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Thread: Hardest language to pronounce?

  1. #21
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    Re: Hardest language to pronounce?

    I've never tried to learn a language with phonemic secondary articulations, like palatalization (the Goidelic languages, the Slavic languages), or aspiration (many southern and southeast Asian languages), or emphatic consonants (Semitic languages), but at first glance I suspect I would have difficulty with that.
    Also, some northern native American languages look quite formidable in phonetic transcription, for the amount of sounds that are unusual to me.
    Deuparth gwaith yw ei ddechrau.

  2. #22
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    Re: Hardest language to pronounce?

    Quote Originally Posted by Outsider View Post
    I've never tried to learn a language with phonemic secondary articulations, like palatalization (the Goidelic languages, the Slavic languages), or aspiration (many southern and southeast Asian languages), or emphatic consonants (Semitic languages), but at first glance I suspect I would have difficulty with that.
    Also, some northern native American languages look quite formidable in phonetic transcription, for the amount of sounds that are unusual to me.
    If you speak English, then you have no problems with aspiration, since /p/, /t/ and /k/ are aspirated in stressed syllables.

  3. #23
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    Re: Hardest language to pronounce?

    While aspirated consonants appear in English, they are not independent phonemes. They are complementary with their unaspirated counterparts. Imagine a language with four possibilities:

    kin, with aspirated /k/
    kin, with unaspirated /k/
    napkin, with unaspirated /k/
    napkin, with aspirated /k/

    Would you be able to make these distinctions easily?
    Last edited by Outsider; 20th August 2007 at 6:01 PM. Reason: rewritten
    Deuparth gwaith yw ei ddechrau.

  4. #24
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    Re: Hardest language to pronounce?

    Quote Originally Posted by Outsider View Post
    While aspirated consonants appear in English, they are not independent phonemes. They are complementary. Imagine a language with four possibilities:

    kin, with aspirated /k/
    kin, with unaspirated /k/
    napkin, with unaspirated /k/
    napkin, with aspirated /k/

    Would you be able to make these distinctions easily?
    I honestly do not consider this to be difficult. The distinction is quite obvious orally, it is just a matter of learning the words.

  5. #25
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    Re: Hardest language to pronounce?

    If you say it's obvious for you, I believe you, but it certainly isn't for me. Aspirating the plosives was probably one of the last things about English phonetics that I suceeded in doing.

    By the way, I second an earlier remark that the tense-lax vowel distinction is another hard thing about English phonetics, for a speaker of a Romance language. Even today, I'm not completely sure I've mastered it. Case in point...
    Deuparth gwaith yw ei ddechrau.

  6. #26
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    Re: Hardest language to pronounce?

    Quote Originally Posted by Outsider View Post
    If you say it's obvious for you, I believe you, but it certainly isn't for me. Aspirating the plosives was probably one of the last things about English phonetics that I suceeded in doing.

    By the way, I second an earlier remark that the tense-lax vowel distinction is another hard thing about English phonetics, for a speaker of a Romance language. Even today, I'm not completely sure I've mastered it. Case in point...

    Can anyone give an example of an "aspirated plosive" or a "tense-lax vowels distinction"? Of course I don't study English pronuciation but I would be really interested to know about the difficulties my non-native friends have...

  7. #27
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    Re: Hardest language to pronounce?

    Quote Originally Posted by sniffrat View Post
    Can anyone give an example of an "aspirated plosive" or a "tense-lax vowels distinction"? Of course I don't study English pronuciation but I would be really interested to know about the difficulties my non-native friends have...
    Aspirated plosive:
    the first p in paper is aspirated (it has an /h/ sound after the /p/) while the second one is not.

    Tense-lax:
    feel - fill
    fool - full

  8. #28
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    Re: Hardest language to pronounce?

    Quote Originally Posted by Outsider View Post
    The English consonants are fricatives. The Spanish consonants may sometimes be pronounced as fricatives, but they are more often approximants. Basically, the Spanish pronunciation is "softer".
    Ah, thanks -- so I just need to train my tongue to stay a little further from the point of contact.

    About aspirated consonants, I find it very difficult to do the so-called voiced aspirates, of Hindi for example (and I understand these sounds are fairly rare across the world). It's not that I can't do it period but that I can't do it and have it sound natural at the same time. But I agree that double articulation is difficult in general -- I don't know how the Slavic languages can palatalize a consonant before another consonant as my tongue simply doesn't want to do that. English also has w which is doubly articulated and it difficult for some Greek speakers I know, who replace it with γου to get both the velar and labial aspects of the English sound (oddly enough they don't use β [v] like many other languages do).

  9. #29
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    Re: Hardest language to pronounce?

    Quote Originally Posted by tpettit View Post
    I honestly do not consider this to be difficult. The distinction is quite obvious orally, it is just a matter of learning the words.

    It definitely isn't obvious to me, and one of the languages I'm actively learning (Vietnamese) involves aspirated / unaspirated phonemes exactly as mentioned. It is definitely not always easy to tell the difference between the two in speech. Just out of curiosity, what languages are you learning or have you learned that make distinctions between aspirated and unaspirated consonants?

  10. #30
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    Re: Hardest language to pronounce?

    Quote Originally Posted by divisortheory View Post
    It definitely isn't obvious to me, and one of the languages I'm actively learning (Vietnamese) involves aspirated / unaspirated phonemes exactly as mentioned. It is definitely not always easy to tell the difference between the two in speech. Just out of curiosity, what languages are you learning or have you learned that make distinctions between aspirated and unaspirated consonants?
    Granted, I've never actually tried to learn any language that does make the distincion. However, I've often listened to such languages before, such as Vietnamese or Thai, and I find the difference between an aspirated plosive and a non aspirated one very noticeable. I have a theory about that, though. I think that the fact that I grew up speaking French and English at the same time, in which plosives are respectively non aspirated and aspirated, has "trained" my ears to tell the difference.

  11. #31
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    Re: Hardest language to pronounce?

    Quote Originally Posted by Outsider View Post
    Also, some northern native American languages look quite formidable in phonetic transcription, for the amount of sounds that are unusual to me.
    Even a simple Navajo greeting like yáá'át'eh is notoriously difficult to pronounce. I'm able to pronounce glottal stops but according to the Navajos who taught me this word, my pronunciation didn't even come close!

    Very few outsiders have ever mastered this language, which was used as a code by Navajo GIs during World War II:

    http://home.earthlink.net/~pfeiffer/...0Language.html

  12. #32
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    Re: Hardest language to pronounce?

    Don't worry, I am not confusing the two. All it takes is a little shifting of the tongue's position. I refer to that as the "French mouth position" and the "English mouth position". Still, English also has un aspirated alveolar plosives. And the plosives /k/ and /p/ are nearly identical in both languages, when not aspirated.
    Last edited by tpettit; 21st August 2007 at 8:24 PM.

  13. #33
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    Re: Hardest language to pronounce?

    Quote Originally Posted by divisortheory View Post
    It definitely isn't obvious to me, and one of the languages I'm actively learning (Vietnamese) involves aspirated / unaspirated phonemes exactly as mentioned. It is definitely not always easy to tell the difference between the two in speech. Just out of curiosity, what languages are you learning or have you learned that make distinctions between aspirated and unaspirated consonants?
    Divisor, Mandarin Chinese makes the distinction, but if you're studying Vietnamese you probably have already heard that before.

    It's much easier to internalize than you may think. In fact, you may be just trying too hard.

  14. #34
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    Re: Hardest language to pronounce?

    I did my best to learn Inuktitu - the native language of the Inuit people (formerly know as Eskimos). Many words are pronounced from the back of the throat and it is extremely gutteral. Although I learned the words, actually speaking it was impossible for me. My young students gleefully enjoyed my attempts.
    That being said, I tried to pronounce a Chinese friends name and she giggled and said I had called her "Rubber boots".
    GONNA is not a word in English. You mean GOING TO

  15. #35
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    Re: Hardest language to pronounce?

    Quote Originally Posted by modus.irrealis View Post
    But I agree that double articulation is difficult in general -- I don't know how the Slavic languages can palatalize a consonant before another consonant as my tongue simply doesn't want to do that.
    When it comes to secondary articulation, one thing that totally confuses me in some cases is the difference between "real" palatal consonants and those that are "palatalized" as a manner of secondary articulation. For example, the Spanish ñ or the Croatian/Serbian nj is supposedly a real palatal nasal (IPA ɲ), whereas the Russian "soft n" is merely "palatalized" (IPA nʲ). Yet I can't hear any difference whatsoever in these sounds, and I don't even understand theoretically what the difference in their pronunciation should be. For what that's worth, the Croatian and Serbian Russian textbooks I've seen happily inform the reader that these sounds are the same.

  16. #36
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    Re: Hardest language to pronounce?

    A long time ago (in a thread far, far away ), I listened to palatalized /n/ and /l/. The former sounded like a palatal /n/ (Spanish "ñ"), but the latter did not sound like a palatal /l/ to me!

    Of course, it could simply be that the recording was not very good.
    Deuparth gwaith yw ei ddechrau.

  17. #37
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    Re: Hardest language to pronounce?

    Quote Originally Posted by Outsider View Post
    A long time ago (in a thread far, far away ), I listened to palatalized /n/ and /l/. The former sounded like a palatal /n/ (Spanish "ñ"), but the latter did not sound like a palatal /l/ to me!

    Of course, it could simply be that the recording was not very good.
    There are some high-quality samples of Russian palatalization in these audio files (especially good is the file 005-9(1).mp3, which corresponds to the table on top of page 5-9 of this lesson).

    The situation with the palatalized /l/ sounds murkier than with /n/ to me too. Sometimes I hear it as identical to the palatal /l/ (i.e. Croatian lj or Portuguese lh), but sometimes I hear it as subtly different in a way I can't reproduce. In particular, I hear the Russian palatalized /l/ as identical to the Croatian lj in syllables лё or лу, but oddly different in syllables ле or ли.

    These Russian palatalized consonants are a good example of how difficult it can be to properly pronounce even very closely related languages.

  18. #38
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    Re: Hardest language to pronounce?

    The palatalized /l/ in the samples of the other thread sounded like "ly" to me: "lyef" (or "lhyef", perhaps). I know that there's a difference between palatalizing a consonant and inserting a glide after it, but I honestly couldn't hear it.
    Thank you for the other links.
    Deuparth gwaith yw ei ddechrau.

  19. #39
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    Re: Hardest language to pronounce?

    Quote Originally Posted by divisortheory View Post
    It definitely isn't obvious to me, and one of the languages I'm actively learning (Vietnamese) involves aspirated / unaspirated phonemes exactly as mentioned.
    Even though I speak and hear a language everyday which unlike English doesn't have aspiration, I also had lots of trouble distinguishing aspirated and unaspirated consonants -- in fact, at first I was hearing the distinction as voiceless vs. voiced through the influence of English. It took me a long while before I could consistently produce and distinguish between them and even then it's always been in a "safe" environment so I don't know if I could do it in the real world.

    Quote Originally Posted by Athaulf View Post
    When it comes to secondary articulation, one thing that totally confuses me in some cases is the difference between "real" palatal consonants and those that are "palatalized" as a manner of secondary articulation. For example, the Spanish ñ or the Croatian/Serbian nj is supposedly a real palatal nasal (IPA ɲ), whereas the Russian "soft n" is merely "palatalized" (IPA nʲ). Yet I can't hear any difference whatsoever in these sounds, and I don't even understand theoretically what the difference in their pronunciation should be.
    I've convinced myself there's a difference although I guess the way to test that is to see if I could consistently distinguish them, which would be tough -- is there any language that does distinguish them? But there should be a difference on the pronunciation side, which if I understand it correctly, is that with nʲ the tip of the tongue is still in the same position against the teeth as with n but the middle of the tongue is raised towards the hard palate, while with ɲ the middle of the tongue is pressed against the hard palate while the tip isn't really doing anything. When I do that I get a "heavier", more "dull" sound (I'd even say more "Russian" ) for the palatalized consonant than the palatal one.

    For what that's worth, the Croatian and Serbian Russian textbooks I've seen happily inform the reader that these sounds are the same.
    Ah textbooks! I've learned not to trust them on details after having read that the palatal n is the "ny" in "canyon" or the palatal l is the "lli" in "million" when the English is clearly two consonants while the actual sound is not -- at least in my English they're two consonants, and that leads to another problem for textbooks in that they rarely, if ever, specify which accent of English they're talking about so it's always possible that in the author's speech it is the same sound. I've seen similar descriptions of aspirated consonants as being boathouse and madhouse, but again in English it's distinctly two consonants. All I can say is that internet has to have made language learning a lot easier than back in the day where these book descriptions were the main resource.
    Last edited by modus.irrealis; 22nd August 2007 at 6:58 AM. Reason: Mixed up my palates

  20. #40
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    Re: Hardest language to pronounce?

    Quote Originally Posted by modus.irrealis View Post
    Ah, thanks -- so I just need to train my I don't know how the Slavic languages can palatalize a consonant before another consonant as my tongue simply doesn't want to do that.
    This doesn't apply only for slavic languages.Many of those who study Romanian told me they have serious problems with this.
    for example : the word cîrn is pronounced /K'/R/N'/'
    Last edited by Woland; 22nd August 2007 at 3:11 PM.
    Please correct my mistakes.Vă rog să-mi corectaţi greşelile

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