voiced / voiceless consonants

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licinio

Senior Member
Italian
Mandarin consonants trascribed in Pinyin as b, d and g are described as unaspirated versions of also voiceless p, t and k respectively. The Roman letters used may induce the learner into believing they are voiced, but many phonology descriptions of Mandarin are there to assure us they are not voiced at all.
However it is, they do sound to my ear as voiced consonants, not dissimilar from those same consonants in Latin languages like my own, Italian.
Am I just being deaf to their true sound?
 
  • xiaolijie

    Senior Member
    UK
    English (UK)
    No, you're not deaf :). They can be voiced or voiceless, depending on their position in the sentence. This confuses people and explains why they are transcribed as "voiced" (b, d, g) but at the same time argued as "voicedless".
     
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    licinio

    Senior Member
    Italian
    Phew, I'm relieved... Could you provide exemples of when they are voiced and when they are not?
     

    xiaolijie

    Senior Member
    UK
    English (UK)
    An example: when a syllable starting with b, d, g is said in isolation, the consonant is voiceless. When the same syllable is de-stressed (usually in mid-sentence position), the consonant is voiced (的 is therefore almost always voiced).
     

    indigoduck

    Senior Member
    Canadian English
    An example: when a syllable starting with b, d, g is said in isolation, the consonant is voiceless. When the same syllable is de-stressed (usually in mid-sentence position), the consonant is voiced (的 is therefore almost always voiced).
    I'm confused...
    I thought B and P were voiced and voiceless of each other.
    In japanese, the K and G are voiced and voiceless versions of each other, similar to the T and D.

    How does this work in putonghua ? You mean this happens when we put extra stress on a particular word ?
     

    xiaolijie

    Senior Member
    UK
    English (UK)
    I thought B and P were voiced and voiceless of each other.
    Yes, this is indeed the situation in English (and many other languages, such as Japanese you referred to).
    The main contrast in Chinese, however, is not between "voiced" and "voiceless" but between "aspirated" and "unaspirated". English speakers, who are more familiar with the voiced-voiceless contrast, tend to mis-identify the contrast in Chinese as being between the voiced & voiceless pairs.
     
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    licinio

    Senior Member
    Italian
    An example: when a syllable starting with b, d, g is said in isolation, the consonant is voiceless. When the same syllable is de-stressed (usually in mid-sentence position), the consonant is voiced (的 is therefore almost always voiced).
    我(wǒ)(gěi)()客(kè)一(yí)个(gè)广(guǎng)播(bō)和(hé)一(yī)把(bǎ)笔(bǐ)

    I don't know how much sense the above sentence would make :), but it's just to make sure through an exemple that the syllables in red would actually be pronounced starting with a voiceless consonant.
     

    xiaolijie

    Senior Member
    UK
    English (UK)
    licinio said:
    Mandarin consonants trascribed in Pinyin as b, d and g are described as unaspirated versions of also voiceless p, t and k respectively. The Roman letters used may induce the learner into believing they are voiced
    I've just re-read your OP and as it predicts, I don't think you'll get any clear answer for your last question, because what matters is what we believe we hear, unless we have the means and the willingness to analyze natural speech samples with spectrographic machines.
     

    licinio

    Senior Member
    Italian
    If the difference is so slight, then, why do chinese teaching books speak of a contrast between Mandarin aspirated and unaspirated consonants, rather that between voiced and voiceless consonants as in other languages? It just complicates matters! I don't think I'll give this point much notice...
     

    Ghabi

    Senior Member
    Cantonese
    If the difference is so slight, then, why do chinese teaching books speak of a contrast between Mandarin aspirated and unaspirated consonants, rather that between voiced and voiceless consonants as in other languages? It just complicates matters! I don't think I'll give this point much notice...
    Hi Licinio. From my experience, it's actually rather difficult for most Chinese speakers to pronounce the voiced plosives (/g/, /d/, /b/). One of the biggest obstacles for a Chinese speaker to master a foreign language is in fact the voiced consonants. Voiced plosives do exist in some Chinese dialects (in which you'd find a three-way contrast: /p/, /pʰ/, /b/), but they're not the majority.

    My question is: do you aspirate your /k/, /t/, /p/ when you speak Italian (i.e. à la English or German)? It's okay if you do, but if you don't, then your Mandarin would sound very foreign to many a Chinese ear.
     

    licinio

    Senior Member
    Italian
    /k/, /t/, /p/ are not aspirated in Italian. They are more so in English and much more in Mandarin, so I try to achieve this goal, while keeping in mind that the consonants that look voiced from the Pinyin spelling should tend to be as voiceless as possible..., but not aspirated!
     

    Serafín33

    Senior Member
    Mandarin consonants trascribed in Pinyin as b, d and g are described as unaspirated versions of also voiceless p, t and k respectively. The Roman letters used may induce the learner into believing they are voiced, but many phonology descriptions of Mandarin are there to assure us they are not voiced at all.
    However it is, they do sound to my ear as voiced consonants, not dissimilar from those same consonants in Latin languages like my own, Italian.
    Am I just being deaf to their true sound?
    No you're not.:) According to Duanmu's The Phonology of Standard Chinese (2007), a book on Chinese as pronounced in Beijing, non-aspirated consonants are usually voiced in unstressed syllables (i.e. when carrying the 5th tone), such as the particle 的 de. (This is precisely what xiaolijie said.)

    Also remember that Beijing Mandarin has a lot of tone-reduction, where they pronounce 5th tones in the same places that speakers of other dialects would pronounce full tones, e.g. 学生, "xuésheng" in Beijing but "xuéshēng" in Taipei.
    Yes, this is indeed the situation in English (and many other languages, such as Japanese you referred to).
    The main contrast in Chinese, however, is not between "voiced" and "voiceless" but between "aspirated" and "unaspirated". English speakers, who are more familiar with the voiced-voiceless contrast, tend to mis-identify the contrast in Chinese as being between the voiced & voiceless pairs.
    The difference between English // and /p/ is actually a complex one:

    :arrow: non-aspirated vs. aspirated in initial position followed by a vowel e.g. bat [bæt]/[pæt] pat [pʰæt], and word-medially before a stressed vowel e.g. rebate [ɹi.ˈbeɪt] repaint [ɹi.ˈpʰeɪnt].

    :arrow: and voiced vs. unvoiced in other positions e.g. breach [bɹitʃ] preach [pɹ̥itʃ]. In syllable-final position following the syllable's vowel this is also reinforced by vowel length: nib [nɪːb] keep [kʰip].

    If the difference is so slight, then, why do chinese teaching books speak of a contrast between Mandarin aspirated and unaspirated consonants, rather that between voiced and voiceless consonants as in other languages? It just complicates matters! I don't think I'll give this point much notice...
    Because the difference between the Mandarin b vs. p is primarily aspiration. Whether the b is pronounced as a voiced or unvoiced consonant that's a question of allophony, but it's not something necessarily contrastive to other sounds by itself (it helps to contrast unstressed syllables from stressed ones along with the 5th tone, however).

    (Also note I'm speaking solely about Beijing Mandarin. Things are different in other regions, but I haven't concerned myself much with that, mainly because information is not as easy to get in English (my Mandarin is needless to say poor :().)
    Do you have the voiced counterparts of these (such as g/ d /b) in Italian?
    Yes he does, but the difference between his b/d/g and p/t/k is based mostly on voice.
     
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    JieXian

    Senior Member
    English, Chinese, Malay
    我(wǒ)(gěi)()客(kè)一(yí)个(gè)广(guǎng)播(bō)和(hé)一(yī)把(bǎ)笔(bǐ)

    I don't know how much sense the above sentence would make :), but it's just to make sure through an exemple that the syllables in red would actually be pronounced starting with a voiceless consonant.
    I don't know many terms but ALL the g's should be unaspirated and sound the same. So far I can't think of any single instance where the aspirated and unaspirated consonants as pronounced differently as their pinyin states that they would.

    All the irregularities know is than "a" sounds like an "é" in "bian" or "xian" but retains the "a" in "man". Of course depending on where you are accents may be little different. People in Beijing may sound bian more like "a" and less of "é" and a "w" sounds a little like "v" as in "wen", but in these 2 cases we Malaysians sound similar to Taiwanese Chinese.

    The only time where "d" sounds like an english "d" as in "我的.." is in songs.

    Maybe you need to give us an example of a recording or something.

    Lots of grammatical mistakes however :D
     
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