learning to speak a language that uses linguolabials a lot, get some lip moisturizer (saliva is known to cause chapped lips).

Dental

Some languages have dental consonants where only the tongue and the teeth are used.

Dental consonants

English has two dental sounds: [θ] and [ð].

These consonants are found, respectively, in the words thing and this.

Alveolar

The point of articulation of alveolar consonants is situated near the alveolar ridge, which is the area lying between the upper front teeth and the palate, as you can see in this picture:

Alveolar consonants

Pronounce words such as tow and zap and you'll feel that the point of contact is at the area shown on the picture.

Palato-Alveolar

Palato-alveolars occur slightly deeper in the mouth than alveolars:

Palato-alveolar consonants

There are at least two such sounds in Standard American English: [ʃ], present in a word like sheep, and [ʒ], found in a word like occasion.

I invite you to produce the alveolar [s] in the word sap and immediately follow it with the palato-alveolar [ʃ] in sheep.

You should be able to feel how far deeper palato-alveolars are compared to alveolars.

Retroflex

Retroflex consonants

The distinctive feature of some retroflex consonants is that, the tongue curls up slightly on itself when produced.

Some speakers of Standard American English actually use a retroflex consonant: the [ɻʷ]. It occurs in pretty much any word that starts with R followed by a vowel such a red and real.

You'll find that it's not too difficult to imagine other consonants where the tongue curls up like that.

In fact, if you've heard Apu in the Simpsons, you'll notice that his T's and D's are the retroflex [ʈ] and [ɖ].

Heck, here's a short clip of him from YouTube:

Alveolo-Palatal

This is where it gets trickier because it's becoming more and more difficult to feel areas in your mouth that are that deep and also because alveolo-palatals are not present in Standard American English, as far as I know.

The best way to show you this point of articulation is to invite you to pronounce a familiar sound like the sh in sheep and instead, to place the tongue slightly further away on the palate, which should cause you to produce a [ɕ].

See this image for the point of articulation:

Alveolo-palatal consonants

Courtesy of one of my Swedish friends who agreed to record her voice for me to use here. Here's an audio clip of herself pronouncing the word tjej in Swedish, which contains the alveolo-palatal consonant [ɕ], represented here by the letters tj :

As you can hear, it sounds almost the same as the sh sound we are familiar with in English.

Palatal

We are now getting to a depth in the mouth where portions like the back of the tongue are starting to be used to produce sounds.

Palatals are produced at this location:

Palatal consonants

The approximant [j], found in the word yet, is also a palatal. Notice that it is the back of the tongue that comes into near contact with the palate when pronouncing the Y in that word.

Velar

There are a few velars in English, so it should be pretty straightforward to learn what their point of articulation is.

The point of articulation is indicated here:

Velar consonants

With the Standard American English pronunciation, read out loud the word king, which has both the velars [k] and [ŋ] as both the first and last consonant sounds, respectively.

Uvular

A little deeper in the mouth, the uvula is found (the little thing that's dangling from the top in the back of the mouth), which is used for uvular consonants.

Here it is:

Uvular consonants

Sadly, there are none in Standard American English, but imagine that the tongue has to reach an area a little deeper than the ng in king.

So, again, the back of the tongue is used to reach that area.

Luckily for us, my native language, French, has the uvular sound [ʁ], which I can show you here in the word roux in French :

Pharyngeal and Epiglottal

We now proceed even deeper in the vocal tract and reach a point where only the root of the tongue reaches, at least in normal cases.

Pharyngeals and epiglottals are produced in the area delimited in red:

Pharyngeal and Epiglottal consonants

I'm not yet familiar with any language which has pharyngeal or epiglottals consonants, but it seems that several languages of the Afro-Asiatic family have them, such as dialects of Arabic.

These consonants are pronounced with either the pharynx or the epiglottis (depending on the consonant sound), which are literally in the throat.

Glottal

The glottis is even deeper than the pharynx and epiglottis in the throat. You can see where glottal consonants are produced here:

Glottal consonants

The glottis, as much as we might not realize it, is used for the h sound in English; [h].

Just pronounce the words happy and heat and notice how far down the throat these sounds come from.

Other glottal sounds found in other languages also come from this location.

We'll now proceed to the Intonation.