Two different, yet similar sounds.
Hi again, and welcome back to Seattle Learning Academy's American English pronunciation podcast. My name is Mandy, and this is our 162nd episode.
Today we're going to talk about the ways that the b sound and v sound are different, as well as hw they're alike. I want to mention that this is a special request episode from Jorge from Argentina. Jorge emailed us at firstname.lastname@example.org to let us know that he has trouble with these sounds. You can also email email@example.com if you have a special topic request. We appreciate knowing what you'd like to learn about!
Let's get started.
Stops (like the b sound) and fricatives (like the v sound) are produced in very different ways. Stop sounds are created when air is briefly completely blocked from leaving the mouth, and then released. Again, a b sound is a stop sound (b sound). A fricative is created when air is forced out of the vocal tract through a small opening. The air is never completely blocked during a fricative sound. The v sound is a fricative (v sound).
Even though stops and fricatives are created differently, there are still good reasons that the b sound and v sound get confused: both of these sounds are created using the lips.
The b sound, generally speaking, is a simpler sound that fewer non-native English speakers have trouble with. It is created when the top lip and bottom lip touch each other, blocking the air. When the lips open, the air is pushed out in a small "puff." We call the puff of air the "aspiration" of the sound.
In addition to the aspiration, another important aspect of the b sound is that it is voiced. A sound is voiced when the vocal cords vibrate during its production. If the vocal cords were not vibrating during a b sound, the listener may hear a p sound instead. One more difference between the b sound and p sound is that the aspiration is bigger for the p sound. We could say that the p sound has a bigger "puff" when the sound is released.
Listen to the b sound, then the p sound:
(b sound, p sound)
Listen to these minimal pairs. I'll say the word with the b sound first:
So the b sound and p sound are created when the lips are pressed together to stop the air from leaving the mouth, and then the air is released. The b sound is voiced and the p sound is unvoiced. Additionally, there is more air released during the p sound than the b sound.
Now let's move on the the v sound. As I said in the beginning, the v sound is a fricative. A fricative is created when air is forced out through a small opening in the vocal tract. The air is never completely stopped for a fricative. That means I can hold a sound for a long time, if I want to. For instance, here is a v sound being held for a few seconds:
(Held v sound)
I cannot do that with a b sound. I can only say it one time, then it is done.
(b sound, b sound)
The position of the bottom lip is very important when creating the v sound. To create the v sound, air is forced through a small opening is between the bottom lip and the bottom of the top front teeth. This happens when the bottom lip is tipped, very slightly, into the teeth. At the same time as the bottom lip is tipped close to the teeth, the vocal cords are also vibrating. The vibrating vocal cords make the v sound into a voiced sound. If my vocal cords are not vibrating, I will create an f sound instead. So, just like the p sound is an unvoiced b sound, the f sound is an unvoiced v sound.
Listen to the v sound, then the f sound:
(v sound, f sound)
Listen to a few minimal pairs for the v sound and f sound:
The distinct difference between a b sound and a v sound is that the air is stopped and released for the b sound, while the air is never completely stopped for the v sound. If you stop the air for the v sound, even for just a tiny bit of time, your native English speaking listener will hear a b sound instead.
Listen to the b sound, then the v sound:
(b sound, v sound)
Let's listen to some minimal pairs between the b sound and v sound so you can hear the difference:
Okay, it's your turn to practice. I'll say all 15 of those pairs again, leaving time for you to repeat after me.
b sound/p sound:
v sound/ f sound
b sound/v sound
That's all for today, everyone. Thanks for listening. This has been a Seattle Learning Academy Digital publication. Seattle Learning Academy is where the world comes to learn.
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