/ɐ̃/ (Brazilian Portuguese) vs /ɛ̃/ (French)

Alan Evangelista

Senior Member
Brazilian Portuguese
Hi, guys!

I am not sure this is the best forum for this question, but I think there is no perfect Word Reference forum to ask it, so at least here there is a bigger chance someone could answer.

I have always pronounced /ɛ̃/ (used in words like chien, vin and jardin in French) as /ɐ̃/ (used in words like rã, sã and santa in Portuguese - you can hears the sounds in Google Translate). However, I have recently reviewed the vowel trapezoid of both languages:
Portuguese phonology - Wikipedia
French phonology - Wikipedia

The two phonems are clearly in distinct positions of the vowels trapezoid, but I cannot hear any difference between both, nor can I understand how I should say /ɛ̃/ .

I read that I should simply say /ɛ/ (E sound in "bet" in English or "mel" in Portuguese) and blow air through the nose. However, when I do it, I get a sound similar to ɛ, different from /ɛ̃/ . But the way, in my ears /ɛ̃/ does not sound at all like a /ɛ/, so not even the IPA symbol itself makes sense to me.

Could someone please help me?

Thanks in advance!
 
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  • merquiades

    Senior Member
    English (US Northeast)
    I will review your links at a later time, but personally I have always pronounced the two exactly the same, but it was something I figured out all by myself listening to people pronouncing the two sounds. So I would pronounce rein and saint like and . However, I learnt Portuguese in Portugal, so I'm not sure if that accounts for any difference.
     

    Zec

    Senior Member
    Croatian
    French "/ɛ̃/" is actually quite a bit more open than it's oral counterpart /ɛ/, despite being written with the same letter due to tradition. I always pronounce it as a nasal front /ã/, contrasting (unless I mess up the pronunciation, since French is my L3...) with the nasal back /ɑ̃/. So pronouncing it similar to Portuguese /ɐ̃/ isn't too much of a mistake.
     

    Cenzontle

    Senior Member
    English, U.S.
    I agree with Zec, French /ɛ̃/ is a front vowel, while (Brazilian) Portuguese /ɐ̃/ is more back.
    French "/ɛ̃/" is actually quite a bit more open than it's oral counterpart /ɛ/, despite being written with the same letter due to tradition.
    Being an English-speaker, I originally associated French /ɛ̃/ with the [ᴂ] of (Am.Eng.) "danse" (not "dense"), until I learned of that tradition.
     

    merquiades

    Senior Member
    English (US Northeast)
    I've listened to the nasal vowels here and I still associate Portuguese an, am in campo, planta with [ᴂ] and French /ɛ̃/. They use the symbol /ɐ̃/ for Portugues but it doesn't sound to me to have any "a" quality to it , very unlike French camp, plante. Rather more like Quimper, plainte.
     
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    Dymn

    Senior Member
    What I hear is, using my native Catalan range of vowels:

    /ɑ̃/ (champ): somewhere between /ɔ̃/ and /ã/, closer to /ɔ̃/ for European French, and to /ã/ for Canadian French
    /ɛ̃/ (chien): almost like /ã/ in European French, and /ɛ̃/ for Canadian French
    /ɔ̃/ (bon): /õ/

    As for Portuguese nasal vowels, I hear them exactly as they're transcribed (/ɐ̃/ being between /ã/ and /ə̃/), so the difference between French /ɛ̃/ and Portuguese /ɐ̃/ is indeed very small.
     

    merquiades

    Senior Member
    English (US Northeast)
    What I hear is, using my native Catalan range of vowels:

    /ɑ̃/ (champ): somewhere between /ɔ̃/ and /ã/, closer to /ɔ̃/ for European French, and to /ã/ for Canadian French
    /ɛ̃/ (chien): almost like /ã/ in European French, and /ɛ̃/ for Canadian French
    /ɔ̃/ (bon): /õ/

    As for Portuguese nasal vowels, I hear them exactly as they're transcribed (/ɐ̃/ being between /ã/ and /ə̃/), so the difference between French /ɛ̃/ and Portuguese /ɐ̃/ is indeed very small.
    I agree with you in exerything except with "/ɛ̃/ (chien): almost like /ã/ in European French". Chien doesn't sound like it has an /ã/ sound at all to me: as in dans, champs, paon
    That is unless your /ã/ is not IPA but Portuguese spelling. There I would agree sã = saint.
     

    Zec

    Senior Member
    Croatian
    That's because the vowel in dans, champs, paon would be more properly represented as [ɑ̃], or even [ɒ̃] if it really happens to be rounded (it's difficult to hear the difference by ear only).

    Thing is, even though IPA transcriptions are supposed to show a languages actual pronunciation, they are ironically similar to standard orthographies in that they eventually end up lagging behind the changes occurring in the spoken languages. The standard IPA transcriptions of English and French represent the pronunciation of the early 20th century standard language, which has changed quite a bit in England (with "RP" being replaced by "SSBE" as the de facto standard in media). French hasn't changed that much, but some transcriptions are still imprecise. How French nasal vowels are transcribed doesn't quite represent their true pronunciation, they'd have to be moved counter-clockwise in the IPA diagram a little bit to be precise: /ɛ̃/ is more open than /ɛ/, /ã/ is more back than /a/ and /ɔ̃/ is more closed than /ɔ/ (In France, in Quebec it's more similar to their transcriptions, but tends to move in the opposite direction, from what I've heard).
     

    Swatters

    Member
    French - Belgium, some Wallo-Picard
    The traditional IPA transcription of the DANS vowel is already /ɑ̃/. Something like /ɒ̃/ would indeed be more accurate to the realisation in Northern European French.

    If we ever reform the transcription of French, I'd be more partial to /ẽ - ã - õ/ for the current /ɛ̃ - ɑ̃ - ɔ̃/, since they'd have the advantage of being dialect-agnostic and easy to type while still showing their phonetic and morphological alternation with those oral vowels.
     

    In-Su

    Senior Member
    Fr. French
    This is an interesting topic. It's actually not uncommon at all in France to confuse /a/ and /ɛ̃/ in some situations. Watching tennis when I was younger, I thought it was weird how scoring a point could get you from 40-30 to 40-1. ;) Trying to de-nasalize /ɛ̃/ by blocking the air that passes through my nose, /ɛ/ is definitely not the phoneme that comes out; it's more of an "a" sound but I couldn't say if it's /a/ for sure.
    My experience with Brazilian Portuguese being so limited, I can only speak for European Portuguese. Oddly enough I've always thought of /ɐ̃/ as being closer to our /ɑ̃/ but that might just be me; I could be biased due to spelling. It'd be interesting if a Portuguese native with some knowledge of French could share their opinion.
     
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