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josie's avatar

What are examples of language sounds that English speakers do not routinely, if ever, make? What are they called?

Asked by josie (22932 points ) May 28th, 2011

For example, Arabic has a letter, like “H” but it sounds sort of like clearing your throat. It took me a while to get the hang of it.

I figure as long as tongues, throats and nasal passages contribute to sounds, those sounds must show up in a language somewhere.

Just curious, since Fluther seems to have a pretty broad membership.

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30 Answers

gailcalled's avatar

The French “r” and the Italian and Spanish “r.”

The Spanish “v” and “b.”

The French “u” as in “sur.”

Most of the Hebrew consonants (lots of throat clearing there).

The African click languages.

The tonality and pitch sounds in some of the languages of the far east.

_zen_'s avatar

Other than the “H” sound, similar to the Arabic letter mentioned by the OP, the other consonants in Hebrew are pretty much the same as in English. The “H” – phlegm sound (lol) is represented by two different letters in Hebrew, but have the same sound. I read somewhere that 5000 years ago there wa a slight difference – but not today. The rest of the consonants are pretty much like B, D, F, G, L, T, etecetera.

jaytkay's avatar

Somewhere (Fluther?) I just read that the great variety spellings for ‘Ghadaffi’ was due to the the fact that the name actually can’t be correctly pronounced with English language sounds.

Blackberry's avatar

I’ve always wondered how to speak any foreign languge other than the romance languages, arabic, chinese, japanese, tagalog, and the languages of africa (what is the click sound?). The romance languages seem easier compared to all of those.

thorninmud's avatar

Here are some audio files of the french sounds that give English-speakers the most trouble:

The nasalized “n” and “m” (which sound the same), which sounds a little like a goose honking; here it is at the end of le lapin.

The “u” that @gailcalled mentioned, in which the lips are formed as for an english “u’, but the rest of the mouth acts like it’s trying to say “y”. Here it is at the end of la laitue

The “r” that @gailcalled also mentioned is about the same as the German “r” (from whom the French actually borrowed it). It’s formed in the back of the throat instead of at the tip of the tongue, so that it rumbles a bit. Click the audio file here to hear it twice in “ronron” (with the nasalized “n” as a free bonus)

morphail's avatar

You can hear examples of non-English type sounds in the UCLA Phonetics Lab. Zulu has click consonants. K’echki has ejectives. Agul has pharyngeals and epiglottals. Mazatec has creaky and breathy voice. French has uvulars. Some dialects of Hebrew have pharyngeals and uvulars. I like V’enen Taut, which has linguo-labials: the tongue touches the upper lip.

btw it’s not just languages of the far east that have tones. Many African languages have tone too.

_zen_'s avatar

@morphail That was a very detailed and informative answer, and though I am not a linguist, I do take exception to your Hebrew link (UCLA) and stick by what I wrote before.

The words for chemistry and hole, for example, both begin with the guttural “H” sound, and no-one would know the difference in sound – in fact – some make the spelling mistake because they are indistinguishable. I would liken them to C and K, in cat and kitten. Could you tell, linguistically speaking, which is the letter K and which the letter C?

The “glottal” O sound (sic) for the word for light sounds like the word Or, as in this or that. Anyone who says they can hear a difference between the pronunciation of the English word Or and the Hebrew word for light, Or, is full of it.

Same goes for the “glottal” H sound in the Hebrew word for river. It’s just an H, dammit. It’s the expelling of air and sounds like Ha ha in English, or any other regular H sound.

I used to like Linguistics. If this is a reflection of a real representation of it – then I am underwhelmed in the least.

morphail's avatar

@zen Well, I can hear the difference between the uvular and the pharyngeal in those recordings. Can you?

Note that this is the “Oriental dialect” of Hebrew. Clearly the dialect you’re familiar with doesn’t make this distinction.

The Hebrew word for “light” and the English word “or” both begin with a glottal stop. You’re right, they sound the same. The difference is that the glottal stop functions as a consonant in Hebrew. And you’re right, the /h/ in the word for river is the same as the English /h/.

fundevogel's avatar

I had trouble learning ”ы” in Russian and still have trouble discerning ”ш” from ”щ” (Russian pronunciation here).

Also palatalization. There isn’t much of that in English but I love the sound of languages that have a lot of palatalization.

gailcalled's avatar

@thorninmud: Audio files for lettuce and rabbit are broken.

“Ronron” is lovely.

I make the “u” sound by putting my lips in the position for the English “ooo” and try to pronounce a long “e.”

the100thmonkey's avatar

I know it’s off-topic and will probably get modded, but I <3 this thread!

thorninmud's avatar

Hmm… they still work for me. But here are alternative links: la laitue (for the “u” sound) and un lapin for the nasalized “n”.

gailcalled's avatar

@thorninmud: Thanks. I got these. How would you explain the slightly shorter and softer vowel sounds? If you Anglicized “le lapin,” the “a” would be flatter and sharper. I notice that my mouth is in a slighty different position.

I leave it to you since I have to leave for real.

morphail's avatar

@gailcalled AIUI, the vowel in English “cat” is very front – in IPA /æ/. The French vowel – the first vowel in “lapin” – is further back – in IPA /a/.

thorninmud's avatar

@gailcalled In my layman’s terms, I’d say that when the French pronounce a vowel, the mouth is more static than with an English equivalent. In English, we tend to subtly shape the vowel throughout it’s pronunciation. To use @morphail ‘s example, an American saying “cat” would transition more gradually from the closed throat of the “c” to the open throat of the “a”, so the vowel sound bends more along the way. A french-speaker saying the same word would immediately throw the throat open after the “c”, and the “a” sound would emerge fully formed and stay that way throughout its voicing. “Flatter” is a good way to put it, as the vowels sound less “bendy”.

A better example might be the difference between English “low” and the French “l’eau”. In both, you start with an “L” and end with a long “o” sound, but “low” bends the vowel sound, while “l’eau” goes to that long “o” sound in a much less roundabout way.

fundevogel's avatar

@morphail I love Russian palatalization! But oddly enough that wasn’t hard to learn. We just kinda picked it up from our profs. I didn’t even learn what palatalization was until I read up a bit a Scottish pronunciation.
I blame the Scottish vikings in How to Train your Dragon.

Hawaii_Jake's avatar

@morphail pointed out that English has a glottal stop at the beginning of the word or, but Hawaiian is full of them. The name Hawai`i is has one. Wherever you see the /’/ that represents a glottal stop or a stop in the sound.

I also speak Japanese. Their /r/ is a cross between the English /r/, /l/, and /d/. It took a while to learn.

morphail's avatar

The Japanese sound is an aveolar lateral flap /ɺ/

the100thmonkey's avatar

Whatever it’s called, there’s not much that can beat the alveolar lateral flap in a Japanese teacher’s voice when he see two boys fighting:

ko ra!

MyNewtBoobs's avatar

The Chinese X/Hs. Which sounds nothing like either letter – you make an “s” sound(ish), but while sliding your tongue over your bottom teeth.

Porifera's avatar

@gailcalled What sounds for v and b in Spanish do you mean? I am a native Spanish speaker and we don’t make a difference in pronunciation between those two sounds despite of the fact that those are two distinctive letters. In very few towns in Spain and Latin America they pronounce them as you would the English v and b. I teach ESL and my Spanish speaking students pronounce vowel and bowel in the same way, thus disregarding the difference between v and b in English.

morphail's avatar

The Spanish pronunciation of B and V is a voiced bilabial fricative /β/. The difference between it and English /v/ is that /v/ is made with the lower lips and the upper teeth, while /β/ is made with both lips.

morphail's avatar

I should add that the click consonants of African languages like Zulu are used all the time in English. But in English they don’t function as consonants. When you say “tsk” you’re making a dental click.

gailcalled's avatar

@Porifera..:l I was typing and thinking too fast, of course.

But I had thought that there was some subtle differences between pronouncing, say,

burro y _ vamos a ver_? ¿No? What about in the lisping Cathtillion, which is what I learned in college?

And what about borrowed words, such as béisbol?

Porifera's avatar

@gailcalled In old Spanish there was a difference between v and b and the pronunciation was similar to the English sounds for v & b. However, in Modern Spanish we only use the sound of /b/ for etiher letter. And yes, this also appplies to words from other languages such as béisbol.

gailcalled's avatar

@Porifera; ¿Véisvol? Why not.

I love this thread.

morphail's avatar

To be more specific: Spanish B and V are /b/ word initially or after a nasal, and /β/ between vowels.

The Spanish lisping is called ceceo.

gailcalled's avatar

@morphail: Pronounced theytheo?

And /b/ra/ß/o ?

Porifera's avatar

@gailcalled Some people would say véisbol but it’s not the usual. Why not? Because from the time we learn to talk we only use /b/. It’s not something conscious, it’s rather mechanical. You don’t think about it, you just pronounce both letters with the same sound /b/. This is the topic of many debates among authorities because it doesn’t make much sense to have two different letters with the same pronunciation. It can also be confusing for children when they are learning to write because it makes spelling confusing for them.
Bravo is a great example though. The first b sound is tronger than the second, but still the second one is never like the English v.
Check Ceceo here

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