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I speak American English and am trying to learn Sinhala and have found conflicting spelled descriptions of Sinhala words in various learning resources, so I started trying to figure out how to notate more accurately once I hear an authentic native pronunciation.

I've found several IPA-for-English learning resources and have learned probably what one would consider basic IPA-for-English, and yet haven't found the sounds that I hear pronounced.

Like a sound that seems halfway between a B or a P.

Or the kind of "hindi" sounding D/T.

I assume there IPA symbols for these sounds and resources on these somewhere?

Or would it be better to learning a system other than IPA, like NAVLIPI, which is supposed to be suited towards Asian languages?

NAVLIPI sounds interesting to me, but it seems I'd be learning it based on a book, which seems inferior to having a lot of audio resources such as those that exist for the IPA.

I know very little about all of this, so thank you for your patience!

  • Using different symbols to represent sounds, the IPA vs the NAVLIPI systems will probably make no difference for your purpose. Only articulatory descriptions of the actual sounds of Sinhala and samples will really give you access to the data. Symbols represent a variety of phonetic realizations in a language and between languages giving a rough idea of how they are produced typically. – GAM PUB Jun 19 '15 at 6:59
  • Are you looking for something like youtube.com/watch?v=acLwQmb8EIo ? There are several such resources on Youtube. – prash Jun 19 '15 at 10:01
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This link is to an English-Sinhalese dictionary with sound files. This link might provide you with something similar, though I did not test it. The UCLA Phoneic Archive has these materials: lists of words in English, phonetic transcriptions, and sound recordings – heavy on minimal pairs. This will be useful for getting the hang of the alveolar / retroflex difference, for interest.

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Seems like you have a good ear! I don't speak Sinhala, but I'm familiar with the IPA, so my answer will focus on learning methods for this.

To learn IPA symbols, I've found Wikipedia a very useful resource. The Wikipedia article on the Sinhalese language lists the IPA symbols necessary to represent all of the words of the language. As you've noticed, some of these symbols are not in the IPA for English, because English and Sinhala have different sound systems.

To learn sounds of the IPA that aren't in English, there are two main strategies: the auditory and the articulatory approach. Different people may find one more or less useful for them personally.

Auditory approach: As you've already mentioned, you can try to learn these sounds by using audio resources and then repeating what you hear.

Articulatory approach: Another way to learn these sounds is to read descriptions of where they are made in the mouth (articulation) and try to move your tongue and throat in the way described.

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  • Thanks for the compliment and your answer! Can you tell me what are the "auditory" and "articulatory" approaches you describe (and the difference between them). Or should I just look of "articulatory vs auditory" in Google? Thank you!! – Alice Greene Jun 19 '15 at 5:28
  • @Alice Greene: Sorry, I forgot to label them. They're the approaches described in the last two paragraphs. – brass tacks Jun 19 '15 at 5:33
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    Omniglot has an article about Sinhala with lots of resources. There is also this paper about Text-to-Speech in Sinhala. – GAM PUB Jun 19 '15 at 6:43
  • If Sinhala is at all similar to its related languages, it will have a retroflex/dental contrast in the consonants, and also an aspirated/plain contrast in all the stops, voiced and voiceless. The latter is the various letters spelled with H in transcription, and has to be learned especially, because it's hard to hear. This may be the difference you hear between B and P; English /p/ is sometimes aspirated, but PH always is, and P never is -- it sounds like English /b/. The retroflex/dental distinction also sounds like several kinds of T, D, and N. Look at a phonetic table. – jlawler Jun 19 '15 at 15:15
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    @jlawler Modern Sinhala no longer differentiates between aspirated and unaspirated stops. The aspirated letters are now all pronounced identically to their unaspirated counterparts, although some light aspiration may happen allophonically, less so than in English, e.g. [pʰɪn]/[spɪn], where [pʰ] and [p] are allophones of /p/. This is a frequent cause of spelling mistakes in Sinhala nowadays, along with the two merged "N"s and two merged "L"s. – CJ Dennis Mar 7 '19 at 7:57

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