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How does your brain learn languages?

A discussion of the peculiarities of languages and the differences between them.

Postby Brazilian dude » Tue Dec 06, 2005 5:23 pm

* ARISING DIPHTHONGS

[ja] ia, lla, ya: viaje voyage, llama flame, yacer to lie (down);
[je] ie, lle, ye: pie foot, llegar to arrive, reyes kings;
[jo] io, llo, yo: cambio change, camello camel, mayor greater;
[wa] ua: agua water;
[we] ue: puedo I can;
[wo] uo: antiguo ancient.
* FALLING DIPHTHONGS

[aj] ay: hay there is;
[ej] ey: ley law;
[oj] oy: soy I am;
[aw] au: causa cause;
[ew] eu: deuda debt;
[ow] ou: does not occur in native words

What about yu (or iu, to most speakers also llu) and ui (uy)? I don't believe this source anymore.

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Postby Ladyquill » Tue Dec 06, 2005 6:02 pm

Brazilian dude wrote:Besides, where does that Spanish j come from?
Brazilian dude


I don't know about Spanish, but I had a theory about how some of the Brazilian Portuguese pronunciations developed....just don't shoot me. :?

I've noticed how each different culture makes not only the same mistakes with pronunciation, but the same adjustments as well. For instance, the Brazilians don't have the "th" sound, so they replace "th" with F or T, but they replace the exact same words with the same sounds. They all say Dis and Dat, for this and that, and someFing not someTing, which is what the Asians do. The list goes on with all of the other foreign speakers.

I think this was the case when the Spaniards and the Portuguese went to SA...Perhaps the Native Americans learned Portuguese and mispronounced different words just like the Asians and Brazilians (and all others) mispronounce English. They had never been taught to make certain sounds, so they replaced them with what they "heard" or what came naturally to them.

Of course I don't speak any of those Native American languages, but I really think it' s a plausable theory.

Also, there have been times when I thought I heard a Brazilian say "Yo" instead of "Eu", and "cielo" instead of "ceu"... When you say words such as these quickly, they can sound the same. Maybe mistakes are just "catching".

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Postby Brazilian dude » Tue Dec 06, 2005 6:06 pm

Perhaps the Native Americans learned Portuguese and mispronounced different words just like the Asians and Brazilians (and all others) mispronounce English. They had never been taught to make certain sounds, so they replaced them with what they "heard" or what came naturally to them.

Of course that's what happened. And you mix in Africans and Europeans and Asians and everybody else and that's what you get.

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Postby Ladyquill » Tue Dec 06, 2005 6:10 pm

So I'm smart, but slow? :wink:

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Postby Apoclima » Tue Dec 06, 2005 6:13 pm

Wow! You are right! How could they have forgotten that?

I guess you are right, in the sense that it depends what you are looking at. I guess it probably shows a bias on my part being more familiar with Spanish.

I looked around and mistakes are very common. I found a site that says there are fourteen diphthongs in Spanish, but then they go on to say really strange things about Spanish phonology:

The consonants b and v are pronounced very similarly to each other, as are ll and y.


Spanish Language

Of course there are dialects that distinguish between 'll' and 'y', but I have never heard of a difference between 'b' and 'v' in Spanish. Although I have heard many a student of Spanish misunderstand the rules of pronunciation for the intervocalic voiced bilabial fricative (which also applies to the phoneme [b] after a vowel and before a glide, and maybe other places), but I have never heard that 'b' and 'v' behave differently in any respect.

Oh, well. You really can't trust anyone!

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Postby anders » Tue Dec 06, 2005 6:26 pm

Ladyquill wrote:I have a question...how are you doing with pronunciation in your Chinese class? I had a student that could hardly make herself clear when speaking English, but could write better than most Americans her age. And when she tried to teach me to speak a few phrases, she would laugh and laugh. I thought I sounded just her, and she said I sounded NOTHING like her. :oops:

LQ

I suppose she heard different tones than what you managed to produce. Yes, that's a major problem even for us Swedes (we've got two tones, so we should be used to the principle, but Standard Chinese has four (or five), and other Chinese languages have more still). The difference between 'buy' and 'sell' is just the tone of the syllable. You might also be trying to say 'Your honoured language', and it turns out to be 'Your devilish language'.

Yet another thing that might be a problem for learners is that many Chinese have learned that syllables consist of an initial and a final. So if you want to discuss the different vowel [a] qualities of shan and shang, the former being (at least in some parts of China...) more closed than the latter, they don't understand you. "Hey, an is another final than ang. You can't compare them." and that's all.

And for those of you who don't speak Swedish, Norwegian or a suitable language of the Indian subcontinent, there's a set of retroflex consonants in Chinese which may well cause insurmountable problems for you, like it does for people from for example Shanghai, Guangzhou (Canton) or Hangzhou wishing to speak "Standard" Chinese.
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Postby Andrew Dalby » Fri Dec 09, 2005 2:48 pm

If tones are in question, Ladyquill, how are you getting on with the tones in Thai? I found them very difficult, whereas tones in Burmese, for some reason, came easy.
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Postby Ladyquill » Fri Dec 09, 2005 6:25 pm

I'm not, but thanks for asking :) . Apparently my problem is that I speak too HARD. If I pretend my tongue and lips are paralyzed I seem to do better. :lol: Of all the languages I've tried, Norwegian and Thai have got me beat, for sure. With Thai, I can't relax my mouth enough, and with Norwegian, good grief!! I don't think my mouth will EVER be able to do those things!

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Postby Apoclima » Fri Dec 09, 2005 8:33 pm

I find that by learning and reciting the alphabet or syllabic representation (Does Chinese have one?) one frees one's mind from grammar doubts and contraints, thereby isolating the phonological component, allowing free articulation of sounds.

(I used to drive my brother crazy)

The common things for an English speaker to watch for in their foreign phonology are the insertion of glottal stops or "h"
between vowels and vowel reduction.

Inventing exercises or games can be fun too, but be sure to work with a native speaker to be sure that your games don't violate the target phonology.

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Postby Flaminius » Fri Dec 09, 2005 8:50 pm

Apoclima wrote:I find that by learning and reciting the alphabet or syllabic representation (Does Chinese have one?)


Well, now they have a alphabetical system called Zhuyin or Bopomofo. Even before that, the long linquistic tradition of Chinese was not without phonology.


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Postby Apoclima » Fri Dec 09, 2005 9:47 pm

Thanks for the links, Flam!

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Postby anders » Sat Dec 10, 2005 1:05 pm

Flaminius wrote:
Apoclima wrote:Well, now they have a alphabetical system called Zhuyin or Bopomofo
.
And there's the Hànyú Pīnyīn 汉语 拼音, using Latin letters. Not perfectly intuitive to "Westerners", but quite sound :P from a phonological point of view. And surely,
Even before that, the long linquistic tradition of Chinese was not without phonology.

which accounts for the communication problem I mentioned. Even Chinese people highly educated in other fields than linguistics find it difficult if at all possible to understand our notions of 'vowels' and 'consonants'. For example, an will to them be an indivisible "final", not something composed of an [a] sound and an [n] sound.

And if they do have such an education ...

Last week I tried to question a Chinese woman (no, not my SO), about that problem of different vowel qualities in Ch. an and ang. She recently acquired the Licentiate degree in linguistics at our local University (writing her thesis in English) and can communicate in Swedish on a fairly basic level. I had the feeling that my problem didn't get through to her, and she ended up with a comment like language is different in different parts of the country. I had guessed so much. (My teacher hasn't committed himself to an answer either.) I suppose I'll have to try something like the SOAS for an answer.
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