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[Absolute Beginner] Correct Pronunciation


zeroByte
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This is pretty mind-boggling to me. That would mean that the answer to whether English "b" and pinyin "b" are basically the same thing as far as voicing and aspiration would be "yes". I guess that means all that time I spent practicing non-aspirated /p/, /t/, and /k/ as initials to get my Mandarin pronunciation more accurate was wasted. I take it this means that the unreleased versions in English also aren't voiced.

I'm confused, though, as to why they'd be taught as having voice in the first place. Is this a situation like the Mandarin third tone, where the canonical version is hardly ever realized in speech? What's the point in saying they're voiced if they aren't?

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Unreleased versions in English are definitely not voiced, but your practice was not wasted. They are not necessarily the same thing but the answer to that question is "it doesn't matter", because the distinction between voiced and voiceless obstruents is just not present in Mandarin. Your practice with non-aspirated ptk would have just entailed saying bdg without any voicing though... Was it really difficult practice?

It's complicated, "voiced" is too vague and generally means "fully voiced", but English "voiced" stops are not actually real fully voiced consonants. It varies depending on speaker, but in English we only start phonation for "voicing" quite a while after we've already started saying the consonant sound, so even though it may have slightly more voicing present relative to Mandarin*, English doesn't make use of that particular voicing to distinguish between Ps and Bs.

*This is not really a significant difference since the distinction doesn't exist in Mandarin at all.

I have often wondered the same thing. For some reason in ESL people will focus on trying to teach how to start phonation for voicing when producing b d and g... when really if you make a voiceless unaspirated stop, it can never be confused for an aspirated stop.

EDIT: Okay to be fair, I have to state that it is somewhat controversial to talk about voicing without distinguishing phonological voicing and phonetic voicing, and choice of whether you want to say "d" = [t] or "d" = voiceless [d] since they have different theoretical applications, but they are essentially the same thing =_=

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OK, so to sum up, English initial "voiced" stops are only slightly different from Mandarin initial unaspirated stops in that in English, there is voicing late in the articulation of the stop, whereas in Mandarin it's nonexistent. Do I have that mostly right?

As to it not making a difference, I agree except for the point that it probably still sounds foreign to a native Mandarin ear to hear any voicing in those initial stops. So in that sense, my practice was not wasted. Is that correct?*

As to the difficulty, I thought it was hard at first and required practice to get it consistent. But I wasn't thinking of it in terms of saying bdg without voice; I was thinking of it in terms of saying ptk without aspiration, because it seemed more natural to do it that way to me at the time because I didn't think aspiration was the stronger phonemic feature between bdg and ptk in English as initials -- I thought voicing was. So the way I practiced was to say "spar", "scar", and "star" (to use an example), and then to concentrate on the sound of the stops and repeat them without the "s" in front and continue to go back and forth until I felt they were close to identical. I can't really tell you whether they're really close to Mandarin pronunciation, because I don't have an objective way to quantify that, nor do I have a native Mandarin speaker to ask.

* To that point, see John from Sinosplice's article Pronunciation: Chinese and Japanese about "sh" and し. I imagine the difference between English bdg and pinyin bdg have the same effect on native Mandarin speakers as English "sh" for Japanese し does.

And I have a totally unrelated question: your name is written in traditional characters but you seem to overwhelmingly prefer simplified characters (it's all I've ever seen you use). Is there a particular reason for this? You don't have to answer. I've just been curious.

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Yup.

The only way I can think of for you to quantify your pronunciation is to record a native speaker using a program like Audacity or any other program that will show you the waveforms of your recordings. If you record your own voice, you should be able to make a spectrogram that has the same shape as that of the native speaker. The closer yours looks to theirs, the closer you are to "true" pronunciation. I don't know if the site still works, but we used a program called Praat for most of our early work in phonetics in my program, and I found it quite fun to play around with.

As for Japanese, yeah, John from Sinosplice pretty much sums up what stresses me out about English speakers speaking any of the Japanese/Korean/Chinese trifecta because of the seeming difficulty in pronouncing palatals... But where he says that it doesn't matter for Japanese so much, he fails to say how it also doesn't matter for Chinese in exactly the same way. There is no initial-final combination where the jqx series can form minimal pairs with zcs or zhchsh, so there really is no worry about mixups... Just sounding a bit odd.

I'll PM you for your unrelated question haha.

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I guess I'm going to have to look into Audacity and Praat. They should give me a more accurate idea about my Japanese pronunciation too. I know it's good, but Japanese people tend to be overly complimentary of westerners' Japanese-speaking abilities (You said konnichiwa! Your Japanese is so good!). As a result, when I was just learning Mandarin pronunciation and had practiced it a bit and said some words for a native speaker, and was told "your pronunciation is really good", I wasn't sure how much stock to put in that.

Did you use Praat to work on your own pronunciation? If so, did you look for someone like a newscaster who has standard pronunciation and mimic that person, or did you pick many of them and try to mimic each of them then let your pronunciation sort of average itself out? I imagine this would also be really good for different dialects and accents.

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Pretty sure my pronunciation just organically happened...

But I remember tutoring a girl doing an online course where they basically used this method to measure her pronunciation. I'm pretty sure Rossetta Stone uses a similar approach too.

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Oh!

Well, no I have never used Praat for this way on myself, only on students haha and sometimes on family members.

I think using a newscaster for comparison is a bit difficult, since they will speak very quickly. I was thinking that if it's just to check your pronunciation of specific consonants that you can even use instructional videos/mp3s of people teaching Mandarin.

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I have tried to follow the instructions on the linked pages. According to the text the position of my tongue is correc, though I cannot get along with the pictures there at all ;-)

For Example:

ch, sh, zh

What does the second picture mean exactly for zhi? I cannot figure out where the different parts of the mouth are, at all. Following the text, the tongue tip should be up at the hard palate when pronouncing "zhi". If I look at the picture, the tongue is doing everything but the tip is definitely not at the hard palate - I'd rather guess the tongue body is up there. I don't have any problem with the first picture, was it is what I expected. The more I'm eager to get my fault understanding the second :mrgreen:

.

You folks are somewhat more educated regarding phonetics than the average chinese speaker, aren't you? I didn't expect to unleash an in-depth discussion about how different things are conveyed in English :)

Regards,

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The tip of the tongue should not be curled backwards when pronouncing zh, ch, sh, r. I disagree with the picture from sinosplice where the underside of the tongue tip is touching (close to) the palate. See this link (go to page 10).

http://orient.avcr.cz/miranda2/export/sitesavcr/data.avcr.cz/humansci/orient/kontakty/pracovnici/publikace/Triskova/konfer2.pdf

Excerpt:

"Although the three speakers are slightly different, in any case it is clear the tongue is not bent backwards. It was proved by the instrumental studies a long time ago (i.e. Ohnesorg & Švarný 1955). The articulation is made with the surface of the tip (or, as Lee & Zee or Ladefoged & Maddieson 1994 assume, even laminaly) - but definitely NOT with the underside of the tip! In spite of a considerable variability of pronunciation, no Chinese speaker articulates these sounds subapically (as Lee & Zee 1999 state). That is why the phoneticians mostly avoid the term retroflex completely, or at most speak of „so called retroflexes“ (e.g. Ladefoged & Wu 1984; of course they stress the adequate interpretation of the term)."

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@Glenn: Could you name the different parts of the picture in the middle? The tongue tip for me is somthing at the end of something else. The thing rising up should be rather the tongue body, if the teeth are at the left.

@jkhsu: Thank you for the document. It's quite a lofty language full of technical terms - I'll need some time ;)

Regards,

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The left side is the teeth, the top is the top of the mouth, and the thing in the middle that goes vertical (and slightly backwards) is the tongue. The tip is up and curled back a bit, and it's the pointed end. Though, I tend to agree with jkhsu's opinion. At least I always produce the sounds with the tip of my tongue either touching or almost touching my palate, not curled backwards. I guess the easiest way to explain how to do it is to just stick the tip of your tongue up to your palate. That should mostly do the trick, I think.

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Browsing this discussion makes me glad I didn't try to learn Chinese this way. "My tongue goes here, against these teeth, instead of on the palate, and then I say it in a somewhat non-aspirated, glottal-fricative way, etc."

You folks are somewhat more educated regarding phonetics than the average chinese speaker, aren't you?

Definitely. Also more than most Chinese learners. This is a very specialized, scientific approach. Not everyone will find it helpful.

Have you considered learning more by imitation? Lots and lots of imitation, preferably imitation of native speakers with feedback.

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Agreed. If you're having problems with it, forget about it and just try to imitate native speakers. If you want to revisit it someday it should all make more sense to you. And feedback is important. Especially honest feedback.

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To me, knowing about the place of articulation and blah blah blah is supposed to supplement whatever efforts you're making already.

What I find most practical/helpful is just finding a friend or someone with enough patience to repeat the same word over and over and over and over and listen to you and make you repeat over and over until you get it consistently right! If you're ever like "how come my attempt doesn't sound right?", maybe you can think "hmmm does my tongue seem like it might be in the ballpark?" and it could come in handy to know.

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On my CD are several speakers, one of which pronounces "Qi3ng" exactly the same way she does "ji4n" (the words come one after another in the text). I've repeated in it slow motion over and over again, and I didn't get any reliable distinction between both sounds (there's no problem with the other speakers). By doing so she shattered my "safe" base pronounciations I thought I had aready gotten ;) (maybe I got something wrong if those sound equal to me). I was just wondering if there's a subtle difference a native chinese speaker could rely on (somehow related to the position of the tongue). I couldn't find any. This is educational material, so they surely had something in mind choosing a speaker who pronounces those initials the same way.

Is it the case that some chinese tend to slur over pronounciations also, so that you gather the actual initial by "deduction" out of the context?

Regards,

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Q and j initials ought to be distinguishable, perhaps it's a poor-quality recording? Bear in mind that "q" is aspirated and "j" is unaspirated, there is no difference (or very little difference) in shape of the mouth (and if there was, it would only help you pronouncing the sound, not hearing it). That means that when someone says a "q" sound they let out a puff of air after the consonant, whereas they don't with "j".

IPA (International Phonetic Alphabet) notation for "ji" and "qi" is as follows:

Pinyin "ji" = /tɕi/

Pinyin "qi" = /tɕʰi/

What you should be listening out for is that "h" sound.

As for "n" vs. "ng" finals, this should be fairly easy to hear in slow, clear, standard speech, but in faster speech it may be more difficult to hear the distinction sometimes, and I have heard that some speakers don't make the distinction at all. Basically, context is key (isn't it always?)

One final note, when you write pinyin with tone marks, you are correct to place the tone over the main vowel. However, when using tone numbers instead, people normally write the number after the entire syllable, so pīnyīn becomes pin1yin1, Zhōngwén becomes Zhong1wen2, etc.

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