Difference between Contoids and Vocoids with details


A term introduced by Kenneth Pike to act as the phonetic equivalent of the term consonant. Contoids are sounds articulated with complete closure in the vocal tract or with a stricture narrow enough to cause friction. See also vocoid, which is the opposite of Contoid. The rationale behind the introduction of these terms was to avoid confusion between the phonological use of the term consonant and its use as a phonetic term. Certain sounds, for example, w j are phonetically vowel-like but are used as consonants in the phonological systems of many languages. Using Pike’s terminology, we can say that these sounds are vocoids, not Contoids, but are consonants in a particular language (English, for example).


A term introduced by Kenneth Pike to denote a sound that is produced with a vocal tract configuration where there is no complete closure and no stricture close enough to cause friction.

Difference between Contoids and Vocoids

The classification of sounds into vowels and consonants is common regardless of phonetics, phonological or orthographic references. The current classification following Pike divides the sounds in vocoids (vowel sounds), Contoids (consonant sounds), and semi-vocoids or semi Contoids (for example / w / and / j / in English). The terms Contoid and vocoid refer to phonetics. form only, without any reference to a phonological function. A vocoid, according to Pike, is a segment formed with an open approximation of the articulators, with or without sail closure, and with a central passage or air jet. All other segments are Contoid. The terms vowel and consonant are reserved for the phonological function. / w / and / j / are phonetically vocoids, which that is, are produced as vocoids (vowel sounds) are produced, but they do not form the nucleus of a syllable in English; hence its function is like that of other consonants. In other words, these are the sounds that in form are like vowels but in function are like consonants. That is why they are called non-syllabic vocoids. / n / and / l / are phonetically Contoid (since in the production of / n / there is complete oral closure stenosis and in the production de / l / there is complete closure stenosis in the center and air passes through the sides only), but when they form syllabic nuclei, they are called syllabic Contoids, e.g. ex. in bottle and button. Two types of Contoids and vocoids In English, there may be syllabic vocoids, non-syllabic vocoids, syllabic Contoids, and non-syllabic vocoids. Contoids. Syllabic vocoids are all vowel sounds; they function as nuclei of syllables. Phonetically the Vocoids are vowels and their phonological function is that of a syllabic vocoid. The first segment in the word posada/en / it is a syllabic vocoid. Non-syllabic vocoids are sounds that are phonetically vocoids (they occur as vowels), but phonologically they are Contoids (they function as ordinary Contoids and they do not form a nucleus in a syllable, and they represent element C in the syllable). wet / moist segment, / is a non-syllabic vocoids. So is the first segment in / yet / jet / not syllabic

A solution to this terminological difficulty, suggested by Pike, is to have two different distinctions, one strictly phonetic and the other based on function, or phonological criteria.

For the phonetic distinction, Pike advocated using the words vocoid and Contoid. A vocoid is defined as a “central oral resonant”. It’s central because not a lateral sound, like [l]; oral because air passes through the oral cavity; and resonant because there is no constriction, so all the sound comes from the resonances in the oral tract resulting from the vibration of the vocal cords. Everything which is not a vocoid is a Contoid. Thus, [j] is a vocoid, [i] is a vocoid, [a] is a vocoid, [w] is a vocoid, but [l] is not; it is a Contoid, as are [p], [b], etc.

This leaves the terms “vowel” and “consonant” available to be used as phonological terms. Generally, vowels are syllabic vocoids. Thus, of the vocoids above, [i] and [a] could be vowels, but [j] and [w] would not, as they are never syllabic. Consonants are Contoids which function as syllable margins, e.g. [p], [b], and sometimes [l] (in words like “lip”, “lot”, but not the final segment in “little”, where the [l] is syllabic).

“Sometimes, however, a phonetic vowel behaves phonologically like a consonant and then we have a non-syllabic vocoid, such as /j/ or /w/ in English. ([j] and [w] are vocoids according to Pike’s strict phonetic definition.)” In other words, the “w” and “y” sounds in “wet” and “yet”, for example, are non-syllabic vocoids. They are phonological consonants in these words because of the way they act. However, because there is no obstruction to the passage of air they are phonetic vowels.

Similarly, “English consonants are normally non-syllabic Contoids, in other words, consonants from both phonetic and phonological points of view. In the occasional cases where a phonetic consonant behaves as a phonological vowel, we have a syllabic Contoid. In English, /l/ and /n/ sometimes behave like this.” The “en” and the “le” sounds in “sudden” and “muddle” are syllabic Contoids. They are phonetic consonants but act as the center of the syllable (they are the whole syllable) in these words thus they are phonological vowels.

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