I've been learning and using English since I was 10. I have always been more or less aware of the /θ/ sound, but it wasn't until I got interested in IPA notation, when I realized English contrasts /ð/ and /d/. Since then this sound somewhat keeps on messing up with me.

a) Let's start with this. This is a way I ussualy find it pronounced in syllable onset. (I mean the one at the begining of "this" of course). I think it's articulated as a stop. It's very simmilar to /d/ for me.

b) Then we've got this. This is the way English speakers pronunciate this sound, when they are asked to do it clearly. It's also the way I find it pronunciated in syllable coda. For me it's completly different, as it has no stop component anymore. When she speaks it, the tip of her tongue touches her lower lip, what makes me find it v-like.

c) And then there comes Wikipedia (the play button on the right). It's again quite different for me. I think the speaker here has his lips wide open while saying it, so the tongue doesn't touch the lower lip, and now it's z-like for me.

So If we assumed c) is the pure [ð], would it be correct for me to say that a) is actually [d͡ð] (as it has a stop component) and b) is [ð͡v] (as it has a secondary place of articulation at the lower lip)?

Is my assumption that only one of these sounds can be a pure [ð] correct in the first place?

EDIT: As most of the comments and answers were mostly "what are you asking about?", I've decided to narrow this post to this question: If these sounds are different (and I swear they are), shouldn't IPA give a way to write each of them differently? Is the notation I used (in the last but one paragraph) acceptable?

  • a) What is your question? b) Your discourse concerns two sounds in one language; it's too language-specific. c) Putting your tongue on the lower lip does not produce a [v] sound. d) I've heard [d] for [ð] in certain dialects, but not in the General Western American English dialect that I speak. e) Any sound articulated with the tongue on the lower lip is highly unlikely to sound like a [v]. – James Grossmann Nov 7 '15 at 17:10
  • @JamesGrossmann a) b) My question is about /ð/ sound in general. Mostly about the way it is pronouced in English as it's the only language which uses It that I know well. c) e) It doesn't produce a [v] sound. Neither a [z] sound. It depends on language spoken by the listener what sound /ð/ pronouced in this manner will seem similar to. – Arsen Nov 7 '15 at 17:22
  • [ð] is always voiced; [θ] is always voiceless. So you need to distinguish voicing, which is easy, because you can feel it on your throat with your hand. The larynx is a separate articulator from the lips, tongue, and jaw, and is independent of them. That said, in fact there is some free variation in English; people -- often the same people -- can say with as either /wɪθ/ or /wɪð/, and never notice the difference. This is a contrast in English, but it has by far the least functional load -- there are only two minimal pairs: thy/thigh, either/ether. And they're both spelled TH. – jlawler Nov 7 '15 at 18:01
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    @jlawler I have no problem with differencing [θ] and [ð]. If I was to confuse [θ] with any other consonant it would be [f]. My problem is rather that different shades of [ð] sound to me more different to each other than to other sounds - [d], [v] and [z]. – Arsen Nov 7 '15 at 19:56
  • That is a problem, and it's affected many dialects. Well, most native English speakers aren't really aware of the distinction, because of the spelling and the low functional load. So what they use to distinguish them is likely the source -- /ð/ occurs in Germanic roots, especially determiners, while /θ/ is either a derivational suffix like truth from true, or fifth from five; or else from a Greek root. With a scattering of exceptions all around, as usual for an English rule. – jlawler Nov 7 '15 at 22:16

Regarding (a), it is quite common for /ð/ to have an allophonic realization as [d̪] (dental stop) or [d̪ð] (dental affricate) in syllable onset position.

I don't hear a huge difference between your examples (b) and (c). I would transcribe them both using [ð]. Note that in the video in (b), although the tongue touches the lower lip, it is the point of maximal airflow constriction that matters when defining place of articulation: in this case, it's between her tongue blade and her upper teeth (regardless of where her tongue tip ended up). Incidentally, she is exaggerating for pedagogical effect; I've never seen the tongue protrude so far when making that sound in normal speech.

Regarding the wikipedia sound file in (c), it might sound more [z]-like to you because it is more nearly an apical dental articulation (tongue-tip rather than tongue-blade). It is still different from [z] because in articulations of [z] the turbulent air from the constriction hits the rear surface of the upper teeth, not so for [ð].

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If you want to understand the phonetic nature of /ð/, in general, you need to look at recordings of native speakers of languages that have it. The corpus should be contextually varied (e.g. utterance-initial, utterance-final, intervocalic, and so on), and it should not include any "sound performances" like "it is pronounced [ððððð]". It should also only contain data from actual native speakers of the language in question. In the Wiki recording, it isn't even claimed that this is "in a language". Some dialects of Finnish do have [ð] but I don't know if the performer of the wiki recording is such a speaker. I would be somewhat happy to give my rendition of a Danish [ð], but there is no question that it's not a native production.

Every phonetic symbol stands for a range of pronunciations. I would say that Danish [ð] is different enough from [ð] of Icelandic, Kven, Saami and English that it deserves a distinct symbol. But that would imply the possibility of contrastiveness, which has not been established. Those pronunciations are all within the realm of normal variation for how [ð] is pronounced, across languages and speakers. It would be kind of hard for us to diagnose why you have these different feelings about specific performances of [ð], if that's what you're asking. I suggest that you narrow the question down to something much more specific.


The revision of the question is much clearer. We have known forever that there will be some measurable difference between any two performances of exactly the same word by the same speaker, and questions of sameness / difference in phonetics imply some scale of granularity in measurement. The idea that guides crosslinguistic phonetic comparisons is that languages may differ in what specific values a sound has, so that [i] in German may have a lower F1 than it does in English, and that could be a fact of some linguistic interest, but simple anatomical variation can explain why two speakers of the same language or of different languages could have different phonetic values for a nominally same phoneme.

I don't judge the three samples referenced in the OP to be particularly different, but one can substitute Danish ð vs. English ð, or various other pairs of sounds that are audibly and systematically different between two languages. Then the question is whether the IPA should add symbols to systematically represent that difference. But the IPA does not purport to represent all possible systematic sound differences. This is most clearly seen in the illustrations of the IPA, where vowels are positioned in a standard vowel space. You will notice that the symbol a is used very frequently, but the position that it occupies across languages varies considerably. Sometimes one finds a contrast in low vowels such as æ,a or ɑ,a which constrains the positioning of a, but without a contrast, one usually find that the low unrounded vowel is written a, even if it crosses into back vowel space.

Note that the Handbook of the IPA (1999: p. 27) states that "the International Phonetic Association has aimed to provide 'a separate sign for each distinctive sound; that is, for each sound which, being used instead of another, in the same language, can change the meaning of a word'". If a language is uncovered which phonemically contrasts two kinds of ð, Danish-style (approximant) and English-style (fricative), then one could rightly conclude that there should be two distinct symbols for representing that difference. Until that day (plus time for voting...), it should not. However, also note that there are diacritics that can be added to specify particular kinds of pronunciation detail, so that the Danish ð could be written as ð̞.

If one encounters a language with a voiced dental / interdental affricate, then d͡ð would be appropriate as a transcription. I would not include that particular performance of ððððð in the discussion, since this isn't an example of language, it's an example of meta-language and probably not even representative of normal speech for that person. However, there are similar issues that arise in the transcription of language, such as the lip action of Tokyo Japanese "u", or the labial protrusion of Shona orthographic sv, zv, formerly transcribed as ȿ,ɀ. If one encountered a somewhat labialized ð, this could be rendered with the seagull diacritic.

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  • Thanks for your answer. I changed the question as you suggested. Take a look at it, If you can. – Arsen Nov 8 '15 at 14:55

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