TH substitution: S or T?

Flaminius
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TH substitution: S or T?

Postby Flaminius » Fri Dec 30, 2005 11:34 am

Maybe this is too idiotic a question to fit in any place other than idioms. So can it go...

Many of those who speak English as a second language, substitute TH sounds (dental fricative), especially the voicelss one, with either T (alviolar plosive) or S (alviolar plosive). From my regionally-biased observations speakers of Romance, Arabic and Indic languages tend to use T whereas Japanese, Chinese and Korean speakers resort to S.

The first group better make themselves understood by native English speakers than the latter do, it seems. Has anybody got ideas?

Oh no, the above does not make any sense.

The first substitution is better uderstood by native English speakers than the latter do.

Flam
Last edited by Flaminius on Fri Dec 30, 2005 12:18 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Postby Brazilian dude » Fri Dec 30, 2005 11:56 am

Because the languages are closer, the words are closer, the grammar is closer, and the sounds are closer?

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Postby Flaminius » Fri Dec 30, 2005 12:16 pm

I meant T is more intelligible as a substitute for TH than S is but what is the reason? Phonetically, S and T are equally irrelevant to TH.

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Postby Brazilian dude » Fri Dec 30, 2005 12:21 pm

Maybe because of the point of articulation. T's and th's are pronounced much more closely than th's and s's.

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Postby tcward » Fri Dec 30, 2005 2:12 pm

It may be simpler than that.

In English, particularly North American English, many words with 'intervocalic t' are pronounced with 'd' in place of 't', so we're already programmed to receive it that way.

I can't think of a place in English where the 't' is pronounced like an 's' except by a non-native, or through laziness/assimilation at the end of a word -- and most people don't even notice that's what's happening in the latter case.

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Postby Brazilian dude » Fri Dec 30, 2005 4:34 pm

A lot of Brazilians pronounce an f instead.

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Postby tcward » Fri Dec 30, 2005 4:38 pm

And you just reminded me, there is a dialect of UK English that pronounces 'th' with a 'v'...

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Postby Andrew Dalby » Fri Dec 30, 2005 6:17 pm

tcward wrote:And you just reminded me, there is a dialect of UK English that pronounces 'th' with a 'v'...

-Tim


Yes, in Britain, it is typical of old-fashioned Cockney (the London dialect) to use f for voiceless th and v for voiced th.

f and s have in common with th the fact that they are fricatives (though s can be called a sibilant)

t (as spoken by British and US speakers) has nothing in common with th, because t is an alveolar stop while th is a dental fricative.

But many foreign languages don't have an alveolar stop and in these t is often a dental stop: so, to some foreign speakers, English t and th would seem (wrongly) to have the same point of articulation, making t a good substitute for th.

If th spoken as t is more difficult for mother-tongue English speakers to understand than th spoken as s or f, this is why.

I think.

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Postby M. Henri Day » Tue Jan 03, 2006 4:38 pm

tcward wrote:...

In English, particularly North American English, many words with 'intervocalic t' are pronounced with 'd' in place of 't', so we're already programmed to receive it that way.

...


Not to mention the substitution in certain dialects, not only in the US, of a glottal stop for the double «t» in words like «bottle»....

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Postby tcward » Tue Jan 03, 2006 6:17 pm

Actually, that "glottal stop" replacement for double-t would be more typical of British accents as well (as opposed to North American).

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Postby Flaminius » Tue Jan 03, 2006 10:48 pm

Perhaps higher acceptance of T as a non-native substitution for voiceless TH may be accounted for by native allophonic realisation of [theta] as [t] in certain phonological environments.

I don't know much about US English but "three" is often heard pronounced like "tree" in British accents.

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Postby Andrew Dalby » Sat Jan 07, 2006 3:35 pm

Flaminius wrote:I don't know much about US English but "three" is often heard pronounced like "tree" in British accents.


That surprises me (and surprise is good for me, I find). In Britain, by contrast, "three" is often heard pronounced like "tree" in Irish accents!

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Postby azhreia » Sun Jan 08, 2006 2:54 am

I wonder whether (and I have absolutely no data to support this either way) the substitutions occur to make the unfamiliar sounds more familiar to non-native speakers?

That is, the combination of letters that occurs by the substitution of either "t" or "s" for "th" becomes a string which is more readily pronounced because of the speaker's familiarity with such substrings (there's got to be a better word, but my brain is stuck in programmer mode this afternoon) within their own native language.

Perhaps someone else could explain it a bit more lucidly, but my basic idea is that "tree" is a more readily pronounced combination as a replacement for "three", than "sree" for english speakers purely because we don't have a common use for the combination "sr", whereas we do for the combination "tr". Thus to an english speaker, "tr" is a more readily accessible combination when speaking.


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Postby Apoclima » Sun Jan 08, 2006 8:35 am

What a fascinating question, Flam! And a great discussion everyone.

Flam:
From my regionally-biased observations speakers of Romance, Arabic and Indic languages tend to use T whereas Japanese, Chinese and Korean speakers resort to S.


Let's expand and condense this slightly:

The tough consonants for most foreign speakers are the inter-dentals, both unvoiced and voiced:

[th] (thorn) and [dh] (edh)

These are often replaced by [t] and [d] or [s] and [z] But sometimes these two are replaced with [f] and [v] (notice that the voicing in consistent with English sound being substituted).

That thing thinks that those thighs thicken.

Dhat thing thinks dhat dhose thighs thicken.

with French (or German?) accent:

Zat sing sinks zat zose sighs sicken.

Scandinavian accent:

Dat ting tinks dat dose tighs ticken.

It is hard for me to reproduce any more accents. I'll have to listen for some more, but the underlying question still remains:

Why are (foreign) accents so consistent within a linguistic group? Why do the vast majority of the speakers of a certain language prefer one substitution over the other even when both pairs of phonemes are available?

Why do the French almost always choose [s] and [z] to replace [th] and [dh], when they certainly have [t] and [d] in their repetoire of sounds?

Just as a Norwegian chooses [t] and [d], when they would have a choice of their native [s] and [z]?

There are dialects of English that do avoid [th] and [dh] by using [t] and [d], but there are none that substitute [s] and [z].

'tree 'yout' 'dey' 'dat' 'broder' 'moder' (I didn't change the rest of the phonology to match, but you get the idea!)

A curious thing that I noticed about one of my mechanics (native speaker of English with an English mother) is that he would use [th] and [dh] in the initial position but would substitute [f] and [v] in any other position.

The other day I went with my brother to the brothel.

Dhe over day I went wif my brover to the brofel.

I am wondering if the substitution goes anything like that in Portuguese, BD!

Spanish is sort of a mixed bag, because the [d] of Spanish is very dental and especially fricative between vowels, so the main problem is initial. Also it is in most of the Spanish-speaking world's "accent repetoire" to make the [th] sound when making fun of Spaniards.

Arabs shouldn't have a problem since they have both the letter 'tha' [th] and the letter 'dhal' [dh]. Although having the sound doesn't always mean they are used correctly in English. An Irani friend of mine used to do something with his 'w' and his 'v', though he said them both correctly he switched them around for some reason.

Why do the speakers of one language "hear" [s] and [z] as replacements for [th] and [dh], while speakers of another language "hear" [t] and [d] (or even [f] and[v]) as the better substitution, even when both languages contain either option?

Darn good question, Flam!

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Postby Brazilian dude » Sun Jan 08, 2006 9:33 am

Dhe over day I went wif my brover to the brofel.

I am wondering if the substitution goes anything like that in Portuguese, BD!

It depends on the speaker, but I would say most people would utter something like:

De oder day I went wif/wit my broder to de brodel.

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