Update: 2018-07-10 05:37 AM -0400


Vowel-constriction theory:

How we listen to the vowels


by U Kyaw Tun (UKT) (M.S., I.P.S.T., USA), and staff of Tun Institute of Learning (TIL) . Not for sale. No copyright. Free for everyone. Prepared for students and staff of TIL Research Station, Yangon, MYANMAR :  http://www.tuninst.net , www.romabama.blogspot.com

Based on:
#1. Peter Ledefoged: Vowels and Consonants, An Introduction to the Sounds of Languages, 2nd ed., 2001, 2005

#2. Louis Goldstein, Univ. of Southern California, SAIL (Signal Analysis & Interpretation Lab), 3710 S. McClintock Ave, RTH 320 Los Angeles, CA 90089,  U.S.A. louisgol@usc.edu . The two downloaded papers are in the main TIL library covering the 4 CDs. -- UKT101209
See: L.Goldstein, http://sail.usc.edu/~lgoldste/General_Phonetics/Vowels/Vowel_Theories.html 101209, 161029 (link chk 161029)

#3. Material from my work on Sanskrit (in Devanagari) and Pali (in Myanmar script). See:
- Acoustics in Sanskrit (one of the languages of BEPS) Grammar and Dictionaries:
- MC-indx.htm > MCvowcon-indx.htm > MC-acoustics.htm (link chk 161029)

index.htm | Top

Contents of this page

Muscles Controlling the Tongue and Lips
Traditional description of vowels

Classes of vowel theories
Vowel theories
  Palatal vowels, etc.
Tongue constriction theories
Continuous vowel space theories
Cardinal vowels of Daniel Jones

Quantal theory of Speech
Position within vowel quadrilateral and vowel resonances
Systematic vowel differences between languages
Vowel quality and resonances: head size

Lip rounding and spreading
Theory of Adaptive Dispersion
Phoneticians' judgement of Gaelic vowels (Ladefoged, 1967)
A problem for the continuous vowel space theory

UKT 161119: My personal problem: I am used to classifying consonants by their POA's according to Bur-Myan usage: velar (column 5) 'soft palate', palatal (column 4) 'hard palate', retroflex (column 3) '...', dental (column 2) 'teeth', and labial (column 1) 'lips'.

Vowels, produced deep down in the throat, have no definite POA, not should not described by terms used for consonants, and when I see a description such as palatal vowels, I am stumped. I therefore use a different set of terms such as front vowels and back vowels. They are further described as close and open.

Passages worthy of note:
Front-rounded and back-unrounded vowels are so auditorily similar that skilled phoneticians confuse them.
  - Phoneticians' judgement of Gaelic vowels
As a fellow phonetician once remarked to me [Ladefoged]: "I can pronounce French perfectly, but I can't speak it.
  I know all the sounds of French, but unfortunately I don't know any words."
My (UKT) conclusion is the term used "palatal vowels" by some phoneticians is not appropriate.

UKT notes :
A. M. Bell : Alexander Melville Bell
Rules for Modifying Vowels
Sir Issac Newton and vowel qualities

Contents of this page

12.2 Muscles Controlling the Tongue and Lips

UKT 161029: Since the tongue plays a very important part in the production of the vowels, we should know what the tongue is and what's its capabilities are. We should also know about the lips. The following is from Peter Ladefoged, Vowels and consonants: an introduction to the sounds of languages, vol. 1, p125.

Note: Though I have bought the 2nd ed. of the actual book in Canada on 080317. It was a used book costing me Cdn $ 26.49 + postage. It has been lying around with me for almost 6 yrs without being used. I came across this book in a Google book preview on 101212, and the text below is from the book-preview but now checked with the actual book.

In the production of vowels, muscles controlling the hyoid complex are important, and for the articulation of the consonants the muscles controlling the tongue and lips are important.

Sec. 12.2 (p125begin)
The tongue is just a bunch of muscles. If you want to see what these muscles look like, the easiest way is to go down to the market and buy a sheep's tongue. Sheep have fairly similar tongue to ours. (Buying an ox tongue is not so useful. Cows have developed long tongues that they use to pull grass out the ground, and put it in their mouths. Sheep eat more like we do. They are polite enough to nibble grass without sticking their tongue out.) ... just boil it for about an hour and let it cool before you examine it.

If you slice a tongue (human or sheep) from front to back and then again from side to side, you can see the fibers of the muscles. Figures 12.4 and 12.5 show how the muscles are attached to the jaw and the skull (which you won't see without buying a whole sheep's head). [UKT ]

See Fig.12.4: The principal muscles controlling the movements of the tongue - redrawn by UKT 101212. (page126 is not part of the preview.) Fig.12.5 A more realistic sketch is not reproduced here.

The principal muscle of the tongue is the genioglossus, which pulls the back and the root of the tongue towards the front of the mandible (the jawbone). The net effect of contracting the genioglossus muscle is that the tongue gets compressed within the jaw. The tongue is like a balloon filled with water. As the root is pulled forward the front has to go somewhere and so it moves up towards the hard palate. (p125end-p126begin). This is essentially what happens when you say /iː/ as in <heed> /hiːd/ --> {hi:d} [Front vowel. [UKT]

UKT 161030: The IPA /iː/ (note the triangular colon) is essentially the same as Romabama {i:} (note the regular circular dot colon). In regular Bur-Myan, it is only the short vowel {i.} (vowel duration 1 eye-blink) that is checked. However, in other languages the long vowel {i:} (vowel duration 2 blk) may be checked. In English <heed>, it is the {i:} (2 blk) that is checked by killed {da.} aka {d}  : {i:d} . Thus the English <heed> /hiːd/ may be transcribed as {hi:d} . You will note that I have designed Romabama transcription to be almost the same as the IPA. I am able to do it because the Myanmar script is a phonetic script like the IPA.

For my transcription work, I am more interested in rimes (i.e. vowel+coda).
In Bur-Myan, the coda consonant affects the pronunciation which is probably not recognized in English, making the rendering of English words in Myanmar script extremely difficult. We must also note that English written in Latin script (Eng-Lat) is not phonetic whereas Bur-Myan is. So it is necessary to use IPA as an intermediary.

UKT 161119: "GA" in the figures means 'General American'. The British accent is known as "RP" - Received Pronunciation.

(Ladefoged p126 continues) You contract your genioglossus so that the body of the tongue gets squeezed within the jawbone, and part of it is pushed upwards. [UKT ]

UKT 161121: I know where my hand is: where my tongue is. But I have never seen my "genioglossus", so how do I contract it? Such useless instructions are stumbling blocks in reading this book.

Producing the tongue shapes for the vowels in <hid> /hɪd/, <head> /hɛd/, <had> /hd/ requires less activity of the genioglossus muscle, and also usually lowering of the jaw by means of muscles not shown in figures 12.4 and 12.5.

UKT: In Bur-Myan and Indic languages, when we describe the vowels we use the order /a/ /i/ /u/ /ɑ/ (starting from open-front), whereas in Eng-Lat (English-Latin) phonetics they use the order /i/ /a/ /ɑ/ /u/ (starting from close-front).

The styloglossus muscle, which is attached to a point on the skull just below the ear, pulls the tongue upwards and backwards. The hyoglossus muscle, which is attached to the hyoid bone in the neck, pulls the tongue back and down. These are the two muscles that are largely responsible for the tongue movements in <hod> /hɒd/ , <hood> /hʊd/, <who'd> /hu:d/. But, as with all tongue gestures, there are many ways to make similar movements.

UKT: The upper-right figures show how I transcribe English words spelled with ordinary Latin alphabet to those spelled in IPA-Latin , showing h as the onset consonant and d as the coda consonant, with the nuclear vowel in between. and finally into Romabama & Bur-Myan :



Compare the English vowels with those of the Bur-Myan vowels, with nasal codas.

You can also control the height of the tongue within the jaw by contracting the mylohyoid muscle, which is shown in figure 12.6, a schematic view of the tongue cut from side to side at the level of the back teeth. (The muscles in this view are so entangled that it is difficult to make a realistic sketch.) [UKT ]

The mylohyoid muscle is like a sling going from one side of the jaw to the other. Tightening the sling raises the body of the tongue. Some people vary the height of the tongue in mainly by using the genioglossus muscle, others make more use of the mylohyoid muscle, and yet others control tongue shape in several different ways.

UKT 161121: Instead of racking my brain in trying to follow useless instructions, I use my knowledge of Bur-Myan speech for transcription. Bur-Myan is my mother tongue, and English-Latin speech which I have been hearing even as a foetus in my mother's womb :

<heed> /hiːd/ --> {hi:d}
<hid> /hɪd/ --> {hd} 
<head> /hɛd/ --> {h:d} 
<had> /hd/ --> {hd}

Pix on right from Google image: Atlas of Human Embryos. by Gasser RF, 1975.

(Ladefoged p126 continues) The muscles that are primarily responsible for moving the tip of the tongue are the superior longitudinals. These muscles lie just under the surface on either side of the tongue. When they contract they shorten the upper surface on either side of the tongue, and thus cause the tip to curl upwards. The inferior longitudinal (p126end-p127begin) muscles run along the underside of the tongue, near the styloglossus. When they contract they bunch the tongue up.

The tongue is a very intricate mass of muscles -- there are many more than we will consider here -- so it is worth remembering that it is always difficult to be sure which muscles caused a particular speech movement. What matters most is the shape of the tongue rather than the particular muscles used. The muscles combine together in various ways to form particular shapes.

The principle muscle of the lips is the orbicularis oris, which circles round the lips. When this muscle contracts the corners of the lips are pulled together producing lip rounding. The degree of lip opening is also controlled by the raising and lowering of the jaw (using muscles not shown here), which affects the position of the lower lip.

Analyses of x-rays have shown that the tongue shapes in most vowels can be described as different combinations of the two basic movements shown in fig.12.7 . One of these movements determines the degree of raising of the tongue. The other is associated with the backward movement of the tongue. The tongue shapes required for nearly all the vowels of English can be made by using different combinations of these two movements. The exception is the vowel in American English <bird>, which requires some bunching of the tongue using the inferior longitudinal muscles.

Contents of this page

12.3 Traditional description of vowels

The basic movements shown in Fig.12.7 might be thought of as controlling the height the highest point of the tongue and the degree of backness of the same point. As you can see, they don't exactly do this. The two components of (p127end-p128begin) tongue movements are not at right angles to one another and are not directly related to moving the tongue in the vertical and horizontal directions. But if we neglect this for the movement, we can think of vowels as differing in three ways: tongue height, tongue backness, and lip opening. [UKT ]

This technique for describing vowels was started by the British speech teacher, Alexander Graham Bell and his father Alexander Melville Bell. Both father and son were excellent phoneticians, and used to give public demonstrations of their skill. Alexander Graham would leave the room while his father interviewed a speaker of some foreign language. Melville Bell would then write down what was said in a phonetic transcription. Contemporary reports say that when Alexander came back into the room he would astound the audience by reading back his father's transcription and pronouncing the foreign language 'perfectly', often despite the fact that he did not know a word of it. I've put the 'perfectly' in quotes because I know that people are sometimes full of praise when I repeat, very imperfectly, phrases that they don't expect foreigners to be able to say. I've put my phonetic ability to work a number of times when I have been asked to make a speech in a foreign country. I begin with a few phrases in the appropriate language that I have carefully learned from a phonetic transcription of a native speaker - and then I lapse into English. As a fellow phonetician once remarked to me: "I can pronounce French perfectly, but I can't speak it. I know all the sounds of French, but unfortunately I don't know any words." ( end of last para on p128)

Contents of this page

Vowel Theories

From: #2. Louis Goldstein, Univ. of Southern California, SAIL (Signal Analysis & Interpretation Lab), Los Angeles, CA 90089,  U.S.A. 

Classes of vowel theories

Ref: http://sail.usc.edu/~lgoldste/General_Phonetics/Vowels/Vowel_Theories.html 101209, 161029 (link chk 161029)
UKT 101209: Unfortunately there is no point of reference in this html paper.

Tongue constriction

UKT 161030: See also Historical Development of Phonetic Vowel Systems, by Moiss A. Bitter, https://www.academia.edu/ 161030

Consonants and Vowels have been studied by Ancient Eastern linguists for thousands of years. They devoted their lives to solving pertinent questions in languages of the East.

Western linguists, thinking that everything has to come from Europe, came to know of them only after the European intrusion into the Indian subcontinent. The names of Yaska, Panini {pa-Ni.ni.}, Patajali and Bhatrihari, are outstanding in India. They might have believed that the gift of language, which separates us from animals, was from the Creator (himself, herself, or itself - which is Brahma in their Hindu religion). However, their (human) work is to be admired and respected.

We still need to know about the Myanmar linguists, most of them Theravada Buddhist monks, who do not believe in the Creator. At least three of them: Abbot of Taungdwingyi KhinGyiByaw (fl. 1084 BE), Abbot {kyau-an-sn-hta:} and Shin Ok~kn-a.ma-la} has wrote a number of books on Phonetics and Linguistics.

Perhaps we should also include the name of Shin Kicsi (to Pal-Myan)aka Kaccayano (to Pal-Lat) who wrote the Pali grammar we are still using in Myanmarpr. Because the language he used was Asokan (Pali-Myan being its modern version according to Rev. Mason) he was undoubted from Magadha Mahajanapada and not from southern or western India. He might even have been from the Kingdom of Tagaung in northern Myanmarpr to where the inhabitants of Magadha Mahajanapada came in times of trouble in the western part.  See:
- https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Katyayana_Buddhist 161101

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Palatal vowels, etc.

- I. Goldstein : http://sail.usc.edu/~lgoldste/General_Phonetics/Vowels/Vowel_Theories.html

Historically older, traditional view (at least as old as early Indian grammarians, 7th century).

Vowels come in three distinct types:

palatal ("mouth vowels")
labio-velar ("lip vowels")
pharyngeal ("throat vowels")

UKT 161119: Because of my personal problem of getting mixed up with descriptions for consonants and vowels, I will not use the above description of types. It was the earlier writers who talked of palatal vowels, and velar vowels. The frontmost ones are described as palatal,  and those furthest back are described as velar. - www.phon.ox.ac.uk/jcoleman/CardinalVowels.htm 161121

In phonetics and phonology, a distinction is made between the tip of the tongue and the blade (the portion just behind the tip). Sounds made with the tongue tip are said to be apical, while those made with the tongue blade are said to be laminal. Now go to Google search engine and search for "English apical vowel" within quotes implying the genuine English vowels. You'll be surprised to find there are probably none: because what are given are only for "without quotes". Even then what is given are mostly for Chinese vowels. Next look for "English laminal vowel". The same as with "apical". You will be given only for consonants. My conclusion is the term " palatal vowels" used by some linguists is not appropriate. 

The way the vowels are categorised can mislead you to take these regions as the places of their origination, they are produced way down in the throat in the voice-box, and are modified in later steps.

Each type is categorically distinct. Within each type, jaw height may be used to distinguish vowels. Now listen to how speech comprising of vowels and consonants is produced:

From: R. M. Krauss Source-Filter Theory 
- http://www.columbia.edu/itc/psychology/rmk/T2/sf_theory.html 071224
Listen to the buzzing of the vocal folds sounds like before it enters the vocal tract,  - Krauss-exit<))
Listen to the filtering action of the vocal tract, - Krauss-filter<))
Listen to the resultant speech, - Krauss-speech<))

By the 19th century, further differentiation of constriction types was acknowledged, by allowing the lip and tongue actions to "mix."


Continuous vowel space theories

The tongue constriction theories are older compared to continuous vowel space theories, first developed by A. M. Bell, the father of the inventor of the telephone. The Bells had deaf and mute members in their family whom they took pains to teach to speak. [UKT: fact to be checked.]



In inter-language studies, it is usual to concentrate on three phonemes /p/, /t/ and /k/ for comparing the consonants. As glyphs they are {pa.} प /pa/, {ta.} त /ta/, and {ka.} क /ka/, in Abugida-Akshara scripts. And p , t (or retroflex), and k in Alphabet-Letter system. For vowels it is usual to look into {a.} अ /a/ , {i.} इ /i/ , {u.} उ /u/ and {au} ओ /ɑ/ .

However in BEPS studies, I am finding that we should include the retroflex consonant {Ta.} ट /ʈa/ in our study of consonants. We should also look into the highly contrastive consonant-pair {pa.} प /p/ & {nga.} ङ /ŋ/, and contrastive vowel pairs {a.} अ /a/ & {u.} उ /u/, and {i.} इ /i/ & {au} ओ /ɑ/ .

The study of {nga.} ङ /ŋ/ is interesting and illuminating, because the way the respective glyphs are drawn seems to suggest whether this phoneme was present in the parent or proto-language of a particular language:

Observation #1: There was no /ŋ/ in original Sanskrit-Devanagari. It has to borrow the retroflex ड /ɖ/ to arrive at ङ /ŋ/, whereas in both Asokan and Bur-Myanmar /ŋ/ as {nga.} .

ड /ɖ/ + dot --> ङ /ŋ/ 

Observation #2: The retroflex consonants ट /ʈ/ (tenuis) & ड /ɖ/ (voiced) seems to be more important in ancient languages than the simple dental consonants त /t/ & द /d/. This can be seen from BurMyan retroflex {Ta.} (tenuis) (the equiv. of Skt-Dev ट /ʈ/ (tenuis) changing into MonMyan {ng.} (the equiv. of Bur-Myan {nga.}).

{Ta.} ट /ʈ/ --> ... --> {ng.} equiv. of {nga.}

Observation #3: Words beginning with {nga.} /ŋ/ are common in Tib-Bur languages Bur-Myan such as Nwari (which used to be written in Asokan) - the modern form of Magadhi, and Bur-Myan as can be seen from the presence of a common word for "fish":

Bur-Myan: {nga:} (duration 2 eye-blink + emphasis)
Nwari: {nga} (duration 2 eye-blink)
There are other words that begin with {nga.} /ŋ/.

Why Pal-Myan has no such words can be explained from the Old Magadhi of northern-Myanmarpr coming under the influence of Pali or Lanka from Pagan period. During the religious reformation of King Anawrahta, the old Arigyis the Burmese monks were persecuted and Mon and Lanka monks were introduced. This process would result in the Magadhi which I take to be Pali-Myan becoming influenced by Pali of Lanka which was under the influence of Sanskrit.

At present it is beyond my [UKT] ability to measure formants. Instead of which, I use the presence/absence of words with the above consonants and vowels in onset as well as coda in respective dictionaries to study the vowels.

The study by human observers is qualitative (subjective) and their conclusions are sometimes controversial. However  machines and available to measure physical properties, such as formants, of sound waves to arrive at quantitative (objective) results.

Vowels and consonants were first developed by Indian linguists who were Rishis {ra..} leading lonely lives with their small families and dedicated students in the foothills of Himalayas extending down into Myanmarpr. Not all them are in pursuit of religious studies, and some of them studied what we modern peoples would admire: astronomy, grammar, linguistics, martial arts, mathematics, medicinal plants, weather, etc. Many names of those who studied linguistics and grammar have been lost but at least the names of four are known. Of them Panini {pa-Ni.ni.} who lived in the Iron Age of India was the most prominent . Panini was the author of Astadhayi aṣṭādhyāyī 'eight chapters' the foundational text of the grammatical branch of the Vedanga .

See Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Panini 161101

Though Panini was a Sanskrit speaker, some of those before him were Vedic scholars and their language was Prakrits. The older Prakrits of northern India, such as Magadhi were written in Asokan script. Prakrits were of Tib-Bur (Tibeto-Burman) linguistic group. Those in the south such as Tamil belong to the Aus-Asi (Austro-Asiatic) group.

From the study of highly contrastive consonant-pair {pa.} प & {nga.} ङ, I have come to conclusion that Nwari (which used to be written in Asokan script, and Burmese (which is written in Myanmar script, are very similar languages. For instance, the word for <fish> are {nga} in both languages.

Panini and later linguists seemed to belong to the IE (Indo-European) linguistic group. Panini prescribed essentially how to convert the Prakrits (mainly Magadhi-Asokan) into Sanskrit. Sanskrit after Panini is known as the Classical Sanskrit. What F. Edgerton has described as Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit (BHS), seems to be Magadha-Asokan adapted for Skt-Dev speakers. See: BHS-indx.htm > i03BHS.htm

Contents of this page

Tongue Constriction Theories

In the tongue constriction theories, which are older, the vowels were divided into:

Velar or pharyngeal or throat vowels -
Palatal or mouth vowels -
Bilabial or labio-velar or lip vowels -

They were presented together with their consonant counterparts.

Each vowel type is categorically distinct. For the Westerners who are not used to Indic languages, jaw height may be used to distinguish the vowels. However, for the Indic speakers, the jaw movement is minimal. Though I am not an Indic speaker (I speak Bur-Myan, of the Tib-Bur group), when I sing these vowels, my jaw remain at the same height without any movement.

By the 19th century, further differentiation of constriction types was acknowledged, by allowing the lip and tongue actions to "mix."

Contents of this page

Continuous vowel space theories 

A. M. Bell developed a system for teaching speech to deaf children. He was haunted by inability to categorize the vowel in <Sir> within the tongue constriction theories.

Vowels are characterized as points in a 2-dimensional space (e.g., high vs. low, front vs. back). Bell invented central ("mixed") vowels (around 1867) which are both front and back. The diagrams on the right shows vocal tract shapes he imagined corresponding to his descriptive system:


Contents of this page

Cardinal vowels of Daniel Jones

Vowels represented as points in a quadrilateral that represent the positions of the highest point of the tongue during the production of the vowel.

Close (high) - (Open) low

Reference (cardinal) vowels on the periphery of the vowel quadrilateral were learned by rote from Jones.

Vowels were assumed to be spaced at auditorily equal intervals of tongue position. Daniel Jones' diagram (system) could be used reliably and it gained popularity because it allowed the qualities of vowels of newly discovered languages, discovered by the British colonialists in the 18th to 19th centuries.

I am giving the vowel quadrilateral of Daniel Jones for comparing IPA (International Phonetic Alphabet to Bur-Myan vowels).

Even during Jones's time (1930-1950), however, it was known that the highest point of the tongue description did not reflect actual tongue positions, as measured by X-rays. See diagram. Vowels least affected by environment are known as quantal vowels and have been coloured red.

UKT 161122: The meaning of new words coming into English language must be carefully checked. Such a word is "quantal", and Merriam-Webster online dictionary defines it (as of today 161122 the day I look up for the meaning:

1 [Latin quanti  how many, plural of quantus ]: of, relating to, or having only two experimental alternatives (as dead or alive, all or none)

Under the heading quantal theories you will find using Google search engine:
1. The Quantal Theory of Immunity:
  - http://www.worldscientific.com/worldscibooks/10.1142/7269 161122
2. Quantal neurotransmitter
  - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quantal_neurotransmitter_release
And now, Quantal theory of Speech
  - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quantal_theory_of_speech 161102


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Quantal theory of Speech

UKT 161122: For description of quantal vowels, we now take a detour to the Quantal Theory of Speech.

See Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quantal_theory_of_speech 161102

The quantal theory of speech is a phonetic answer to one of the fundamental questions of phonology, specifically: if each language community is free to arbitrarily select a system of phonemes or segments, then why are the phoneme inventories of different languages so similar? For example, almost all languages have the stop consonants /p/, /t/, /k/, and almost all have the vowels /a/, /i/, and /u/. Other phonemes differ considerably among languages, but not nearly as much as they would if each language were free to choose arbitrarily.

UKT 161103: Many of the phonology problems met by the Western phoneticians is due to the decrepit nature of the Alphabetic-Letter system especially in English (Eng-Lat), which you will not find in Abugida-Akshara system. Here the problem lies in the absence of tenuis-voiceless in Eng-Lat: its /p/, /t/, /k/ has to be corrected by using allophones to [p][pʰ], [t][tʰ], [k][kʰ].

The very non-phonetic nature (which I have dubbed "decrepit") nature of the English language had been very useful to the British colonialists (who are bent on formulating legal and administrative terms) and missionaries (who take it to be their sacred duty to translate the English Christian Bible) to transcribe and translate the myriad native languages. It is probably this very non-phonetic nature of the English to become the dominant international language. Other colonialist languages such as Dutch, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Russian and Spanish have suffered by being more phonetic. I wonder if only English had remained the Old English of King Alfred the Great, would it have been that useful to the British colonialists and Christian missionaries.

In Bur-Myan, this problem is solved by using pairs what are touted as allophones by English speakers:

{pa.} {hpa.}, {ta.} {hta.}, {k} {hka.}.

Bur-Myan coupled with Mon-Myan (for BEPS languages), augmented the solution by using 4 registers:

{a:.} (1/2 blnk), {a.} (1 blnk), {a} (2 blnk), {a:} (2 blnk + emphasis).

Bur-Myan further solved this problem by using vowel-notations for mid-vowels (those between open and close), and using approximants {ya.}/ {} and {a.}/ {} as codas:

{.}, {}, {}, {:}

#1. Bur-Myan {aa.} and Mon-Myan {a:.} have the same pronunciation
  with 1/2 blnk. The time-duration unit "blnk" stands for the time you take
  to blink your eye.
#2. Eng-Lat cannot distinguish {} and {}. It has to use one symbol
  e for both phonemes.
#3. Bur-Myan needs a new phoneme which can be borrowed from Mon-Myan:
  There is no {ou} in Bur-Myan, but we find it in Mon-Myan.
  Now listen to the (link chk 161122)
  top row - {a.wuN}-pair or matching pair - bk-cndl-v1pair<))
  bottom row - {a.a.wuN}-pair or non-matching pair - bk-cndl-v2pair<))

Proposed by Ken Stevens at MIT, quantal theory formalizes the intuition that some speech sounds are easier to produce than others. Sounds that are easier to reliably produce, in the formal way described below, are more common among the languages of the world; those that are harder to reliably produce are less common.

... ... ...

Lehiste [5] demonstrated that when the peak frequencies in a vowel spectrum (the so-called "formants") are closer together than about half an octave, listeners respond as if the two peaks were merged into a single peak. Many vowel distinctions straddle this half-octave threshold, e.g., the first two formants of:

"bought" /bɔːt/ (US) /bɑːt/  - closer than half an octave 
"but" /bʌt - are not 

The second and third formants of:

"bit" /bɪt/ - closer than half an octave 
"bet" /bet/ - are not 

- [4]

UKT 161102: For those, who like me who are comparable to proverbial water-buffalo (ref. to Bur-Myan proverb "playing harp to a water buffalo and get gored), are deaf to music, watch a video on musical octaves.
Musical Octaves: What is an Octave, 3.15 MB - octave<> (link chk 161102)
Twinkle Twinkle Little Star - twinkle-star<> (link chk 161103)   Play<<))   (on line link to Wikipedia 161103)

Quantal theory is supported by a theory of language change, developed in collaboration with Jay Keyser, which postulates the existence of redundant or enhancement features. [6]

It is quite common, in language, to find a pair of phonemes that differ in two features simultaneously. [UKT]

In English, for example, "thin" /θɪn/ {n} and "sin" /sɪn/ {hsin} differ in both the place of articulation of the fricative (teeth versus alveolar ridge), and in its loudness (nonstrident versus strident). [UKT]

Similarly, "tell" /tʰel/ {htl} (Romabama coined-word) and "dell" /del/ {dl} (Romabama coined-word) differ in both the voicing of the initial consonant, and in its aspiration (the /t/ in "tell" [tʰel]{htl:} is immediately followed by a puff of air, like a short /h/ between the plosive and the vowel). [UKT]

UKT 161103: Bur-Myan is more precise than Eng-Lat, because we differentiate {ta.} (tenuis-voiceless) from {hta.} (aspirate ordinary voiceless), whereas {da.} is voiced.

Note: I've been describing {hpa.}, {hta.}, {hka.} as "ordinary voiceless" because "aspiration" to us means something other than what the Westerner meant. However, because of its more common use I have to accept their meaning, and as a compromise I will describe {hpa.}, {hta.}, {hka.} as "aspirate voiceless". There is also another trio {Ba.}, {Da.}, {Ga.} which has been described as "aspirate". These I cannot accept to be aspirate, and they are named with upper case letters in Romabama.

To compensate for the lack of tenuis-voiceless in English, BEPS has to come up with another class of consonants: {Spa.}, {Sta.}, {Ska.}, {Sma.}, {Sna.}.

In many cases, native English speakers have strong and mistaken intuition about the relative importance of the two distinctions, e.g., speakers of English believe that "thin" versus "sin" is a place of articulation difference, even though the loudness difference is more perceptible. Stevens, Keyser and Kawasaki [7] proposed that such redundant features evolve as an enhancement [6] of an otherwise weak acoustic distinction, in order to improve the robustness of the language's phonological system.

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Position within vowel quadrilateral and vowel resonances

Sir Isaac Newton recognized the relation between vowel qualities and resonances. - http://sail.usc.edu/~lgoldste/General_Phonetics/Vowels/Vowel_Theories.html 161122

"He [Sir Issac Newton] noted that he could hear a progression of different vowels as he poured beer into a flaggon."

Striking resemblance between position of vowels in CV quadrilateral (based on auditory judgments) whose axis are high-low and front-back, and position in a formant frequency graph (F1 vs. F2-F1)

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Systematic vowel differences between languages

Before physical measurements could be made [analysis of sound waves - objective], vowels and consonants were studied by linguists based on their hearing [with interference from their L1s - subjective]. A comparison of diagrams such as shown on the right would be of little use in cross-linguistic study. Of course, auditory studies would inevitably introduce the bias springing from the first language (L1) interference of the foreigners much to the annoyance of the natives. No matter how much phonetic training these foreigners had, their L1s (usually Indo-European) would taint their judgments on foreign languages (e.g. Burmese-Myanmar - a Tibeto-Burman language). Thus, they claim that Burmese has diphthongs, whereas, since Burmese students on their first trip to the US found it impossible to pronounce the English diphthongs in words such as <oil> and <boy>, I must contend that Burmese speech is monothongal.


The foreign phoneticians also miss hearing the Pali-Myanmar {a.} /θ/ which they thought should be pronounced as /s/ as in Pali spoken in Sri Lanka. If only formant frequency comparisons could be made, as for Danish and English vowels, we would be able to settle the /θ/-/s/ controversy. Most of them fail to note that Burmese-Myanmar is unique in being one of the few pitch-register languages with three registers (creak - 1 blnk, modal - 2 blnk, emphatic- 2 blnk+emphasis), not related to Thai - a tonal language.




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Vowel quality and resonances: head size

- UKT 161122

Individuals pronounce even the quantal vowels, {i} /i/, {a} /a/, {au} /ɑ/, {u} /u/, across languages differently. In fact the same individual pronounce these vowels slightly differently in the same stretch of speech, from day to day, depending on his or her health.

When my grandsons (Mg Kan Tun, born in Scotland, and educated in Canada, and Mg Thit Tun,  born and educated in Canada) speak to me in English as well as in Burmese, or mixed, the quality of their vowels change constantly. And when they are speaking in English to their Canadian friends, and me in the same sitting, they - without effort constantly and unconsciously - change the quality of their vowels continuously. This makes the representation of speech sounds, and vowels in dedicated graphemes an impossibility.

In actual measurements individuals differ in range of formant frequencies. Ranges of F1 and F2 associated with a single (even cardinal) vowel, differ across speakers, and even overlap. On the right is shown a study on a group of phoneticians trained by Daniels Jones: 

We see that even the quantal vowels are pronounced differently. Therefore we have the problem of normalizing formants of speakers. There is no generally accepted normalization scheme and we left with using bilinguals or using a group of speakers in each language and taking the mean.

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Lip rounding and spreading

- UKT 161112: See my notes on modifying the vowels

Refer to National Center for Voice and Speech -  http://www.ncvs.org/ncvs/tutorials/voiceprod/tutorial/rules.html 161122


Vowels should not be characterized with only the dimensions of close-open and frontness-backness. We should add a third dimension: the lip rounding-spreading. To represent in three dimensions we have to use a three-dimensional diagram using a right-handed Cartesian system with x-, y- , and z- axes.

Lip-rounding (opposite of lip-spread) effects the formant frequencies. See diagrams on the left.

Note that formant frequency difference between front and back vowels is maximized when back vowels are round and front vowels are spread (unrounded).

It is probably because of this maximizing effect, Bur-Myan vowels are extremely easy to pronounce:

  {i} /i/ -------- {u} /u/
  {a} /a/ ----- {au} /ɑ/

They can be pronounced with and without jaw movement. The above shows the modal register. In fact all the three registers (creak - 1 blnk duration, modal - 2 blnk, emphatic - 2 blnk+emphasis ) of each vowel can be easily pronounced and easily distinguished. They are easily represented by IPA suprasegmentals:

{i.} /ĭ/;     {i} /i/;       {i:} /iː/  ------------- {u.} /ŭ/;     {u} /u/;      {u:} /uː/
{a.} /ă/;   {a} /a/;   {a:} /aː/ ----------- {au.} /ɑ̆/; {au} /ɑ/; {au:} /ɑː/

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Theory of Adaptive Dispersion

UKT: See also Adaptive dispersion in vowel perception, by Keith Johnson, Ohio State University, pdf format download 101210 in TIL library for M03-BEPS.

Developed by Lindblom, the Theory of Adaptative Dispersion states that the vowels are dispersed in the phonetic space (tongue position, rounding) in such a way as to maximize auditory differences among the vowels.

Same tongue shape, same position on cardinal vowel chart are associated with different formant frequencies. The relation between position in vowel quadrilateral and formant frequencies holds only for a given lip configuration (single "slice" through 3-dimensional vowel space).

When phoneticians listen to an audio recording of a vowel in an unknown language that is not found on the primary cardinal vowel "slice", they may not be able to tell whether the vowel is a front rounded or a back unrounded vowel -- they cannot separate position in the space from rounding. The result is confusion. However, because of the theory of adaptive dispersion, if a language has spread front vowels, we can be pretty sure that the back vowels would be rounded. This is the case of Bur-Myan.

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Phoneticians' judgement of Gaelic vowels (Ladefoged, 1967)

-- from: http://sail.usc.edu/~lgoldste/General_Phonetics/Vowels/Vowel_Theories.html 140202 : (link chk 161104)



Since front-rounded and back-unrounded vowels are so auditorily similar that skilled phoneticians confuse them, we would expect that, if goals for vowels were acoustic, or auditory, there would be languages in which individual speakers vary as to which of these types they produce. This doesnt appear to be the case.

Since front-rounded and back-unrounded vowels are so auditorily similar that skilled phoneticians confuse them, we would expect that, if goals for vowels were acoustic, or auditory, there would be languages in which individual speakers vary as to which of these types they produce.
This doesnt appear to be the case.

But front-back judgments seem to be dependent of state of lips.
Audio-visual experiment with phoneticians would probably yield different quality judgment depending on lips display.
but then in what sense is front-back strictly an auditory (or acoustic) property?

This suggests that goals for vowel gestures are defined in terms of constrictor action, not the resulting sound.
back to cardinal vowels

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A problem for the continuous vowel space theory

Individual differences among speakers talkers of a given language include "reversals" of vowel height, measured either by tongue height or by F1 frequency:

If vowel height is the relevant parameter on which vowel gestures contrast, how can different speakers order the same two vowels differently along this parameter? The speakers are mutually intelligible; they do not confuse the vowels.

UKT 161104: I can't wholly agree with the above "The speakers are mutually intelligible; they do not confuse the vowels." In Myanmarpr where at least two major languages, Bur-Myan & Mon-Myan, are spoken up to the time of King Alaungphaya, we use what is generally called {sa.ka:o sa.ka:ma.} pairs of words are used to avoid confusion. Of the two, only one is actual meaning carrying word - the other makes the meaning clearer, e.g.
  for color "red" - {ni-r:}
  to describe a "dark night" - {m:mhan}



-----Goldstein's texts below, to be incorporated into above.
- http://sail.usc.edu/~lgoldste/General_Phonetics/Vowels/Vowel_Theories.html 161104



Quantal theory of vowels (Wood, Stevens)

Return to more traditional theory, that vowels come in qualiatively distinct types.

Each type is defined by:

unique constriction location, that has a stable articulatory-acoustic relation.
unique set of muscles



velar (usually accompanied by a labial constriction)
uvular (usually accompanied by a labial constriction)

Measured area functions from a variety of languages show constrictions limited to these four locations:

With only four constriction locations, how are full range of vowels produced?

Other parameters along which vowels can contrast:
high vs. low jaw position
tense vs. lax tongue shape (bunching of tongue with respect to jaw)
round vs. unrounded lips

Resulting formant space:


Analysis of palatal vowels: /i ɪ e ɛ/  or /i I e E/
Note vowel notations in the above are the same. The first set is in IPA (& TIL) notations.


--------- tense tongue ----- lax tongue
------------- shape ------------- shape
Jaw hi -------- i ------------------- ɪ (
Jaw lo --------e------------------ ɛ ( E ) : Note: these are front-vowels, more easily studied than back-vowels.


Position of tongue with respect to palate, and therefore F1, will be similar for [e] and [ɪ].

Modeling of palatal vowels using these parameters:


German palatal vowels


X-ray data from American English:


Problem with this theory of palatal vowels: tongue may compensate for jaw height, at least in case of mechanical pertubation (bite-block)


Muscles employed for four vowel types


Tongue as complex structure

Muscles shape bag and position it with respect to fixed surfaces.


Two types of muscles for positioning and shaping tongue:


sagittal view


coronal view


Muscle function in shaping tongue

Contraction of muscle shortens length of bag along the dimension along which muscle runs.

Tongue will expand out in other dimensions to conserve volume.


Intrinsic muscles (primary for consonants)

Extrinsic muscles (primary for vowels)



Styloglossus, hyoglossus

Palatoglossus, pharyngeal constrictors


Other Vowel Contrasts


Swedish contrasts three high front vowels in rounding:


(after Fant, 1975)


What is rounding?


Contact on sides between upper and lower lips



Length of side contact in rounded and unrounded vowels:




Advanced Tongue Root (ATR)

Akan (Lindau, 1979)
German (Bolla & Valaczkai, 1986)
Igbo (Ladefoged and Maddieson, 1996)
English (Perkell, 1969)


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UKT notes

Alexander Melville Bell

- UKT 161029

From Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alexander_Melville_Bell 101212, 161029

Alexander Melville Bell (1 March 1819 7 August 1905) was a teacher and researcher of physiological phonetics and was the author of numerous works on orthoepy [pronunciation] and elocution [style or manner of speaking in public]. He was also the father of Alexander Graham Bell. [1]

Bell , Alexander Graham . 1847-1922 1. Scottish-born American inventor of the telephone. The first demonstration of electrical transmission of speech by his apparatus took place in 1876. Bell also invented the audiometer, an early hearing aid, and improved the phonograph. - AHTD


Alexander Melville Bell was born in Edinburgh, Scotland, and studied under and became the principal assistant of his father, Alexander Bell (17901865), an authority on phonetics and speech disorders. From 1843 to 1865 he lectured on speech elocution at the University of Edinburgh, and from 1865 to 1870 at the University of London. Melville married Eliza Symonds, the only daughter of a British naval surgeon.

In 1868, and again in 1870 and 1871, Melville lectured at the Lowell Institute in Boston, Massachusetts after having moved to Canada. In 1870 he became a lecturer on philology at Queen's College, Kingston, Ontario; and in 1881 he moved to Washington, D.C. at the suggestion of his son Graham, where he devoted himself to the education of the deaf by the use of Visible Speech in which the alphabetical characters of his linguistic invention were representative graphic diagrams for the various positions and motions of the lips, tongue, mouth, etc..., as well as other methods of orthoepy.

Prior to departing Scotland for Canada Melville Bell had published at least 17 works on proper speech, vocal physiology, stenography and other works. ... ... ...

Visible speech

In 1864 Melville published his first works on Visible Speech, in order to help the deaf both learn and improve upon their aural speech (since the profoundly deaf could themselves not hear their own aural pronunciations). [5]\ To promote the language, Bell created two written short forms using his system of 29 modifiers and tones, 52 consonants, 36 vowels and a dozen diphthongs: [6] World English, which was similar to the International Phonetic Alphabet, and also Line Writing, used as a shorthand form for stenographers.[7]

Melville's works on Visible Speech became highly notable, and were described by douard Sguin as being "...a greater invention than the telephone of his son, Alexander Graham Bell".[7] Melville saw numerous applications for his invention, including its worldwide use as a universal language. However, although heavily promoted at the Second International Congress on Education of the Deaf in Milan, Italy in 1880, after a period of a dozen years or so in which it was applied to the education of the deaf, Visible Speech was found to be more cumbersome, and thus a hindrance, to the teaching of speech to the deaf compared to other methods,[8] and eventually faded from use.

UKT: More in Wikipedia article.

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Rules for Modifying Vowels

- UKT 161122

From: National Center for Voice and Speech, a Division of The Denver Center for the Performing Arts and a Center at The University of Iowa.
http://www.ncvs.org/ncvs/tutorials/voiceprod/tutorial/rules.html 161122

The acoustic differences that allow us to distinguish between the various vowel productions are usually explained by a source-filter theory. The 'source' is the sound spectrum created by airflow through the glottis, which varies as the vocal folds vibrate. The 'filter' is the vocal tract itself, the shape of which can be controlled by the vocalist. We perceive vowels on the basis of the two lowest formant frequencies of the vocal tract. If you have not yet done so, it may be helpful to read the previous tutorial describing how vowels are formed.

1. All formant frequencies decrease uniformly as the length of the vocal tract increases. This rule is good common sense; larger objects resonate sound at lower frequencies. For this reason, one uses long organ pipes, long strings, large drums, and big loudspeakers to produce low notes. We cannot change our vocal tracts' lengths greatly, however. A 10% increase or decrease (roughly speaking) is possible by lowering or raising the larynx and by protruding or retracting the lips. This produces a comparable percentage shift in the formant frequencies. The result is a darker (or brighter) coloring of the vowels. [UKT ]

UKT 161123: What does it mean by dark and bright? The first time I came across such nonsense-words (at least to me) is with "dark L" and "light L". Now "dark vowel" and "bright vowel". For us to make more sense read as {au} = /ɑ/, and {AU} = /ɔ/.  Caveat: These two vowels are very near each other in pronunciation with reference to formants, that I may have to change my position. At present, I differentiate the two from the way {AU} is killed by {Ta.} in {AUT~HTa.za.}, whereas {au} cannot be killed. Notice how the Mon-Myan treats this 'dissimilar vowel pair.

Moreover, don't trust your hearing on judging vowels and speech! Your hearing and your pronunciation changes when you become familiar with a particular speech. Go and live in Tavoy for six-months, and you start to sound like a person born there.

To convince yourself of this, try phonating an [a] vowel and gradually lower your larynx by attempting to yawn; then try extending your lips forward as far as possible during an [ɑ] [/ɑ/'dark a ' = back-open vowel equiv to {au} ]. Similar changes should be heard, i.e., the vowel sounds darker as it is modified toward [ɔ] [/ɔ/ 'open-o' mid-back open vowel].)

2. All formant frequencies decrease uniformly with lip rounding and increase with lip spreading. In the above exercise, you probably had to round your lips in order to protrude them, because there is only so much tissue to work with. Lip rounding is similar to partially covering the mouth. In both cases, the effective tube length increases (acoustically). This lowers all the resonant frequencies. (This time try phonating an [ɑ] [/ɑ/'dark a ' = back-open vowel equiv to {au} ] and gradually cover half of your mouth with your hand. The vowel again changes toward [ɔ] [/ɔ/ 'open-o' mid-back open vowel]. It is likely that the term "covered sound" originated as a result of musicians covering the mouth ends of their instruments, particularly brass players. In singing, we usually don't cover our mouths with the hand, but we can cover it by rounding the lips. In combination with larynx height adjustments, lip rounding or spreading can be very effective in darkening or brightening the vowels.

Here's how the above exercise sounds. vow-AH-AW<)) (online link chk 161123)
<a href="http://www.ncvs.org/ncvs/tutorials/voiceprod/sounds/AH-AW.WAV">

In addition to these front-end and back-end modifications, jaw lowering can be used to modify vowels. In particular, F1, the first formant, can be raised substantially by lowering the jaw.

Two other rules are applicable to vowel formation in which either the front half (the mouth) or the back half (the pharynx) is narrowed.

3. A mouth constriction lowers the first formant and raises the second formant. This creates a more diffuse vowel spectrum. The acoustic energy is spread out over both low and high frequencies, as in the vowels [i] and [e].

4. A pharyngeal constriction raises the first formant and lowers the second formant. This makes the vowel spectrum more compact, as in the case of [ɑ] or [o].

Go back rules-modify-vow-note-b

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Sir Issac Newton and vowel qualities 

- UKT 161122

Sir Isaac Newton recognized the relation between vowel qualities and resonances. - http://sail.usc.edu/~lgoldste/General_Phonetics/Vowels/Vowel_Theories.html 161122

"He [Sir Issac Newton] noted that he could hear a progression of different vowels as he poured beer into a flaggon."

UKT 161122: "English physicist and mathematician Sir Isaac Newton, most famous for his law of gravitation, was instrumental in the scientific revolution of the 17th century. ... In 1687, he published his most acclaimed work, Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica (Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy), which has been called the single most influential book on physics." -  http://www.biography.com/people/isaac-newton-9422656#synopsis 161122
The website includes video clips on Natural Philosopher Sir Issac Newton.

Natural philosophers, now termed scientists, of the 17th and 18th centuries, without much help from modern instruments made many discoveries based on their keen observation the product of a concentrated mind. No wonder ancient men, the foremost being Siddhartha Gautama, 563-483 B.C. (AHTD) who was termed Gaudama Buddha after he discovered the four natural laws celebrated as the Four Noble Truths, and Anatta Principle .

Though termed a mystic, because of his astonishing first scientific discoveries he must be noted as a scientist. Siddhartha Gautama was a rishi - not a common bard as modern Hindu religionists would put it, e.g. Rishi Narada {na.ra.da.} नारद, singing praises to an axiomatic god.

Rishi Siddhartha had a highly concentrated mind with which he made his discoveries. I presume the ancient linguists like Panini and others before him, were also scientists with concentrated minds with which they closely observed the human speech. The training of mind is known as Samatha (a part of Vipassana) {a.ma.hta.} process which I had practiced since my late teens.
See Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Samatha 161122

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End of TIL file.