What is the linguistic meaning of this sentence?

Vowels are always voiced, and have no attack of their own.


Attack in this context is the musical definition. Attack is how the sound/note is started. It is often paired with decay which is the diminishing of the sound into silence. Voicing is the sustained sound a vowel makes "ooooooooooooooooooo" when we push air from our lungs. They are claiming that vowel sounds can only be started by a consonant, putting its 'flavor' on the vowel sound.

  • 2
    I'm neither linguist nor a sound engineer, but I think neither is OP's original source. Every sound has its own attack characteristics, being how it transitions from non-existence into its "characteristic" form (which can often be sustained over some time). Vowels are sounds, and a vocalisation can start with a vowel. OP's quoted sentence is both untrue, and mixes terminology from different knowledge domains. – FumbleFingers Oct 19 '11 at 16:17
  • If that’s what is meant, it’s an odd thing to say, and it’s even odder to say it in the same sentence as the incontestable claim that vowels are voiced. What consonant does ‘Ah’ begin with? I'd like to know the source and to see a few sentences either side of this one. – Barrie England Oct 19 '11 at 16:17
  • 2
    I think the position is we can see what OP's source means. It's just that he's wrong/talking tosh. – FumbleFingers Oct 19 '11 at 16:19
  • 2
    @Barrie: unvoiced vowels are marked in the world's languages (they are rare), and presumably the OP is talking just about English. Also, to be pedantic, in English 'Ah' begins with the consonant 'glottal stop'. I think one can be very truthful and say that that vowels (or more inclusively sonorants) don't have a clear, sharp beginning. – Mitch Oct 19 '11 at 17:10
  • 1
    @Mitch: It's a good job everyone else isn't that pedantic, or IPA transcriptions of every utterance starting with a vowel would need that glottal stop! :) – FumbleFingers Oct 19 '11 at 17:40

Voiced: They require you to use your vocal chords.
Non-attacked: The do not require your tongue to make contact with the back or top of your mouth, other than the initial release of air when they are spoken individually or begin a word.

For example, say aloud "read." Your vocal chords will vibrate when you make the vowel sounds and your tongue doesn't hit the top or back of your mouth.

This applies to some consonants, too, such as the "R" and "S" sounds.

  • 1
    Note that attack doesn't only refer to tongue contact, though. The glottal stop is an example of attack, too. – Daniel Oct 20 '11 at 0:59

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.