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Why vowels are so important

by Avichal
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Avichal
#1
Aug15-13, 01:25 PM
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I have couple of questions regarding human speech
1) Whatever sound we make, there is always sound of a vowel. Why is that?
2) A bit unrelated but still - We can produce a limited number of sounds or phoneme. And each language tries to get a symbol for it. Why some languages choose to have multiple characters for a sound. In English, we have 'ch' for the sound of it and not one particular symbol. Why didn't it have symbols for the sound of ch, sh etc.

Thank You!
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phinds
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Aug15-13, 01:35 PM
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Quote Quote by Avichal View Post
1) Whatever sound we make, there is always sound of a vowel. Why is that?
Because otherwise it would just sound like we were doing nothing but hissing, spitting, and choking.
Avichal
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Aug15-13, 01:45 PM
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Quote Quote by phinds View Post
Because otherwise it would just sound like we were doing nothing but hissing, spitting, and choking.
Okay, but why some sounds create hissing, spitting and choking and others don't?

SteamKing
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Aug15-13, 01:58 PM
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Why vowels are so important

In the case of English and many other languages, the alphabet was borrowed. In western Europe, the alphabet which was borrowed was the Latin alphabet, and Latin did not have some of the sounds which were common in other languages, like 'ch' in 'which' or 'sh' in 'ship'. In eastern Europe, the Cyrillic alphabet, a late developing alphabet which combined symbols from the Greek and Latin alphabets, as well as introducing some completely new letters, was used to write several languages like Russian and some of the Balkan languages.

Before printing became common, spelling was not fixed in the same language, and the same language could have many different dialects. After printing was introduced, it became desirable to standardize spelling so that a single edition of a printed work could be read over an entire realm. For languages like English, after printing was introduced and spelling became more or less standardized, sometimes there was a shift in pronunciation of the language, for whatever reason, and this led to a divergence in how a newer sound came to be represented sometimes by several different combinations of letters.
Avichal
#5
Aug15-13, 02:09 PM
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Quote Quote by SteamKing View Post
In the case of English and many other languages, the alphabet was borrowed. In western Europe, the alphabet which was borrowed was the Latin alphabet, and Latin did not have some of the sounds which were common in other languages, like 'ch' in 'which' or 'sh' in 'ship'. In eastern Europe, the Cyrillic alphabet, a late developing alphabet which combined symbols from the Greek and Latin alphabets, as well as introducing some completely new letters, was used to write several languages like Russian and some of the Balkan languages.

Before printing became common, spelling was not fixed in the same language, and the same language could have many different dialects. After printing was introduced, it became desirable to standardize spelling so that a single edition of a printed work could be read over an entire realm. For languages like English, after printing was introduced and spelling became more or less standardized, sometimes there was a shift in pronunciation of the language, for whatever reason, and this led to a divergence in how a newer sound came to be represented sometimes by several different combinations of letters.
Thanks for the information.

As for why vowels are necessary, I found the answer of Wikipedia (should have checked that first).
Vowel is a sound in spoken language, such as an English ah! [ɑː] or oh! [oʊ], pronounced with an open vocal tract so that there is no build-up of air pressure at any point above the glottis
This is why sound of a vowel is always present.

Thank You guys.
HallsofIvy
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Aug15-13, 05:11 PM
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Yep. You get too much "build up of air pressure" and your head explodes!
atyy
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Aug15-13, 10:52 PM
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You can also look up the distinction between the voice and unvoiced consonants. In English both are used - for example "b" and "p". Both are produced with the tongue in the same position, but "b" is voiced while "p" isn't.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/worldservice/le...tures/voicing/
jim mcnamara
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Aug16-13, 06:36 AM
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Humans make a variety of vocalizations - the basis of all human speech is a phoneme, the building block basic sounds we string together to make words. The last time I knew anything about this there were 126 categorized phonemes.

In writing, a phoneme is usually represented by single glyph in an alphabet. In Middle Egyptian the hieratic glyph for bread, transliterated into English: "met", means: "bread", "loaf of bread" and some other variants. It is also used to represent the sound that the letter "m" stands for in English.

There is a phoneme called a glottal stop. For native European English speakers primarily, this sound is represented by what would be called a diglyph: "gg" - jogging, begging. The kind of gargle/stop thing/sound generated as those words are pronounced. Middle Egyptian has triglyphs. Most of which are words, one of which is part of the cartouche for Alexander the Great. The "x" sound did not exist, so scribes made up a triglyph for it. Phonetically: lek-sand - "aleksandrees".

Humans are hard-wired (meaning the normal human will do this) to acquire or create speech. Example: There is a phenomenon known as twin speech. When twins are left alone frequently as small children, they spontaneously create a series of sounds which they and only they recognize as a language.

Here is a discussion of formants, a way of categorizing those sounds humans make:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Formant

And, as sort of a counterexample to your question, vowel sounds in languages occur to varying degrees. Xosa (Xhosa) the Bantu "click" language has relatively few vowel sounds per word, Inupiat and Navajo have more frequent and prolonged vowel sounds. Which, with intonation, make those words which are assembled from the identical order of phonemes have completely different meaning.
marcus
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Aug16-13, 02:48 PM
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Quote Quote by Avichal View Post
I have couple of questions regarding human speech
1) Whatever sound we make, there is always sound of a vowel. Why is that?
Nice thread! Lots of good information here about human speech and about writing systems, phonetics etc.

But I have a problem with your question. We make hissing sounds that do NOT involve vowels, I think.
When you want someone to be quiet you can say
"shhhhh"

When you pretend to be a snake hissing you can say
"sssss"

With lips closed you can also make the humming sound
"mmmmm"

there is a problem about what a vowel IS. Normally people say the vowels are AEIOU
but I think that R can also be a vowel.
You can pretend to be an automobile or other vehicle and say "rrrrrrrr"
This can be pronounced with open vocal tract, without the build-up of pressure in the throat, like the other vowels. Try it.
So it is a vowel according to the Wikipedia definition given in your earlier post.
SteamKing
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Aug16-13, 05:07 PM
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Quote Quote by marcus View Post
Nice thread! Lots of good information here about human speech and about writing systems, phonetics etc.

But I have a problem with your question. We make hissing sounds that do NOT involve vowels, I think.
When you want someone to be quiet you can say
"shhhhh"

When you pretend to be a snake hissing you can say
"sssss"

With lips closed you can also make the humming sound
"mmmmm"

there is a problem about what a vowel IS. Normally people say the vowels are AEIOU
but I think that R can also be a vowel.
You can pretend to be an automobile or other vehicle and say "rrrrrrrr"
This can be pronounced with open vocal tract, without the build-up of pressure in the throat, like the other vowels. Try it.
So it is a vowel according to the Wikipedia definition given in your earlier post.
How do you know you are not saying 'errrr' instead of 'arrrr', 'irrrr', 'orrrr' or 'urrrr'?
SteamKing
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Aug16-13, 05:08 PM
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The old saw about vowels was 'A, E, I, O, U, and sometimes Y', not 'A, E, I, O, U, and sometimes R'.
atyy
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Aug16-13, 05:37 PM
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A rough measurement for whether a sound is voiced or not is to put your fingers on your throat and feel if your vocal cords vibrating - try the difference between "b" and "p".
jim mcnamara
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Aug16-13, 06:52 PM
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One problem here is people posting are using English. Perfectly good language. Phonology of English is complex. And it has relatively few phonemes. There are other languages, both simpler and more complex, sound-wise.

English:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/English_phonology - note: there are different extant schemas for classifying phonemes. This entry defines vowels versus consonants. To clear that up.

A given "vowel" glyph is always a given vowel sound in English -- Note: this assumption is not valid. Long eee versus short e. Example: Pronunciation of the verb "be" versus the flower loving bee. Same gylph.

Even with a common lexicon, Australian English has more vowel sounds than does North American English.

Vowels are not a static "thing", they are a big part of what we perceive as an "accent" - English as spoken in New Dehli versus Smalltown Texas. Native Hindi speakers who learn English often have a stacatto speech pattern, with truncated leading vowel sounds and contractions of phrases. Contrast that with Smalltown TX where vowel sounds are extended - "fire": "fyurr" becomes "faarr". Phonetic spelling is not my specialty as you can see.
marcus
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Aug16-13, 08:23 PM
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Quote Quote by SteamKing View Post
How do you know you are not saying 'errrr' instead of 'arrrr', 'irrrr', 'orrrr' or 'urrrr'?
Those are diphthongs. I can say "rrrrrr" alone with no other vowel preceding it, or I can put another vowell before it like eh, ah, uh etc.
It's pretty easy if you aren't hampered by some preconceptions and if you think about the criterion given in that Wikipedia article.
SteamKing
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Aug16-13, 09:07 PM
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Quote Quote by marcus View Post
Those are diphthongs. I can say "rrrrrr" alone with no other vowel preceding it, or I can put another vowell before it like eh, ah, uh etc.
It's pretty easy if you aren't hampered by some preconceptions and if you think about the criterion given in that Wikipedia article.
You may think you are saying only 'rrrrr' with no vowel attached, but I disagree.

To my reading of the article on Formants, it seems that it is more concerned with the harmonics and the resonant nature of various sounds, not a way of determining what a vowel is.

AFAIK, there is no authoritative reference on the English language which agrees with your claim that R is a vowel.
marcus
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Aug16-13, 11:21 PM
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Check this out:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/R-colored_vowel

I was thinking of the R-colored SCHWA

But it turns out that there are three main languages which have R-colored vowels (not consonants, actual vowels). The languages are American English, Quebec French, and some Chinese dialect(s).

And in American English the article distinguishes FOUR of these R-colored vowels. I tried it out earlier (before reading the article) and could only hear one. they all sounded like the R-colored schwa to me.

It is a steady vocalization with tip of tongue curled up and back of tongue bunched (as described in article) and I would spell it "rrrrr" but the article writes that as a SCHWA WITH A HOOK ON IT. And distinguishes three other similar vowels (which I would call just dipthong variants, the rrrr combined with other beginnings) I can't hear the difference if you just listen to the final steady part of the diphthong.

Anyway that's what I found immediately on google about the R-type vowel or vowels. It is not something I think needs debating A lot of this type of thing is just semantics, terminology, what books or phonetics sources a person happens to have read, etc etc.

When I (inexpertly) speak regular French, Italian, German then I recognize the R as definitely a CONSONANT, NOT A COLORED SCHWA! And I pronounce it as a consonant (differently in each of those languages). I think it might also be (as Wiki suggests) a consonant in ENGLISH English. American English they say is the exception. So you, SteamKing, could be quite correct if you are hearing English English in your head or reading books where English English is the paradigm. I just don't know enough about that to say.

Have a look at the wiki article and see what you think, though.
atyy
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Aug17-13, 12:29 PM
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Quote Quote by marcus View Post
Check this out:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/R-colored_vowel

I was thinking of the R-colored SCHWA

But it turns out that there are three main languages which have R-colored vowels (not consonants, actual vowels). The languages are American English, Quebec French, and some Chinese dialect(s).

And in American English the article distinguishes FOUR of these R-colored vowels. I tried it out earlier (before reading the article) and could only hear one. they all sounded like the R-colored schwa to me.

It is a steady vocalization with tip of tongue curled up and back of tongue bunched (as described in article) and I would spell it "rrrrr" but the article writes that as a SCHWA WITH A HOOK ON IT. And distinguishes three other similar vowels (which I would call just dipthong variants, the rrrr combined with other beginnings) I can't hear the difference if you just listen to the final steady part of the diphthong.

Anyway that's what I found immediately on google about the R-type vowel or vowels. It is not something I think needs debating A lot of this type of thing is just semantics, terminology, what books or phonetics sources a person happens to have read, etc etc.

When I (inexpertly) speak regular French, Italian, German then I recognize the R as definitely a CONSONANT, NOT A COLORED SCHWA! And I pronounce it as a consonant (differently in each of those languages). I think it might also be (as Wiki suggests) a consonant in ENGLISH English. American English they say is the exception. So you, SteamKing, could be quite correct if you are hearing English English in your head or reading books where English English is the paradigm. I just don't know enough about that to say.

Have a look at the wiki article and see what you think, though.
Is that what this guy is talking about? http://adventuresinchinese.wordpress...eijing-accent/ "The Beijing accent, as is consistent with native Beijingers, heavily employs the “er” sound at the end of words which wouldn’t normally make use of them."

There's actually a character for the sound http://www.chinese-tools.com/learn/c...ter/20799.html but I don't know if they are putting the character in, or just putting the sound in (ie. I don't know how they'd transcribe the speech).
atyy
#18
Aug17-13, 12:38 PM
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Here's a question: are there vowels in whispering? Whispering is usually considered largely unvoiced, yet I think I "hear" vowels in whispered speech. What's going on?

http://web.fu-berlin.de/behavioral-b...ced_speech.pdf gives spectrograms of normal and whispered words, and you can see the difference.

I don't think I've heard whispered singing though - it seems impossible?


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