Differences between phonemes

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Differences between phonemes

Postby toogletoggle » 2016-03-20, 1:29

Something I've noticed is that a lot of people don't hear/can't produce the difference between certain phonemes. The most common one I've seen is [ʀ] vs. [ʁ]. I recently uploaded a video on my YouTube channel about that one: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MpWou4f2XBA&spfreload=10 (and for those of you who watch it, yes I am a long-haired boy).

Another really common one is saying that the <tr> in (at least most dialects of) English is [tɹ]. Like, c'mon, people, can't you hear that it's [tʃɹ]?!

Another common one is [ɹ] vs. [ɻ] vs. [ɚ]/-[˞]. I understand that [ɚ]/-[˞] is the vowel form of [ɹ] (like purr [ˈpʰɚ] vs. piranha [ˌpʰɚ.ˈɹɑ.nə] or bar [ˈbɑ˞] vs. borrow [ˈbɑ˞.ˌɹoʊ]), but many people seem to not. Idk, maybe those people were using <ɹ> for broad transcription.

But I genuinely cannot understand how [ɹ] and [ɻ] are different sounds. When I say them I articulate them slightly differently and hear them slightly differently, but I still don't understand why they get separate symbols. :/

Any thoughts?
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Re: Differences between phonemes

Postby Koko » 2016-03-20, 2:07

toogletoggle wrote:Another really common one is saying that the <tr> in (at least most dialects of) English is [tɹ]. Like, c'mon, people, can't you hear that it's [tʃɹ]?!

This might be more a case of simplicity. At least for me, when I use [tɹ], it's really only because it's simpler to write it that way. In fact, I usually am even more lazy and go "[træp]" instead of [t͡ʃɹæp].

But I genuinely cannot understand how [ɹ] and [ɻ] are different sounds. When I say them I articulate them slightly differently and hear them slightly differently, but I still don't understand why they get separate symbols. :/

I think it's because they're different enough from each other that the people in charge of the IPA deemed them worthy of separate symbols. But idk

One pair I don't get why some people can't seem to distinguish is hiatus versus [ʔ]. I tried to get someone to pronounce some Polynesian word, and they kept saying (forget the word, so I'll make up a sequence) [iʔo] instead of [io].

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Re: Differences between phonemes

Postby toogletoggle » 2016-03-20, 2:33

Koko wrote:In fact, I usually am even more lazy and go "[træp]" instead of [t͡ʃɹæp].

That's a perfectly OK way to write IPA, it's just broad transcription instead of narrow transcription.
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Re: Differences between phonemes

Postby Dormouse559 » 2016-03-20, 4:24

Really he should write /træp/ instead of [træp]. The slashes mean a phonemic/broad transcription and the square brackets indicate a phonetic/narrow transcription. [tr] would be more at home in Spanish than English.

toogletoggle wrote:Something I've noticed is that a lot of people don't hear/can't produce the difference between certain phonemes.
Pretty sure you mean "phone", not "phoneme"; it's an important distinction to make. It's very understandable that people have trouble distinguishing certain phones. Some of these difficulties can be explained by the phones not being distinct in languages the person knows. A lot of Romance speakers have trouble with [ɪ] vs. [i] because they don't contrast in most Romance languages. Another issue may be that the phones aren't that perceptually different; that's why the low vowel space normally has fewer phonemic distinctions than the other height levels.
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Re: Differences between phonemes

Postby Koko » 2016-03-20, 4:30

Dormouse559 wrote:Really he should write /træp/ instead of [træp]. The slashes mean a phonemic/broad transcription and the square brackets indicate a phonetic/narrow transcription. [tr] would be more at home in Spanish than English.

But that's why I put it in quotations. It's not like anybody really expects a trill in English, so at least on UniLang I can afford being so lazy.

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Re: Differences between phonemes

Postby Dormouse559 » 2016-03-20, 4:32

Shouldn't it be less effort to type slashes, though? :) You only need one key instead of two.
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Re: Differences between phonemes

Postby Koko » 2016-03-20, 5:37

Dormouse559 wrote:Shouldn't it be less effort to type slashes, though? :) You only need one key instead of two.

But then I can't really put things like "wɛ̝̽ɫ"* in slashes now can I?

* Game: guess the word! :lol:

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Re: Differences between phonemes

Postby toogletoggle » 2016-03-20, 13:19

Koko wrote:
Dormouse559 wrote:Shouldn't it be less effort to type slashes, though? :) You only need one key instead of two.

But then I can't really put things like "wɛ̝̽ɫ"* in slashes now can I?

* Game: guess the word! :lol:

I would guess that's "well"? Anyways, that would be a different thread. :lol:
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Re: Differences between phonemes

Postby toogletoggle » 2016-03-20, 13:26

Dormouse559 wrote:Really he should write /træp/ instead of [træp]. The slashes mean a phonemic/broad transcription and the square brackets indicate a phonetic/narrow transcription. [tr] would be more at home in Spanish than English.

toogletoggle wrote:Something I've noticed is that a lot of people don't hear/can't produce the difference between certain phonemes.
Pretty sure you mean "phone", not "phoneme"; it's an important distinction to make. It's very understandable that people have trouble distinguishing certain phones. Some of these difficulties can be explained by the phones not being distinct in languages the person knows. A lot of Romance speakers have trouble with [ɪ] vs. [i] because they don't contrast in most Romance languages. Another issue may be that the phones aren't that perceptually different; that's why the low vowel space normally has fewer phonemic distinctions than the other height levels.

So what exactly is the distinction between phones and phonemes? I've never really figured it out by looking online.
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Re: Differences between phonemes

Postby Naava » 2016-03-20, 14:32

toogletoggle wrote:So what exactly is the distinction between phones and phonemes? I've never really figured it out by looking online.

Phones are the actual sounds you make. Phonemes are the sounds that a language treats as different from each other.

For example, English has the phones [t] and [tʰ]. If you say star, you use [t], and if you say tar, you use [tʰ]. If you happened to use [tʰ] for star or [t] for tar, it would sound strange but the meaning would still be the same - you would recognize the word. This means they both belong to the same phoneme, /t/.

In some languages, this is not true. They have the same phones [t] and [tʰ], but if you use [t] instead of [tʰ], the meaning of the word won't be the same. Like [ta] could mean a rock, but [tʰa] could be a house. This means they are both their own phonemes, /t/ and /tʰ/, and you can't use them without changing the meaning.

So, every person can distinguish the phonemes of their native language. If they didn't, they wouldn't be able to speak it at all; they wouldn't see the difference between mat and rat and hat.

What people can't hear in their own language are the differences between the (allo)phones. I believe most English speakers don't notice they use different kind of /i/ when they say "lead" and "kid", or know that star and tar are not pronounce "with the same T".
Same goes for the second language learners. They might not hear the difference between phones that belong to different phonemes in the new language, but to the same phoneme in their native language. For example, I still struggle with [b] and [p] because they both sound quite a lot like /p/, but for English speaker they're clearly /b/ and /p/.
An English speaker might have problems with a language that has /t/ and /tʰ/, because both [tʰ] and [t] could sound more or less like /t/. It could also be difficult for them to say [t] without aspiration, even if they can do it with star.

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Re: Differences between phonemes

Postby linguoboy » 2016-03-20, 14:42

Naava wrote:What people can't hear in their own language are the differences between the (allo)phones. I believe most English speakers don't notice they use different kind of /i/ when they say "lead" and "kid", or know that star and tar are not pronounce "with the same T".

I think maybe you got your examples confused? I don't know any variety of English which doesn't distinguish lead and kid. But take lead [v.] and elite. Most English-speakers won't notice that the /iː/ is shorter in duration in the second case, even though it helps them to distinguish the words.

Naava wrote:Same goes for the second language learners. They might not hear the difference between phones that belong to different phonemes in the new language, but to the same phoneme in their native language. For example, I still struggle with [b] and [p] because they both sound quite a lot like /p/, but for English speaker they're clearly /b/ and /p/.

Actually, many English-speakers struggle with [b] and [p] as well since /b/ is frequently realised as [p] in initial position. (In order to produce a fully-voiced [b], I find I have to think about "m" while saying it to make sure I don't delay VOT too much.)
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Re: Differences between phonemes

Postby toogletoggle » 2016-03-20, 14:55

Naava wrote:
toogletoggle wrote:So what exactly is the distinction between phones and phonemes? I've never really figured it out by looking online.

Phones are the actual sounds you make. Phonemes are the sounds that a language treats as different from each other.

For example, English has the phones [t] and [tʰ]. If you say star, you use [t], and if you say tar, you use [tʰ]. If you happened to use [tʰ] for star or [t] for tar, it would sound strange but the meaning would still be the same - you would recognize the word. This means they both belong to the same phoneme, /t/.

In some languages, this is not true. They have the same phones [t] and [tʰ], but if you use [t] instead of [tʰ], the meaning of the word won't be the same. Like [ta] could mean a rock, but [tʰa] could be a house. This means they are both their own phonemes, /t/ and /tʰ/, and you can't use them without changing the meaning.

So, every person can distinguish the phonemes of their native language. If they didn't, they wouldn't be able to speak it at all; they wouldn't see the difference between mat and rat and hat.

What people can't hear in their own language are the differences between the (allo)phones. I believe most English speakers don't notice they use different kind of /i/ when they say "lead" and "kid", or know that star and tar are not pronounce "with the same T".
Same goes for the second language learners. They might not hear the difference between phones that belong to different phonemes in the new language, but to the same phoneme in their native language. For example, I still struggle with [b] and [p] because they both sound quite a lot like /p/, but for English speaker they're clearly /b/ and /p/.
An English speaker might have problems with a language that has /t/ and /tʰ/, because both [tʰ] and [t] could sound more or less like /t/. It could also be difficult for them to say [t] without aspiration, even if they can do it with star.

Oh, that makes sense.

And so I'm guessing Finnish doesn't have the sound [p]?
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Re: Differences between phonemes

Postby Naava » 2016-03-20, 15:36

linguoboy wrote:I think maybe you got your examples confused?

Oh yes I did, you're right. It was the other way round, Finns don't notice the difference between kid and lead. :) Thanks for correcting!
Kid and kit would've been a better example, as kid has slightly longer /i:/ than kit. (Isn't it the same thing as with elite?) That's what I had in my mind, but I mixed it up with the case of kid-lead.

Actually, many English-speakers struggle with [b] and [p] as well since /b/ is frequently realised as [p] in initial position. (In order to produce a fully-voiced [b], I find I have to think about "m" while saying it to make sure I don't delay VOT too much.)

And thanks for telling, I didn't know this!

toogletoggle wrote:And so I'm guessing Finnish doesn't have the sound [p]?

No, Finnish doesn't have [b]. That's why /p/ can be both voiceless and slightly voiced stop; it doesn't matter because there's no contrast with /b/. And because there's no contrast, I tend to hear all bilabial stops as /p/.
(Ok some loan words have [b] too, but many people pronounce these words with [p] without anyone finding it hard to understand what they mean.)

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Re: Differences between phonemes

Postby Koko » 2016-03-22, 0:30

toogletoggle wrote:
"wɛ̝̽ɫ"*

* Game: guess the word! :lol:

I would guess that's "well"? Anyways, that would be a different thread. :lol:

Sorry, forgot to respond to this :blush: Anyways, no the word was "will" as in the auxiliary. It's how I think I say it (slightly lower and more back than [ɪ], but slightly more front than [ɘ]). It's one of my weirdest pronunciations, and is probably best left to say it's [ɘ̟]… :para:

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Re: Differences between phonemes

Postby Vlürch » 2016-03-22, 8:58

toogletoggle wrote:But I genuinely cannot understand how [ɹ] and [ɻ] are different sounds. When I say them I articulate them slightly differently and hear them slightly differently, but I still don't understand why they get separate symbols. :/

The way I see hear it, without considering the actual difference, [ɻ] is how English-speakers pronounce [ɹ] when they're nervous/anxious/annoyed/etc. which sometimes gives me the impression that Americans are always complaining.
Naava wrote:No, Finnish doesn't have [b]. That's why /p/ can be both voiceless and slightly voiced stop; it doesn't matter because there's no contrast with /b/. And because there's no contrast, I tend to hear all bilabial stops as /p/.
(Ok some loan words have [b] too, but many people pronounce these words with [p] without anyone finding it hard to understand what they mean.)

B-but... but... really? I've never met anyone who struggled with [b], well, except my mum overemphasising it in various weird ways in English, but that's not really a good example since she overemphasises everything in English in very strange ways. The only consistently Finnish failure to distinguish different sounds I can think of is [v] and [w], but isn't even that mostly an issue with learning not pronuncing both as [ʋ] instead of not being able to tell the difference in the speech of others? :?

Personally, I have trouble distinguishing clicks; I do recognise the differences if I can hear them, but I can't even begin to imagine how the more complex click consonants that don't have audio files on Wikipedia sound like or how they could possibly be contrasted with the simpler ones if the differences are so minor in many cases. :para:

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Re: Differences between phonemes

Postby Naava » 2016-03-22, 16:11

Vlürch wrote:B-but... but... really? I've never met anyone who struggled with [b]

Now you have. :lol: I mean, I can hear the difference if someone says [b] and [p] very clearly, but not in normal speech. Same goes for [s] and [z]. Then I started to study Russian... There was an exercise where we had a list of words that all had a slot in the place of a sibilant, and we were supposed to listen and fill the slots with the correct sibilants. None of my friends managed to do it.

And if people didn't have problems with hearing [b] and [g], I don't think they would write stuff like gebardi or gollege. I've never heard anyone saying them like that, so it should be obvious they have voiceless stops. (Ok I do have problems hearing people using any voiced stops anyway, so I guess someone could say [gebardi]?)

Maybe it has something to do with the area where you live? I've lived most of my life in Ostrobothnia, so I can't be 100% sure how people speak elsewhere.

Btw I'm so happy to hear my mum is not the only one overemphasazing "everything in English in very strange ways." :D I don't even know how to correct her pronunciation because it's so... unique.

I can hear the difference between [w] and [v] because it's not in the voicing but in the place of articulation.
(But I still have problems with the pronunciation. I tend to use [ʋ] for [v] and something like [w] with spread lips for [v] - I'm not quite sure if that's a bilabial approximant. Could be. I started to pay attention to this and noticed that I use the same phone in Finnish too. Not all the time, but in free variation with [ʋ] between vowels.)

Voiced consonants are a bit tricky, but clicks are truly a mystery to me. I'm impressed how people can use them in the middle of words like they were consonants. All I can do is to produce some of the very basic ones in isolation and dream of learning how to pronounce the rest of them one day. Really, a preglottalized labial nasal click? Oh how much the native speakers of click languages would laugh if they heard me! :lol:

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Re: Differences between phonemes

Postby Vlürch » 2016-03-22, 19:35

Naava wrote:Maybe it has something to do with the area where you live? I've lived most of my life in Ostrobothnia, so I can't be 100% sure how people speak elsewhere.

Ahhh, probably. I've lived my whole life in Helsinki with partial summers in Savonranta every year until I was like 13.
Naava wrote:Btw I'm so happy to hear my mum is not the only one overemphasazing "everything in English in very strange ways." :D I don't even know how to correct her pronunciation because it's so... unique.

I asked my mum to pronounce some things and the results were interesting:
necessary [netʃetʃɑɹi]
distance [ditʃtæns]
occasionally [oktʃei̯jʃønɑlːy]
pronounciations [pronjyntʃjijatʃijontʃ]
One day, I wish she'd agree to read some English out loud for me to record. :lol: Unfortunately she didn't pronounce any of the [b]s in any words as implosives, because sometimes she does that along with [q]s and other weird things.
Naava wrote:All I can do is to produce some of the very basic ones in isolation and dream of learning how to pronounce the rest of them one day. Really, a preglottalized labial nasal click? Oh how much the native speakers of click languages would laugh if they heard me! :lol:

Same. Strangely enough, I can do some sounds that my family at least finds incomprehensible. I recorded some random stuff and it'd be interesting to know the IPA for it: http://vocaroo.com/i/s1SVBy40oQ8d :P

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Re: Differences between phonemes

Postby Naava » 2016-03-22, 20:37

Vlürch wrote:Same. Strangely enough, I can do some sounds that my family at least finds incomprehensible. I recorded some random stuff and it'd be interesting to know the IPA for it: http://vocaroo.com/i/s1SVBy40oQ8d :P

Reminds me of Khoshekh. (10:35 - 12:17 if you don't want to listen to the whole episode.) You sure you're not secretly a cat?

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Re: Differences between phonemes

Postby toogletoggle » 2016-03-22, 20:57

Vlürch wrote:Personally, I have trouble distinguishing clicks; I do recognise the differences if I can hear them, but I can't even begin to imagine how the more complex click consonants that don't have audio files on Wikipedia sound like or how they could possibly be contrasted with the simpler ones if the differences are so minor in many cases. :para:

Yeah, clicks are the worst. I can produce, like, maybe 3 of them (bilabial, labiodental, [post]alveolar).
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Re: Differences between phonemes

Postby Vlürch » 2016-03-22, 21:30

Naava wrote:
Vlürch wrote:Same. Strangely enough, I can do some sounds that my family at least finds incomprehensible. I recorded some random stuff and it'd be interesting to know the IPA for it: http://vocaroo.com/i/s1SVBy40oQ8d :P

Reminds me of Khoshekh. (10:35 - 12:17 if you don't want to listen to the whole episode.)

What the...? Hahahaha. That was hilarious, I haven't laughed this much today and I laugh a lot every day.
Naava wrote:You sure you're not secretly a cat?

:wink:

Also, I found these things yesterday. Are all of those sounds actually possible to pronounce even if they don't occur in any natural language? I mean, [ɕ͡ȴ̝̊ʼ↓] and shit? If so, how do ingressive ejectives even work? Are they, like, aggressively sucked-in sounds? Because in that case, wouldn't they pretty much have to be stops of one kind or another for them to be actually usable in any practical context? If not, how does it affect the following vowel? I can't seem to pronounce anything like what I think is an ingressive ejective that isn't followed by either an inhaled vowel or a glottal/pharyngeal consonant and can't even imagine it being possible, let alone practical... I could be wrong, maybe ingressive ejectives do exist in some severely endangered/extinct language that hasn't been studied enough to know for sure, but if they are how I think they are, how would they have come about? I'm only able to think of them being the result of an ejective consonant followed by an implosive consonant becoming assimilated, but how would that have come about?

Everyone keeps saying nasal ejectives are impossible, but are they? Aren't [ŋʼ] and [nʼ] nasal ejectives, yet they exist in Saanich? If nasal ejectives are impossible, then how could they possibly exist in an actual spoken language? And [mʼ] in Klallam?


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