There is a saying “It’s all Greek to me.” When you learn a new language, especially one with a different alphabet from your native language, it can be confusing. Looking at the International Phonetic Association’s (IPA) phonetic symbols for representing the sound of all the languages of the world, it looks pretty foreign to me. Maybe even a bit Greek.
Be forewarned. I dipped my toe in to see what IPA was, and I think I splashed in head first into a linguistic swamp. I hope this is all leading me to better understand pronunciation of Korean. However, you might want to skip reading this blog post.
IPA uses a fable about the North Wind and the Sun as it’s sample text for various languages. I decided to make it one of my lesson texts.
The North Wind and the Sun were disputing which was the stronger,
when a traveler came along wrapped in a warm cloak. They agreed
that the one who first succeeded in making the traveler take his cloak
off should be considered stronger than the other. Then the North Wind
blew as hard as he could, but the more he blew the more closely did
the traveler fold his cloak around him; and at last the North Wind gave
the attempt. Then the Sun shone out warmly, and immediately the
traveler took off his cloak. And so the North Wind was obliged to confess
that the Sun was the stronger of the two.
Orthographic translation Korean
바람과 햇님이 서로 힘이 더 세다고 다투고 있을 때, 한 나그네가 따뜻한
외투를 입고 걸어 왔습니다. 그들은 누구든지 나그네의 외투를 먼저 벗기는
이가 힘이 더 세다고 하기로 결정했습니다. 북풍은 힘껏 불었으나 불면
불수록 나그네는 외투를 단단히 여몄습니다. 그 때에 햇님이 뜨거운 햇빛을
가만히 내려 쬐니, 나그네는 외투를 얼른 벗었습니다. 이리하여 북풍은
햇님이 둘 중에 힘이 더 세다고 인정하지 않을 수 없었습니다.
Narrow phonetic transcription in IPA:
Representation of major allophones
b8ARAmgwA hEnømi sÃɾo himi dÃ sedAgo d8AtHugo is’ɯlt’E, hAn nAgɯ
negA t’At’ɯtHAn wetHuRɯl ib8k’o g¡ÃRÃ wAs’ɯmøidA. g¡ɯdɯɾɯn
nugudɯndZi nAgɯnEɯj wetHuRɯl mÃndZÃ b8Ãk’inɯnigA himi dÃ
sedAgo hAgiRo gjÃltSÃN hEs’ɯmøidA. b8uk|pHuNɯn himk’Ãt| b8uRÃs’ ɯnA b8ulmjÃn b8uls’uRog nAg¡ɯnenɯn wetHuRɯl d8AndAnúi jÃmjÃs’ɯ møidA. g¡ɯt’Ee hEnømi t’ɯgÃun hEt|p’itSHɯl g¡AmAnúi nERjÃ c’weøi
nAgɯnenɯn wetHuRɯl Ãllɯn bÃsÃs’ɯmøidA. iRiúAjÃ b8uk|pHuNɯn hEniømi d8ultS’uNe himi d8Ã sedAgo indZÃNúAdZi Anɯls’u Ãp|s’Ãs’ɯ møidA.
IPA is what you see in dictionary entries to help you know how to pronounce a word. For example/ˌɛləˈkyuʃən/ is trying to tell me the word elocution sounds like [el-uh–kyoo-shuhn]. Dictionary.com helpfully has an IPA Pronunciation Key.
“Broadly, speech involves successive narrowing and opening of the vocal tract, the passage through which the air flows during speech.” – Handbook of the International Phonetic Association: A Guide to the Use of the IPA.
Sounds which involve closed vocal tract are consonants. Sounds which involve open vocal tract are vowels.
Consonants involve a narrowing of a place in the vocal tract. Therefore you can classify consonants by their ‘place of articulation’. Hence the picture of the vocal tract with all the different places labeled.
Vowels are represented by the Vowel Quadrilateral which shows the position of the tongue.
Try saying the vowels 이. 에. 애. 으. 어. 아. 우. 오 paying attention to where your tongue is, and you’ll understand what this chart is trying to convey.
Here are some definitions of words phoneticians use
- stricture – a narrowing of the vocal tract that restricts air flow
- aspiration – a strong explosion of breath
- phone – in linguistics, a unit of sound
- allophone – many ways to make a sound (phone)
- phoneme – a set of speech sounds (phones) which are equivalent to each other
- articulation – the activity of the vocal organs in making sound
- alveolar – consonant sound made by tip of tongue behind upper teeth
- bilabial – consonant made by lower lip against upper lip
- labiodental – consonant made by lower lip and upper front teeth
- glottal – consonants made with vocal chords
- fricative – hissing sound
- nasal – lowered soft palate creates resonance in nasal
- trill – sounds like ‘r’ in Spanish perro
- pulmonic – consonants made while exhaling normally
- diacritic – a glyph added to a letter ex: Noël
- segment – a discrete unit of speech, such as consonant or vowel
- suprasegmental – sounds across segments such as tone, stress, and nasalization
- prosody – rhythm, stress, and intonation of speech. Prosody may reflect various features: the emotional state of the speaker; the form of the utterance (statement, question, or command); the presence of irony or sarcasm, contrast and focus; or other elements of language that may not be encoded by grammar and choice of vocabulary.
Barry Farber, author of “How To Learn Any Language,” is my new favorite person. “There is no recognized standard system of transliteration. The International Phonetic Alphabet is suppose to be, but nobody uses it because learning it is almost as hard as learning another language itself.”
So NOW you tell me, Barry! Where were you before I dug deep into the IPA Handbook? Guilt resolved. This was a learning side track.