So if a sound causes the vocal cords to vibrate, they are voiced? And when they aren't vibrating, they are voiceless?
Exactly, although I might not characterize the sound as "causing" the vocal cords to vibrate. Think of a sound as an abstract unit: it may have the feature
of voicing (like [z]) or it may not (like [s]).
So Aspiration is the sound between a stop consonant, right...?
Here's a simpler way to think about aspiration: put a piece of paper in front of your mouth and say the words "pit" and "spit". For "pit", there should technically be a "puff" of air that makes the paper rustle, although the force can vary between speakers. In contrast, there shouldn't be any puff of air in "spit". This is because the [p] in "pit" is aspirated (a common feature of "stops" at the beginning of a syllable in English), while the [p] in "spit" is unaspirated (a common feature for "stops" when they appear in a consonant cluster, like "sp-").
As Linguoboy noted, the main technical (phonetic) aspect of aspiration is that it delays the beginning of voicing on a following vowel.
This is called a delay in Voice Onset Time. Think of it as if you were pronouncing a short [h] after the [p]: [h] is voiceless
, so it takes slightly longer for your vocal cords to start vibrating when you shift to the vowel.
And sonorants are vowels? As well as /m/? and I think /l/?
A simple definition of sonorant is "a sound which doesn't have a lot of friction". Think of the sound [f]: it's a fricative
and there is a good deal of turbulence/friction when you pronounce it. Contrast this with sound like [n], [m], [l], etc., where there is next to no friction.
One interesting aspect of sonorants is that, due to their nature, they are frequently syllabic
, e.g. performing the function of vowels. Thus, words like "button" and "little" show syllabic forms of the sonorants [n] and [l] in the final syllable.