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IV.— Pure Consonants.


To pronounce the English word pay, the closed lips are burst open by air from the lungs. The front of the air current is silent, that is to say it is unaccompanied by vibration of the vocal chords, but just as the lips are burst apart, the vocal chords are drawn into vibration, and the vowel é follows. In pronouncing the word ape, we begin with a pure vowel sound : then the vocal cords are relaxed, changing the voice to breath ; but just at that moment the lips are closed and again burst open by a slight puff of breath.

In pronouncing the word bay the lips are also burst open by air from the lungs. This time, however, the front of the air current sets the vocal chords vibrating, so that it is voice and not silent breath that first bursts through the lips. Similarly in the case of final b, as in the word babe ; the lips close down upon the column of air, while the vocal chords are yet in vibration.

In pronouncing the word may, the lips are closed at first, just as for pay and bay. The current of air starting from the lungs sets the vocal chords in vibration, and finds a partial escape through the nostrils. It presses against the lips, however, for an adequate outlet ; they are parted, and the vowel sound follows. The hum through the nose, that precedes the sound of m, is a sort of imperfect vowel sound, and may, like a vowel, be continued indefinitely.

It will be noticed that m, like b, is concerned with voice only. In other words, m is the natural result of trying to pronounce b with the nasal passages open. If, however, a current of silent air, which is allowed this partial escape by the nose, burst open the lips, and just at that moment changes jnto voice, we have a breath form of m. This sound bears the same relation to p that m does to b. It does not exist in English, but is heard in Irish words beginning with sm, when the s is aspirated : e.g., moshmig. Most speakers do not aspirate in such cases.

The four consonant sounds that we have considered are called labials, because they are produced by a burst of air through the lips. The burst may be breath or voice, and each may or may not have nasal escape. In the case of breath, there must, of course, be always that immediate transition into voice , which when heard alone gives the aspirate or h sound. But, not at the lips alone can the exit of air through the mouth be completely stopped. And for each place, where the air can be so stopped, we have four sounds precisely analogous to the four labials described above. It will be well to remember this while examining the five sets of consonants that are produced by five different stoppages between the tongue and the palate.




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Irish phonetics - Rev. M. O'Flanagan - 1904