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How to unvoice zh?


urnammu
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Absolute beginner here...

 

I heard that [zh] and [ch] are not really like /dʒ/ ('just') and /tʃ/ ('touch'), but that they are pronounced as /ʈʂ/ and  /ʈʂʰ/ respectively. So, they are both unvoiced, both have the tongue backwards, but they differ in aspiration.

 

I understand the difference on a theoretical level, but whenever I listen to a native [zh], I have a hard time not hearing a hint of a 'd' there. Is the difference between [zh] and [ch] really only one of aspiration?

 

If I try to remove aspiration from [ch], I end up pronouncing something which is much farther than [zh], compared to when I give myself the freedom to sneak a 'd' sound / voicing in there.

 

What would be helpful is a recording of somebody saying /dʒ/ and /ʈʂ/ followed by the same vowel, so that I can clearly hear the effect of voicing.

 

Any other pointers to unvoice zh?

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I am no expert, but it sounds as if you are overthinking this. 

 

On 6/22/2022 at 1:27 PM, urnammu said:

but whenever I listen to a native [zh], I have a hard time not hearing a hint of a 'd' there.

 

So does everyone, because there kind of is:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jcfpax92f1w&ab_channel=LearnChinesewithLitao [see 4:14 and following]

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Interesting! Litao actually seems to be the first one I encountered saying that [dh] is voiced. Others, e.g. here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dpQ3IMd4AMg say something different.

 

Anyway, I also posted this to reddit, which generated some interesting comments as well: https://www.reddit.com/r/ChineseLanguage/comments/vi33ot/how_to_unvoice_zh/

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On 6/23/2022 at 9:25 AM, urnammu said:

Litao actually seems to be the first one I encountered saying that [dh] is voiced.

 

Assuming you mean /zh/, he never says that — in fact, he specifically says initial /r/ is different from /sh/, /ch/, and /zh/, because only /r/ is voiced.

 

If you go from 3:09 or so, you'll notice his pronunciation of /zh/ in isolation is completely unvoiced; it's only the final that's voiced when he makes it into the full syllable /zhi/.

 

Note that English /d/ is also frequently unvoiced to [t] at the start of an utterance, so native English speakers may still perceive a /d/ sound at the start of Chinese /zh/. The difference is that Chinese unvoiced, unaspirated sounds are unvoiced wherever they appear, not just at the beginning of utterances.

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Quote

Assuming you mean /zh/, he never says that

You're right, I misunderstood what he said, my bad...

 

Quote

Note that English /d/ is also frequently unvoiced to [t] at the start of an utterance, so native English speakers may still perceive a /d/ sound at the start of Chinese /zh/.

That's probably the best explanation I've come across as to why this is happening. I just accidentally found out that in my native Dutch I sometimes unvoice my initial b's (see the Reddit thread above), so I assume I do the same thing for d's.

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I watched the video you recommended. To be honest, as a native Chinese speaker, I am confused. At least in my impression, the pronunciation of zh, ch, sh is not the same as in the video. These three pronunciations need to vibrate the vocal cords

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On 6/24/2022 at 5:32 PM, Aaron lee said:

At least in my impression, the pronunciation of zh, ch, sh is not the same as in the video. These three pronunciations need to vibrate the vocal cords

 

If you have a vowel coming after that consonant, then that vowel will of course be voiced. But e.g. [sh] by itself is clearly unvoiced, right? Or do you hear that differently?

 

Actually, as an aside, in my own native tongue, I know which consonants are supposed to be voiced and unvoiced, but I have a hard time experimentally verifying this, e.g. by putting my hand on my throat... 

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On 6/24/2022 at 4:32 PM, Aaron lee said:

I watched the video you recommended. To be honest, as a native Chinese speaker, I am confused. At least in my impression, the pronunciation of zh, ch, sh is not the same as in the video. These three pronunciations need to vibrate the vocal cords

 

I think that's because the guy in the video has some linguistic background, whereas typical speakers (non-linguists) almost never speak those sounds without a final added — usually [ɻ̩], i.e. the sound of pinyin "i" when it follows "zh", "ch", "sh", or "r". That final is what causes the vocal cords to vibrate.

 

For the same reason, pinyin "b, p, m, f" is usually said as /⁠⁠po pʰo mo fo⁠⁠/, not /⁠p pʰ m f⁠/, because the latter is kinda awkward to say and difficult to hear. We tend to do the same when pronouncing the sounds of consonants in English, but with /⁠ə⁠/ instead of /⁠o⁠/.

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