[2.4] Fortis-Lenis Revisited

The Fortis / Lenis contrast in English:

Fortis Lenis
p t k ʧ f ɵ s ʃ h b d g ʤ v ð z ʒ
Articulation is stronger and more energetic. Articulation is weaker with less breath force.
Articulation is voiceless. Articulation may have voice.
Plosives /p-t-k/ in initial position have strong aspiration /phɪp/ > pip Plosives are unaspirated /bɪb/ > bib
Vowels are shortened before a final fortis consonant, e.g. beat /bit/ Vowels have full length before a final lenis consonant, e.g. bead /biːd/
Syllable-final stops often have a glottal stop, e.g. sit down / sɪˀt ‘daʊn/ Syllable-final stops never have reinforcing glottal stop, e.g. said /sed/

The letter combination ‘th’ causes many learners pronunciation headaches. To complicate matters further, there is even a fortis-lenis distinction here that even many native speakers may not be aware of. The ɵ  symbol stands for the bright sound often glided over to /f/ in some accents: “I fink so”. The other symbol ð stands for the darker th sound often glided to/d/, as in “Who told you dat?”

 Letter combination <th>



1. Regularly in initial position

thick, therapy, thorough, thermometer

1. In “function” words

that, the, they, their, then, them, then, there, this, these, those, though

2. In medial position for scientific words

anthem, atheist, authority, cathedral, ethics, method, mathematics

2. in medial position for Anglo-Saxon words

either, gather, neither, father, mother, brother, other, northern, southern, together, worthy

3. Regularly in end position

bath, underneath, teeth, growth

3. Word-finally in

with, smooth, bathe, breathe