How Do You Read a Consonant Chart?


Quick Answer

A chart of pulmonic, or breath-using, consonants of the International Phonetic Alphabet consists of column headings that indicate where in the mouth or throat the sound is produced as well as row headings that describe what particular action occurs with tongue or teeth. The column headings are laid out from the front of the mouth, which produces bilabial or two-lip consonants, to the back of the throat, which produces glottal consonants.

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Full Answer

In between the bilabial and glottal consonants of the IPA chart, column headings such as dental, palatal and uvular focus on specific areas of the mouth and throat, such as the teeth, the palate and the upper throat, respectively. The action described in each row produces a different sound when used in a different part of the mouth, though similar sounds may occur in different areas.

The plosive action, for instance, characterized by a sudden release of air, produces the same pair of sounds across the dental, alveolar and postalveolar regions. The pair represents voiced and voiceless sounds; voiced sounds require vibration of the larynx, while voiceless sounds omit these vibrations. With fricatives, a category of hissing sounds, separate pairs of sounds result across the 11 mouth and throat regions identified in the chart.

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