Quick Linguistics post…

… since I’m interested in that kind of stuff..

Over on FB a conversation got started related to a razor and by way of an excursion–induced by me–into Underworld’s lyrics to their song “cowgirl”–a discussion about lauts, and voicing, and overall linguistics got started.  I was asked this question:

I am not educated about linguistic technical terms like voiceless stop, voiceless fricative, etc. I could research them myself, but I’d rather you explained your comment to me in laymen’s terms. In any case, I have heard people pronounce “eraser” as if it were spelled “erazer,” and what about laser and phaser?

And gave this answer:

Laser and phaser are both the zz sound–a voiced fricative.. Basically there are a few basic terms to describe the different “lauts” ==sounds that we use to make speech..

There are stops, fricatives, and nasals.

These can be voiced or unvoiced.

They are also classified by where in the mouth they are made and how the tongue is placed..

So to give you an idea empirically of what these terms are–let me give you the letters..

Stops are where there is a quick sound/expulsion of breath–stops include p, b, t, d, k & g… Notice–you cannot make these sounds continuously–unless you just repeat the sound…

Fricatives are made when you exhale more continuously and the friction creates a sound–these include f, v, th (as in think), th* (as in that) s, z, sh (as in shout), sh* ( the z sound in azure), two kinds of “ch” sounds that we don’t have in English really–the “ch” sound in German “ich” and then the “ch” sound that you find in “Ach!!!” in German–or in the word “Loch” for Loch Ness if said correctly…

Then the Nasals– m, n, l, ng, and r ..

Now.. there are schemes to this–the voicing or unvoicing comes from whether there is a resonance when you make the sound.. If you pay attention–when you say the letter p–it’s pretty silent.. it’s a voiceless (labial=lips) stop.  If you just add some voicing to it–but use the same mouth formation–you get the letter “b”. 

Now–if you use roughly the same mouth position–a little different as you use your top teeth on your bottom lip)–and you  make it voiceless but keep pushing air==fricative–you get “f”–and then if you give it voicing–you get “v” ..

The final “labial” sound is the nasal “m”…

This goes on from the front to the back of the mouth in a systematic fashion…

For the stops alone going from front to back and voiceless/voiced–you get: p/b, t/d, k/g

For the fricatives going front to back and voiceless/voiced–you get: f/v, th/th*, s/z, sh/sh*, ch/ch*

For the nasals you have front to back m, n/l (<–has tongue curling), ng/r (<–again with tongue curling..)

Now–you may have noticed that a few letters are missing from our alphabet–Vowels are handled in a similar way–there are front/back vowel sounds and all kinds of things you do with your mouth–but all vowels can be made continuously–like the fricatives–and have their own little chart that I’m not going to get into..

In addition–certain letters or letter combinations that we use are actually the combination of a couple of sounds.. I forget the terms used–mainly because I learned all of this reading German books and never distinctly learned the English terms that well–but letters like “w” are actually just two vowels strung together and pronounced quickly–namely the “oo”==(oo la la) and “uh” sounds… Other letters–like the English “J”–is actually the “d” followed quickly by the “sh*” sound.. similarly–the “ch” sound in Church is actually the t followed by the “sh” sound quickly…

This kind of thing is common in languages–at least the indo-european ones I’ve looked at.. German has this with their letter “z” which is actually the laut “t” followed by the “s” sound.. that’s why we say NOT-SEE  when we read Nazi–rather than NAH-ZEE…

I hope this was informative.. there’s tons more info on this–but this is the basics.. I could note that above the t/d th/th*, s/z, sh/sh* are all made in similar areas of the mouth–and that’s why certain combinations or exchanges of sounds are made…

The voiced/voiceless combos should also help make clear why you see phenomenon like “laser” being pronounced “lazer” etc.. just like we–at least in the states–say “bedder” when we read “better”… … In America–we have a tendency to slow speech and voice it more.. so a lot of voiceless stops become voiced..  Interestingly enough, in German, the tendency was the reverse.. Words like “Weg” often came to sound like “Wek” and “Bad” sounded more like “Baht” than “Bahd”  This is certainly part of the reason why German sounds “sharp” to us.. 


About Prof. Woland

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10 Responses to Quick Linguistics post…

  1. jackspratt says:

    i think English doesn’t have enough glottal stops.

    • Loki says:

      Agreed. That would liven things up a bit…

      By the way–is there any good notion as to what “h” is–is it a glottal fricative? I see now that wikipedia claims it is a voiceless glottal fricative.. which makes sense…

    • Jed says:

      I would have to politely disagree. Although we don’t have glottal stops with full phonemic status, glottal stop does manifest itself in English:
      1) the classic example, “uh-oh”
      2) SOME varieties of English use the glottal stop in complimentary distribution with /t/: button, mutton, gluttony.

      • Loki says:

        I’m just a hobbyist linguistics dude–so if you can enlighten me more here–I’m totally open for it..

        Specifically–what does/how does the “glottal stop” actually manifest–where does it come in.. i.e. in “uh-oh”–is the glottal stop the “-” where the sound is stopped for a second? And how does it work in the -tton examples you give.. is it something that comes about when people actually pronounce it “but-ton” ?? I ask because.. thinking about it–I think I actually say “bu tton”–and maybe it’s that pause after the u that is the glottal stop?

        Again–any info is most appreciated..

      • Jed says:

        I did not mean it as an attack or anything of that nature. So I do apologize if you took it that way; if not, then cool. We can talk about linguistics now! 🙂

        So for the uh-oh example: there is a glottal stop (phonetic symbol: ʔ – kinda like a question without the dot underneath) after saying the “uh” part of it. And to use your words, yes, it is when the sound stopped for a second – it’s because your glottis constricted to produce that stop sound.

        And in the case of button, I said SOME people (myself included) don’t actually say a t-sound. So it becomes more like buʔ-n. Again, it’s like after saying the bu part of it, then quickly followed by that “stop sound” that you mentioned in uh-oh, then a syllabic n.

        I hope that explanation wasn’t too technical.

      • Loki says:

        Jed–I didn’t see it as an attack at all…. 🙂 I saw it as someone adding content… 🙂

        In any case–thanks for the head’s up.. I understand what you mean about the bu-?-n where the t drops out–that sounds like a kind of “English/British” type pronunciation off-hand.. but that’s just my half-assed impression..

        In any case–do you have a blog here–I’m happy to link and peruse stuff.. I post here very irregularly–I’m trying to do it more–but life sometimes gets in the way…

      • jackspratt says:

        i didn’t mean to imply there were no glottal stop sounds in the language. only that i feel there need to be more. also, some alveolar clicks would be nice.

  2. Jed says:

    Oops. By complimentary, I meant complementary. I do apologize for the typographical error.

  3. Jed says:

    It is curious that you say it seems to be an “English/British” pronunciation – as I am nowhere near Europe. I live in Southern California actually. 🙂
    I don’t have a blog here, though I’m thinking of starting one. I too am lazy to post regularly, which is why I am rather hesitant. But we’ll see.

    • Loki says:

      Interesting. I lived briefly as a child in San Marino–but am originally from Chicago and grew up there mostly. I guess the “UK” link is because it sounds like the kind of shortening that I hear with “guv’na” and the like…

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