English fricatives

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Production of fricatives

Fricatives are consonants with the characteristic that when they are produced, air escapes through a small passage and makes a hissing sound. Fricatives are continuant consonants, which means that you can continue making them without interruption as long as you have enough air in your lungs. (Plosives, are not continuants.)

The fricatives of EnglishEnglish has quite a complex system of fricative phonemes. They can be seen in the table below:


labiodental dental alveolar palato-alveolar glottal
("voice- f ð s ʃ

("voiced") v d z ʒ h

With the exception of glotal, each place of articulation has a pair of phonemes, one fortisand one lenis. The fortis fricatives are said to be articulated with greater force than the lenis, and their friction noise is louder. The lenis fricatives have very little or no voicing in initial and final positions, but may be voiced when they occur between voiced sounds. The fortis fricatives have the effect of shortening a preceding vowel, as do fortis plosives. Thus in a pair of words likeice and eyes aɪs aɪz, the aɪ diphthong in the first word is considerably shorter than in the second. Since there is only one fricative with glottal place of articulation, the fortis-lenis distinction does not apply in that case. It would be rather misleading to call it fortis or lenis.
We will now look at the fricatives separately, according to their place of articulation.
f, v (examplewords: 'fan', 'van'; 'safer, 'saver'; 'half, 'halve') fæn væn ˈseɪfə ˈseɪvə hɑːf hɑːv

These are labiodental, that is, the lower lip is in contact with the upper teeth. The fricative noise is never very strong and is scarcely audible in the case of v.
θ,ð (example words: 'thumb', 'thus'; 'ether', 'father'; 'breath',
'breathe') θʌm ðʌs ˈiːθə ˈfɑːðə breθ briːð


Labiodentalfricative b Dental fricative

The dental fricatives have sometimes been described as if the tongue was actually placed between the teeth, and it is common for teachers to make their students do this when they are trying to teach them to make this sound. In fact, however, the tongue is normally placed inside the teeth, with the tip touching the inside of the lower front teeth and the blade touchingthe inside of the upper teeth. The air escapes through the gaps between the tongue and the teeth. As with f and v, the fricative noise is weak.

s , z (example words: 'sip, 'zip; 'facing', 'phasing'; 'rice', 'rise') sɪp zɪp ˈfeɪsɪŋ ˈfeɪzɪŋ raɪs raɪz

These are alveolar fricatives, with the same place of articulation as t and d. The air escapes through a narrow passage along the centre ofthe tongue, and the sound produced is comparatively intense. The tongue position is shown in the figure.

ʃ , ʒ (example words: 'ship' ʃɪp (initial ʃ is very rare in English); 'Russia', 'measure'; 'Irish', 'garage') ˈrʌʃə ˈmeʒə ˈaɪrɪʃ ˈɡærɑːʒ

These fricatives are called palato-alveolar, which can be taken to mean that their place of articulation is partly palatal, partly alveolar. The tongueis in contact with an area slightly further back than that for s, z. If you make s, then ʃ , you should be able to feel your tongue move backwards.


The air escapes through a passage along the centre of the tongue, as in S and Z, but the passage is a little wider. Most speakers of RP have rounded lips for ʃ and ʒ , and this is an important difference between these consonants and sand z.

ʃ is a common and widely-distributed phoneme, but ʒ is not. All the fricatives described so far can be found in initial, medial and final positions, as shown in the example words. In the case of ʒ , however, the distribution is much more limited. Very few English words begin with ʒ (most of them have come into the language comparatively recently from French) and not many end with this...
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