Manner of Articulation (Consonants)


A consonant’s manner of articulation describes the type and degree of constriction made during articulation, not including the place of articulation. Manner of articulation includes three main methods of producing constrictions; that is, obstruents, sonorants, and vowels. Obstruents and sonorants are discussed in the following section. A discussion of vowel articulation can be found here.

  • Obstruents: obstruents are speech sounds that can be thought of as “noisy” or turbulent sounds. Most obstruents can be either voiced or voiceless. Obstruents can be further refined into the following three manner of articulations:
    • Plosive (oral stop): plosives are sounds that are articulated through a complete closure between the active and passive articulator, stopping all air behind this constriction. As a result of the pressure being built up behind the constriction, a release of the air can be heard upon releasing the constriction of the articulators, resulting in a “burst” of air.
    • Fricative: fricatives are produced through a narrow (but not complete closure) constriction in the vocal tract, by the active and passive articulators coming very close together. This results in the air being funnelled through the narrow opening in the vocal tract, resulting in a “noisy” speech sound.
    • Affricate: affricates are a combination of an oral stop and a fricative in a single sound (similar to diphthongs in vowel articulation).
  • Sonorants: sonorants are sounds that are produced with more resonance than obstruents; that is, there is a lesser degree of constriction in the vocal tract than obstruents. Almost all sonorants are voiced. It should also be noted that all vowels are sonorant. Sonorants are further classified as follows:
    • Nasal stops: nasal stops are produced through a complete closure at the lips. As a result of air being unable to exit through the mouth, the velum opens to allow air to exit through the nose, resulting in a “nasal” quality of the consonant. It is because of the complete closure in the vocal tract and the nasality that this manner is referred to as nasal stops.
    • Approximant: approximants are articulated through a near-complete closure of the vocal tract similar to fricatives, however, the active and passive articulators are not brought as close together as fricative articulation. There are several types of approximants, discussed in the following:
      • Glides: glides are similar to vowels as they have the most resonance of all consonants. They are different from vowels, however, as there is less of an open airflow than that of vowels.
      • Liquids: the term liquids is sometimes used to refer to rhotics and laterals as a set of sounds.
        • Rhotics: rhotics can be thought of as “r-sounds.” There are a variety of different r-sounds throughout the world’s languages, and they are produced by the tongue bunching up towards the roof of the mouth.
        • Laterals: laterals are “l-sounds.” Laterals are produced by the tip of the tongue touching or moving towards the roof of the mouth so that the air flows out of both sides of the tongue.
      • Tap/Flap: the term “tap” or “flap” is used to refer to sounds that are articulated by “throwing” the active articulator at the passive articulator. Taps are considered voiced and sonorants due to the lack of pressure build up behind the constriction and lack of time for vocal folds to stop vibrating.