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realmayo

Sounds from the mouth or throat?

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realmayo

Is it generally accepted that Chinese (among plenty of languages) requires vowel sounds to be produced more from closer to the mouth, whereas English generally has the sounds seeming to start lower down, in the throat?

If so, do people consciously try to practise this? Any tips?

I find my "full" third tone in particular seems to benefit from this, versus making the sound from the base of my thoat where it kind of gets lost down there during its dip: perhaps this is more a feature for men (with deeper-vibrating vocal chords) than women?

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Lugubert
Is it generally accepted that Chinese (among plenty of languages) requires vowel sounds to be produced more from closer to the mouth' date=' whereas English generally has the sounds seeming to start lower down, in the throat?

If so, do people consciously try to practise this? Any tips?

I find my "full" third tone in particular seems to benefit from this, versus making the sound from the base of my thoat where it kind of gets lost down there during its dip: perhaps this is more a feature for men (with deeper-vibrating vocal chords) than women? [/quote']

I have so far found no language contradicting what I always have been taught: vowels are produced by the vocal chords, and their different qualities are created by the tongue and the lips. But I haven't learned how the Vietnamese "creaky voice" works. Yet.

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dadim9

I'm not a native speaker, but that is not what I have been taught. As I understand it, words like 壳 come very much from down the throat, where as other words are pronounced from the mouth. What I did practice heavily though are the quick tongue movements back and forth to say things like 先生. In English the tongue moves up and down more than back and forth. Learning Chinese certainly means, that different muscles have to be trained.

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realmayo
what I always have been taught: vowels are produced by the vocal chords

ok, I guess the sound has got to originate at the back of the throat for most (all?) sounds

But what I'm saying really makes no sense to you?

I'll try to explain more, but it's really hard to. Say "tea", linger on the vowel. Say it one time exaggerating the vibrations of the vocal chords -- put your fingers to the base of your throat and feel them vibrate. Then say "tea" again, but this time try to reduce the vibrations.

... this ability to make the difference is partly what I'm on about.

and their different qualities are created by the tongue and the lips

Yes! if you move the middle or back of your tongue in various ways, you can make various "chambers" (for want of a better word) inside your mouth, and it seems to me that these different chambers can create a more forceful sound --if you want them to-- which can be an alternative to force coming from constricting the back of the throat... Hence the either/or thing I'm asking about.

Sorry, the above is very wordy and unclear, is it necessary, does my first post make no sense to anyone? It seems to be obvious that when I speak English more sound seems to come from -- seems to be manipulated more in -- the base of my throat, but when Chinese speak, more of the manipulation of vowel sounds is done by the mouth...? :conf

EDIT: Ah, dadim, sorry, didn't see your post. So you know what I'm on about, at least.

other words are pronounced from the mouth

Does this come easily to you? It's basically what I'm struggling with, ie the whole point of me posting this here!

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Hofmann

I'm not getting you.

As far as I know, in most instances, one's vocal folds controls the pitch while the shape of one's mouth changes the timbre, which makes different vowels. Consonants are formed by different ways that airflow is obstructed.

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chrix

dadim, the tongue moves differently, because Chinese has different sounds than English does, in this case retroflex sounds, where the contriction is created with the back of the tip of the tongue. But this only holds for this class of sounds.

Likewise, realmayo, I don't see what you're getting at. But let's look at vowels and consonants:

a. Vowels do rely on the signal originating in the glottis,so they all originate in the throat, but it is the shape of the vocal tract (everything beyond the throat up to the lips) that gives them their sound quality. Ignoring the rounding of the lips, try it out by sounding out different vowels, /a/, /e/, /i/: your configuration will be different, and all the different "movable" parts of your vocal tract will be involved in shaping this, of which the tongue is the most important one.

To classify vowels we can use a matrix of three basic characteristics, as is done by the IPA:

1. the distance of the tongue and the roof of the mouth. Here, an open vowel such as /a/ would be the furthest you could get. Both English and Chinese have those vowels, even though their specific configurations might differ.

2. the position of the tongue relative to the back of the mouth. The so-called back vowels are sounds such as /u/, /o/, and back /ɑ/. Last time I checked both languages had back vowels.

3. the roundedness of the lips doesn't really play a role here.

Since you referred specifically to vowels, I don't see the difference here. It's true that in the fourth tone you can get a different phonation on the vowel, which is known as "creaky voiced", but this is something that happens directly at the source where the sound is produced, at the glottis, so no tongue movements are involved here.

b. Consonants: in order not to get too technical, let's just look at plosives, e.g. /p t k/, and fricatives, e.g. /f, s, sh, x/. Plosives are formed by blocking the flow of air at a certain point in the vocal tract and the releasing it in one "plop", and fricatives are formed by narrowing the flow of air and thereby creating friction.This is why you can hold fricatives for a long time, but it's impossible with the plosive, once you block the air, it needs to be released.

"t" is produced by blocking the air around the alveolar ridge (there can be variation across languages, for instance whether this is done by the tip of the tongue as in English or with the blade of the tongue as in French), while "s" is prodcued by creating turbulence by narrowing the passage of air around the same area.

All languages work like this, there's no reason to believe why Chinese might be different. It is true that Chinese has certain sounds English doesn't have, the retroflex consonants and the "h" sound which is actually a velar fricative in Mandarin, but a voiceless vowel in English. But this doesn't mean that other sounds are affected necessarily. Maybe you refer to coarticulation, which means that every sound segments is influenced by its neighbouring ones, but that is also a general principle of speech production.

If you want a language with consonants produced in the very back of your throat, try Arabic. My phonetics instructor used to joke that the epiglottal and pharyngeal consonants should be practiced with caution, practicing them too much could lead to injuries :mrgreen:

Edited by chrix

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realmayo

When I started this thread I really thought this was a pretty standard understanding, but clearly I've got confused. After reading the very helpful responses here, and making a lot of odd noises, I think what I mean is this:

It's possible to choose to make a vowel sound resonate more in the back of the throat, or choose not to allow it to resonate much there. This seems to be done by restricting the airflow into the mouth.

Does this make sense?

For example, I can make the pinyin sound "wo" in two different ways.

1 The bottom of my jaw, my chin, is pushed up. If I concentrate, I can feel some airflow on the roof of my mouth. If I put the palm of my hand around my thoat (gently!) I can feel limited vibration from my thoat, but only there. It feels like the inside of my mouth is where the sound is "echoing" or resonating, if at all.

2 My jaw/chin is pushed down (basically half-way towards the involuntary closing of the air passage if I dry-retch). Can't feel the airflow on the roof of my mouth. The palm of my hand on my neck feels vibrations everywhere. I seem to have created a big echo chamber in the back of my throat.

I guess -- by looking at diagrams - that either the eipglotis or the back of the tongue obstruct to a certain extent the airflow produced from the throat, causing a bigger "chamber" down there.

crix: reading your post, it could be that all I'm really saying is that the Chinese backward vowels aren't as backwards as English ones. would this work?

PS I'd also add: if you asked a speaker of Vietnamese, say, to say 哥哥, and a speaker of English to do the same, I believe the sound would be very different. I don't know how to describe it technically, but the mini-explosion of friction in the back of the throat making the "G" sound seems at the very least more pronounced for the English speaker than for the Vietnamese speaker and -- I think -- for a Chinese speaker. :conf

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chrix

Are you really sure you still get the same "o" sound? With the configurations you are describing the latter should be more open than the former.

As far as backwardness goes, this website seems to have it the other way around for Chinese and English, it seems that Chinese back vowels are backer than English back vowels.

About the /g/ thing. Yes, there's is variation. In Mandarin, the /g/ sound is actually a voiceless unaspirated plosive, while in English it is usually a devoiced unaspirated plosive. I'm not familiar with Vietnamese, but if it had, say, a fully voiced unaspirated plosive then it would surely sound different. They still all work on the same principle, blockage of air flow and release, but the timing is different (aka "Voice-onset time").

The IPA alphabet is mainly phonological, so many phonetic details are not necessarily reflected by it. It is those details that can differ from language to language, especially with vowels, which is why in order to describe vowel sounds in a language they use vowel diagrams such as in the link.

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Hofmann

realmayo,

with the first wo, I doubt that you can still keep the [ɔ] sound with your chin up. I can't.

There is also a possibility that you're referring to head voice and chest voice.

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realmayo

ha, I don't want to flog a dead horse or anything but discovered I'm not alone in my renegade views! was listening to a podcast on popupchinese.com, about the pronunciation of 日 (which has always been the toughest pinyin for me) and, describing how it is said, one of the hosts, Brendan, says:

"...you're making this sound with the vibration of air in your mouth, it's not coming from your vocal chords or anything like that."

I'm not saying he must be right (& so you're wrong!), just ... interesting that someone else has set up this distinction of the mouth versus the throat in the same way that I was framing it.

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chrix

huh? Now we're talking about a different sound again. How does this relate to /o/ or other sounds already mentioned?

The /r/-sound is usually described as a "voiced retroflex fricative or approximant", i.e. since is voiced, so by definion the vocal chords are involved, so I either he is wrong or he meant something else. Also there is variation amongst speakers as to whether it is a fricative or approximant. If it's an approximant, there's really not much friction, so the vocal chords would even be more important here...

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Lugubert

All vowels and voiced consonants involve the vocal chords. That includes 日.

Then again, I think it may be wrong to say that the production of a sound starts somewhere. It's a cooperative effort involving the vocal chords, tongue and lips.

Perhaps the throat plays a part in for example the Arabic "emphatic" consonants, and it might be possible to say that there is more lung and/or midriff action in Indian and others' aspirated consonants.

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realmayo

chrix

How does this relate to /o/ or other sounds already mentioned?

I asked about Chinese pronunciation. 日 is Chinese and is pronounced.

Lugubert

Then again, I think it may be wrong to say that the production of a sound starts somewhere. It's a cooperative effort involving the vocal chords, tongue and lips.

Yes, I'm now confident I know what I'm talking about:), one way to make my Chinese sound less like English and more Chinese is to make sure that more words "sound from the mouth" than from the throat, by which I mean: the tongue and lips shape themselves to create more vibrations there than they typically do when I speak English.

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chrix
I asked about Chinese pronunciation. 日 is Chinese and is pronounced.
well you keep jumping from sound to sound, it makes the entire discussion quite confusing...
Yes, I'm now confident I know what I'm talking about, one way to make my Chinese sound less like English and more Chinese is to make sure that more words "sound from the mouth" than from the throat, by which I mean: the tongue and lips shape themselves to create more vibrations there than they typically do when I speak English.

?? of course sounds are produced differently in different languages, but a vague statement such as this will have little descriptive value...

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realmayo
a vague statement such as this will have little descriptive value

I'm sure it's obvious from everything I've written so far that I don't have sufficient knowledge of linguistics to give a precise and satisfying description.

All I've been able to talk about is trying to decrease the amount of vibration that my throat makes when I speak certain Chinese sounds: -- to my ear, and the ears of a couple of Chinese friends I've asked, this is particularly "non-Chinese" (used when I do it) and the alternative sounds, to them, more Chinese.

From the start I was expecting, and then just hoping, that other people might recognise what I was getting at. Turns out it's only me and the popupchinese.com guy! Nevermind, I'm not expert enough to explain any further.

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chrix
certain Chinese sounds

one thing that I found troublesome was that your statement appeared to be overgeneralising. However, this is a good starting-point. Can you try to describe which sounds? Maybe in pinyin or something.

At this point I'm not even sure if you and the popupchinese guy are even talking about the same thing. But I tend to err on the side of caution...

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heifeng

Realmayo, actually, I 'believe' I know what you are talking about. When I was at BNU that one of the first things my teacher said differentiates many western students from other students speaking Chinese is that their pronunciation is more gutteral or pushed back into the throat area, where Chinese people tend to have the sound more at the front of their mouth. If you think about the opposite, such as when Chinese people speak English (especially the ones who haven' been around actual native English speakers very much), they usually really spit things out from the front of their mouths which to native English speakers sounds a bit harsh sometimes. So yeah, I agree that for many foreigners (at least native English speakers and some European languages) this is where this reversed speaking from the throat issue now happens when speaking Chinese. I cannot really join the linguistic debate either on where sounds originate and such, but I think that if you try to really project (i.e launch the sounds out from the front of your mount when you speak instead of just holding it in or semi swallowing it down) it may help a bit. To me its like the difference between mumbling and projecting enough for other people around you to hear. If you mumble or speak really low, you can still make out certain sounds, but if you really try to super enunciate, you will end up (almost literally) spitting out the sounds more!

Maybe this helps, maybe not. But the concern you raise was something I've definitely heard before...:mrgreen:

Edited by heifeng

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realmayo

Heifeng, thanks for your reply, yes what you describe is exactly it. "super enunciate" ... I guess that's what's required!

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blaketx
On 6/7/2009 at 1:08 PM, heifeng said:

When I was at BNU that one of the first things my teacher said differentiates many western students from other students speaking Chinese is that their pronunciation is more gutteral or pushed back into the throat area, where Chinese people tend to have the sound more at the front of their mouth.

 

I got the following feedback on my pronunciation after I posted a sample on Hellotalk (relevant part in red):

 

虽然读得很好 但是还是太僵硬了 发音很刻意 感觉你在用口腔后部分在发音 中文一般不这样

 

This feedback might be pointing to the same thing as up in this thread (from more than 10 years ago!). I think the keyword for this concept is "vocal placement." Here's one definition from the context of singing: "vocal placement refers to how you position your voice resonance within your body. It is where you resonate your voice within your body." 

 

The best resource I've seen is a youtube video that teaches vocal placement for American English: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2W-KUSb3DTM&t. At 14 min 2 seconds, the video describes vocal placement for Chinese - ie, by bringing pressure to the front of the throat, and "throwing" the sound to your mouth and nose.

 

I haven't been able to find much that talks in a detailed or academic way about how to mimic the vocal placement of Mandarin. The closest I could get were some research papers on how to help native Chinese speakers sing in English. Nevertheless, here's a collection of some anecdotal tips that I've collected, including some from around this forum. 

  • Aim sound at soft palate (or area behind upper back molars)

  • “In Chinese, the mouth is kept very tight with most of the sounds being made by your lips and your tongue at the top front of your mouth.” (https://www.reddit.com/r/ChineseLanguage/comments/aptbd3/speak_from_the_front_of_your_mouth/)

  • “Don't know of any resources, but I have noticed that mandarin speakers (especially northern speakers) tend to speak from "the throat and up" rather than from the abdomen like most languages I can think of (at least in my first language Norwegian). I was first made aware of this by my Chinese friend who said he had to make this switch when changing between Norwegian and Chinese.” (https://www.reddit.com/r/ChineseLanguage/comments/196nf9/learning_chinese_through_mouth_positions/)

  • “Further, amateur and developing singers in Mandarin-speaking countries often employ a bright sound and lowered soft palate when singing, in common with their native speaking position. Therefore, voice placement, resonance, and vowel modification must be carefully addressed and improved upon when they are singing Western choral music, and the conductor must also understand the challenges of unfamiliar consonant articulation” (https://scholarcommons.sc.edu/etd/4804/)

  • “My Chinese classmates have told me that my voice seems to come from deep in my diaphragm, while they all speak from a place higher up in their throats.” (https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/34909-to-have-a-better-chinese-accent-do-i-need-to-imitate-a-nasally-way-of-speaking/)

  • “What I try to do to get the more Chinesey sound is raise my jaw slightly higher and forward; this seems to bring the back/base of my tongue forward too and means that the air coming up through my throat comes more cleanly into my mouth, rather than being more obstructed on the way up: I think it is this obstruction that causes my 'normal' speech to vibrate more than seems to be the case in normal Chinese speech.” (https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/34909-to-have-a-better-chinese-accent-do-i-need-to-imitate-a-nasally-way-of-speaking/)

This got really nerdy really fast. Hope someone finds it helpful. It's too bad there isn't more detailed info on this out there. I'd be curious to know if the vocal placement is slightly lower for Taiwanese Mandarin, which is my impression. Also, I feel like Chinese American actors that play "fully Chinese" characters on American TV shows often have Mandarin that is slightly off, and I think this vocal placement concept is the reason why, like they're using American English vocal placement for their Mandarin.

 

(PS, I'm reviving this old thread instead of starting a new one since the topic is evergreen. Seems like the right approach based on this: https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/48789-resurrecting-old-threads/)

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