An ELT Glossary : Place of Articulation

Definition : The position in the mouth where speech sounds are formed. Place of articulation is one of the three descriptors used to describe consonants, the others being voicing and manner of articulation. 

Examples : In English there are nine places of articulation used to describe consonants :

  • bilabial consonants are made using both lips -  /p/, /b/, /m/, /w/
  • labiodental consonants are made using the top teeth and bottom lip -  /f/, /v/
  • dental consonants are made (in English) by raising the tip of the tongue to the back of the top teeth -   /ð/ as in "the", and /θ/ as in "thick".
  • alveolar consonants are made by raising the front of the tongue to the alveolar ridge (the hard bony ridge just behind the teeth) -  /t/, /d/, /s/, /z/, /n/, /l/
  • post alveolar (or palato-alveolar) sounds are made with the tongue slightly further back than alveolar sounds. Examples : /ʃ/ as in "ship", and  /ʒ/ as in "leisure" .
  • palatal sounds  are made by raising the middle part of the tongue to the hard palate (the hard part of the roof of the mouth which arches up) - /j/ as in "yes".
  • velar sounds are made by raising the back of the tongue to the velum or soft palate - eg /k/,/g/ and /ŋ/ as in "sing"
  • glottal sounds are produced in the glottis - the space between the vocal cords - eg /h/, a glottal fricative is produced by almost closing the vocal cords and forcing the air through the small space remaining.

Some sounds are made in positions which fall between two places of articulation, and are labelled accordingly. So /r/ is described as being post-alveolar, and /ʧ/ (as in "chip")  and /ʤ/ (as in "job") as being palato-alveolar.

Other languages may produce sounds in different positions to English, use different parts of the tongue or use places of articulation which are not used in English at all. For example, in French, the phoneme /t/ is dental rather than alveolar, while the sound represented in writing by the letter "r" is uvular.

See also : Voice-Place-Manner Descriptors, Allophones

Further reading from An ELT Notebook : English Consonant Sounds

Want to know more? See...

Underhill, A. Sound Foundations, Macmillan