What is the difference between a vowel and a consonant – quora electricity and magnetism online games


Technically it is defined as, “a sound for whose production the oral passage is unobstructed, so that the air can flow from the lungs to the lips and beyond without being stopped, without having to squeeze through narrow constriction, which would cause audible friction.”

Most amazingly, though there are twenty six letters in English language, the number of phonemes is forty four; twenty vowel phonemes and twenty four consonant phonemes. And, that is why the spelling and pronunciation of the words occasionally match in English; because, the letters of the word do not represent the phonemes in all cases.

Every language has vowel sounds, they are different in number for every language;English language is no exception. In English, out of twenty six alphabets a, e, i, o, and u ( five alphabets) are classified as vowels. But, very interestingly when we speak we produce various kinds of vowel sounds knowingly or unknowingly. For example, the letter ‘a’ is pronounced ‘cat’ ( the sound of /æ/), but the letter a is pronounced in ‘came’ ( p.t of come) as /ei/ , and a in ‘calve’ (to give birth of a calf ) is /α:/, or a similar word ‘calves’ (pl. of calf). In the same way we pronounce the letter i in the word ‘pig’ as /i/ and for many words we see this form is followed, but in the case of the word ‘pike’ the vowel i ( represented by the letter ‘i’ ) is pronounced like I ( singular form of the pronoun ‘we’ ),written as /ai/ in phonetic transcription.

Yes, they are vowels in linguistic terms. And, since we do not get a satisfactory and logical explanation of the sound shapes they assume in different words the experts (phoneticians) in the field found that in English language there are twenty vowel phonemes (phoneme is a unit of oral sound) in all with which we can pronounce all words of English language; and on their production they match the definition given above.

Phoneticians have divided twenty phonemes into a) Monophthongs and, b) Diphthongs according to the nature of their production. Production means articulation; thus, ‘monophthongs’, following its meaning (mono), each one is articulated at a particular point and they are twelve in all. But, while articulating ‘Diphthongs’ the sound glides to another point from the point of its origin, thus it is named so and they are eight in number.

Diphthongs , as has been said, are combination of two vowel sounds, symbolized as /eI/, /aI/, /ϽI/, /әʊ/, /aʊ/, /Iә/, /eә/ , /ʊә/. The occurrence of those sounds as we pronounce in those words respectively: ‘aim’, ‘trial’, ‘oil’, ‘oak’ , ‘out’, ‘ear’ , ‘heir’, ‘jury’ ( initial vowel sounds in all cases).

And, according to the place of articulation of consonants are described as four ‘Bilabials’, two ‘Labiodentals’, two ‘Dentals’, six ‘Alveolars’, one ‘Palatoalveolar’, four ‘Postalveolars’, one ‘Palatal’, three ‘Velars’, and one ‘Glottal’. Thus,the place of articulation and the manner of articulation of vowels and consonants are different, and they are described accordingly. So, there are twenty four consonant phonemes in all.

The occurrences of consonants are realized as in those words: /b/ as in bad, /d/ as in dad, /g/ as in get, /h/ as in hat, /j/ as in yes, /k/ as in cat, /l/ as in leg, /m/ as in man, /n/ as in now, /p/ as in pen, /r/ as in red, /s/ as in see, /t/ as in tea, /v/ as in van, /w/ as in wet, /z/ as in zoo, / ʃ / as in shoe, /ʒ / as in vi sion, /tʃ/ as in chain, /dʒ / as in jam, / θ/ as in thin, /ð/ as in this, / ŋ / as in si ng.( bold letters in all cases).

All sounds depend on manipulation of an air stream either leaving or entering the body. Different sounds are produced by the shape and size of the chamber the air is passing through (mouth and nose) and whether there is any intrusion into the air stream.

Vowels include no or little intrusion into the air stream, their acoustics are determined entirely by the size and shape of the chamber(s) of resonance and the action/inaction of the vocal cords. (It must be noted at this point that the position of the vocal cords in the larynx can also have an effect on vowel sounds. If the cords are relaxed, the air passes freely through, and there is no effect on sound. If, on the other hand, the cords are tense, the passing air causes them to vibrate, and that does affect the sound. This is the only “intrusion” into the air stream which is present in the articulation of a vowel.) The size and shape of the chamber can be adjusted by the position of the tongue and the lips: some vowel sounds are produced by an elevated tongue (and part of the tongue elevated can be significant also, defining the difference between “front,” ‘mid,” and “back” vowels), while others are produced with the tongue at varying lower levels, or with the root of the tongue advanced or retracted. The shape of the aperture at exit (the lips) also affects the sound made by the exiting air stream. If part or all of the air stream is shunted into the nasal cavity and out of the nostrils, the sound is also altered as resonance occurs in the sinuses.

Consonants, by comparison, owe almost all of their sound to some sort of obstruction or channeling of the passing air. The air can be stopped entirely by closing the lips or using the tongue to block and stop the progress of the air or by causing it to vibrate. Or the moving air may be channelized by changing the shape of the tongue, so that it flows along a narrow channel. The vocal chords may also participate in the production of a consonant sound.

Now, the easiest way to get your friend to comprehend the basic difference between vowels and consonants is to contrast the most extreme of each of these. Have him/her articulate “ah,” as a doctor does when he wants to look at the far back of the throat. This position is the most open one possible, the chamber is maximally open for the articulation of the sound “ah.” This is how we articulate the vowel a.Now ask him /her to pronounce a d, a t, or an n. Ask him to visualize where the tongue is—it will be either pressed against the back of the front teeth, or against the gum below the front teeth. These sounds are called “stops” because the air stream is completely stopped and then released. You could work through many other consonant sounds, e.g. p, b, m, demonstrating again the extreme manipulation of the air stream.

You can manipulate sound by stopping it, as with the lips when you say hip. And if you vibrate your voice and form the same sound, you’ll have rib. You can stop the sound with your tongue placed behind your teeth and say hit. Vibrate your voice and it’s hid. Direct the air to the roof of your mouth and you’ll have hick. Vibrate your voice for rig.

Also notice that the sounds mentioned in these paragraphs can be continual, as long as you have air exiting your mouth. That is to say, take a deep breath and say love, holding on to the /v/. You can make a continual /v/ sound as long as you have air exiting your lungs. You can’t do that with the sounds from the paragraph before this one. Once you’ve stopped the sound with your lips in saying hip, the sound does not continue.

Finally, there are nasals (/n/ and /ng/), laterals (/l/ and /r/), “approximates” (/w/ and /y/), a glottal (the sound Americans make when saying button without making a /t/ sound) and a laryngeal /h/, but to explain these is more complicated, and probably goes beyond answering your question.