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We have already seen that UNVOICED consonants clip or shorten preceding vowels - see Clipping

We also saw that there are 8 consonant-pairs in English of voiced-unvoiced consonants. They are these:

These are the sounds heard at the end of the words:

Unvoiced: keep (), sweet (), leak (), leaf (), path ()*, lease (), leash (), leech ()
Voiced: cab (), feed (), league (), leave (), bathe (), please (), rouge () and bridge ()

But the terms VOICING and UNVOICING are a little misleading. While UNVOICED consonants are nearly always unvoiced, VOICED consonants are not always fully voiced - or voiced at all. We find that there are other feature that distinguish between the voiced-unvoiced pairs, and voicing is only one of them.
In this course, then, we will follow Roach and many other British phoneticians and speak of FORTIS and LENIS consonants rather than voiced and unvoiced.


Remember too, that only the 8 pairs above have fortis-lenis distinctions. All the other consonants in English are usually voiced, except for h, which is usually unvoiced.

('Usually' is a useful word. There are usually exceptions to everything.)

Fortis and lenis plosives

With the plosives, the difference between fortis and lenis is mostly a question of voicing and aspiration - at least in English and Icelandic.

AT THE BEGINNING OF WORDS, fortis plosives are POSTASPIRATED, and lenis plosives are not.
Postaspiration is a puff of air - in fact an unvoiced vowel - following the plosive. If you say the words pill, till, kill while holding the back of your hand in front of your mouth you can actually feel this puff of air. We show it with a raised h -

, ,
Lenis plosives, however, do not have this aspiration - bib, did, gig
, ,

Voicing of Icelandic and English plosives

One of the main differences between Icelandic and English lies in the VOICING of the consonants. Icelandic plosives, for instance are ALL UNVOICED, and the difference between fortis and lenis pairs is ONLY a difference of aspiration. THE FOLLOWING DIAGRAM, which I shall be explaining in class (5th week), shows the difference between the voicing of Icelandic and English plosives:

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