In the last lesson in our International Alphabet Tutorial, I mentioned that IPA consonant symbols in English are pretty simple. That’s because IPA symbols used to write consonants in most dialects of English are exactly the same as they are in “regular” writing.
The following symbols are completely self-explanatory: /p/, /b/, /t/, /d/, /k/, /g/, /m/, /n/, /f/, /v/, /s/, /z/, /h/, /l/. Simple, right?
But there are a few IPA symbols used in English which aren’t quite so cut and dried.
Unusual Consonant Symbols in English
So what are the consonant symbols used in English which are harder to read? They are:
/ɹ/ — This represents the standard (American & British) English “r.” You may wonder why the “r” is upside down. That’s because /r/ in IPA represents the “trilled r” you hear in Spanish, Italian and Russian. In most English accents, “r” is pronounced as an “approximant.” That means that the tongue is in about the same position as with the Spanish “r,” but doesn’t actually touch any part of the mouth.
/j/ — in IPA, /j/ represents the “y” in English “yes.” Please note that this symbol in IPA is NOT the “j” in words like “juice” or “just.”
/ʃ/ — this represents the “sh” sound in “shoot.”
/ʒ/ — this is the “voiced” version of /ʃ/. This can be heard in words like “leisure” and “measure.”
/ʧ/ — this is the sound heard in the word “chocolate.” You’ll notice that this is actually a combination of /t/ and /ʃ/.
/ʤ/ — the voiced version of /ʧ/. You can heard this sound in the words “judge” and “Jack.”
/θ/ — this is the sound you hear in the word “thing.”
/ð/ — this is the voiced version of /θ/. You can heard it in the words “this,” “the,” and “mother.”
The other IPA symbols for English are really easy. In fact, if you’re primarily interested in the IPA to learn English dialects, I wouldn’t worry too much about consonants until you have a more advanced understanding of English phonology and phonetics. Consonants vary a lot less in English than many other languages.
By the way, the reason I’m focusing so much on English sounds here is because I think the best way to learn IPA is to start with your own language. Hopefully one day there will be a similar tutorial for Spanish or Czech speakers!
A Quick Review
At this point, it’s okay if you’re not grapsing the difference between a fricative and an approximant. What’s most important is that you understand the following:
1.) The IPA is an alphabet used to write out sounds of human language.
2.) The IPA writes out vowels based on where the tongue is positioned making that vowel.
3.) These positions correspond to the position in the IPA vowel chart.
4.) The IPA’s consonants chart is based on the part of the vocal apparatus used to make consonants and the quality of the consonant (manner of articulation).
If you don’t grasp these points, feel free to go back and re-read any of these lessons. I’m sure you’ll get it!
Our next, and final lesson will deal with a few last minor points. On to Lesson Four!