What’s going on in your mouth when you talk?

(April 2017) Phonetics—the study of human speech sounds—is the topic of a newly-released SIL publication: An Introduction to Field Phonetics. This unique textbook on articulatory phonetics covers the entire range of the world’s speech sounds. The authors, Drs. Norris and Carol McKinney, designed this book for students whose aim is to learn an unwritten language.

This book teaches how to pronounce and transcribe virtually all the known sounds of the world’s languages. It gives practical tips for pronouncing the sounds being studied. For example, students are instructed how to make the implosive [ɠ] sound:

“Try imitating a frog or a bottle emptying using voiced implosives, [ɠə ɠə ɠə ɠə]. If you can produce a voiced velar implosive in this way, you can probably produce voiced implosives at other places of articulation.”

The majority of the book teaches the articulatory details of specific speech sounds, but chapters also include acoustic phonetics, palatography, the fascinating area of dialectal differences, and practical considerations for conducting phonetic fieldwork.


Anecdotes from the authors’ and others’ field experiences enliven the book. Another strength is phonetic exercises given in each chapter and the Appendices that cite data from many of the world’s lesser-known languages. The McKinneys also provide fresh information on fortis-lenis consonants based on their research in the Nigerian language, Jju.

An extensive Glossary and list of references help to not only review the basic concepts, but also provide resources for the interested student to dig deeper.

About the Authors

Norris McKinney (Ph.D., University of Michigan) and Carol McKinney (Ph.D., Southern Methodist University) conducted fieldwork for over ten years while living among the Bajju people of northern Nigeria. Both have taught articulatory phonetics, and Norris also taught acoustic phonetics. He began writing this book as an update on data taught in SIL phonetics courses. Norris passed away before this book could be published, and Carol has brought this work to completion on his behalf.


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