Speech Sounds

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Speech Sounds


sounds formed for the purpose of verbal communication by the human vocal apparatus (the lungs; larynx and vocal cords; pharynx; oral cavity with the tongue; lips; uvula; and the nasal cavity). There are three aspects of speech sounds: the articulatory, the acoustical, and the linguistic, or social. Sometimes a fourth aspect, that of perception, is also distinguished. There are many classifications of speech sounds, based primarily on articulatory features.

In speech sounds there are both tones and noises. Tones occur from the periodic vibrations of the source of sounds, the vocal cords in speech. Noises occur as a result of non-periodic vibrations in a stream of air coming from the lungs that is either stopped or allowed to pass through the small openings in the cavities above the larynx. All of the vowels are tones, unvoiced consonants are noises, and voiced consonants are a combination of tone and noise. Vowels are usually distinguished by row and height, that is, where the tongue is placed in making the sound. Consonants are characterized by the amount of voice, the nature and place of the noise-producing stop, and the active organ involved in producing the sound.

Acoustically speech sounds, like other sounds in nature, involve the vibration of a taut medium having a specific spectrum, intensity, and duration. Including overtones higher than the basic vibrations themselves, speech sounds range from 70 to 10,000 or 12,000 vibrations per second, falling entirely within the range of sounds audible to the human ear (16 to 20,000 vibrations per second). The same applies to intensity: the normal level of speech does not exceed 80–90 decibels (dB), and sounds become painful to the human ear at 120–130 dB.

In modern phonetics (phonology) the linguistic aspect of speech is generally recognized as predominant, since only from this point of view can we speak of specific speech sounds. Sounds do not appear in speech directly, but are represented and realized by phonemes.


Matusevich, M. I. Vvedenie v obshchuiu fonetiku. Moscow, 1959.
Zinder, L. R. Obshchaia fonetika. Leningrad, 1960.
Sapozhkov, M. A. Rechevoi signal v kibernetike i sviaii. Moscow, 1963.
Fant, G. Akusticheskaia teoriia recheobrazovaniia. Moscow, 1964. (Translated from English.)
Bulanin, L. L. Fonetika sovremennogo russkogo iazyka. Moscow, 1970.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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