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I've noticed that often, when speaking in English with native speakers of certain East Asian languages, they tend to skip consonants at the ends of words. I'm wary of providing examples out of a desire to not be interpreted as asking a racially-leading question, but this accent trait seems to be common among native speakers of Vietnamese and some dialects of Chinese, and likely others that I'm less familiar with.

Why would this be?

  • Because of a common syllabic structure? Nearly every syllable has a vowel and the last consonant doesn't provide one – WiccanKarnak Nov 9 '17 at 1:09
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One of the possible reasons is that in many East and Southeast Asian languages word-final stops are unreleased (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/No_audible_release). When words of European languages are pronounced in this manner, this may give an impression of a final-consonant omission.

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  • English does not release final stops either. – fdb Nov 8 '17 at 21:36
  • @fdb, it does in most cases. Only in some varieties with strong glottalisation some or all stops are unreleased. – macleginn Nov 10 '17 at 16:35
  • I used to work with a guy who had very strong Vietnamese accent. I used to listen carefully to his English and I was convinced that he was actually articulating each sound, but because the final consonant wasn't released it sounded like he wasn't articulating it. This is only anecdotal evidence, but I had already come to the same conclusion. – CJ Dennis Apr 16 '18 at 5:11
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Human languages prefer an alternation of energetically articulated consonants, using little breath, and vowels, which need less effort expended in the mouth (by tongue, lips, jaw, ...), but use more breath. Just why this is, I'm not prepared to say, but the tendency toward a preferred consonant + vowel (CV) syllable structure is ubiquitous. I don't know that it is confined to human language -- perhaps the same thing may be found in birdsong, or other non-human acoustic communication systems.

At any rate, the force to weaken or entirely eliminate consonants or vowels that can't be fit into the CV pattern is amplified for syllables at the ends of words. I don't understand that, either. Maybe words were evolved from syllables?

You don't have to go to Asian languages to observe this. Any human language will do. Why is lip rounding lost in English for r at the ends of words and syllables, and why in some r-less dialects do these r's disappear entirely? Why are obstruent stops strengthened by being aspirated at the beginnings of syllables and words? Same thing.

The beginnings of words and syllables starting with vowels are good places to find epenthesis of glides and the ends are good places to find simplification of consonant clusters. Same thing.

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It is because the phonetic tools (of English and speaker's native language) are too different.

The secondary reason is that in the languages of Asian region (namely, those belonging to Sino-Tibetan, Tai–Kadai, and, to a certain extent, Austroasiatic families), the syllable arguably plays a bigger role (than in English).


Without loss of generality, let me focus on Thai speakers speaking English.

While there is a broad set of initial consonants in Thai syllable, the final consonants are very limited. Namely, only voiceless plosives [p/t/k], nasals [ng/m/n], and sonorants [y/w] are available. The rest of the consonants, when in final position, are mapped to the eight ones above.

That's why you can hear /gon/ instead of "goal" (a football term), /dit/ instead of "this", or /bit/ instead of "beach".

English words containing consonant clusters can also be distorted, either by "converting" consonants to syllables or by simply losing them. This is easy to notice when some Thai speakers say -s suffix denoting the plural number; the very word "words" can be pronounced /wot/, completely losing the final -s consonant. Note, no vowel → no syllable → no sound.

Also, many distortion happens to R-colored vowels: "there" can convert to /de/ and so on.

All listed phenomenons can be perceived by English speaker as chopping off the words at the end.


Further reading

  • If you like to help your friends mastering final consonants, consider the technique I described here. The trick is very simple: if they can not pronounce e.g. [s] or [b] as a final consonant, make it initial!
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  • Fascinatingly, American English speakers often have precisely the same struggle with French final consonants, which tend to feel very unnatural in the American English-native mouth. For example, in the words chapitre and theatre. – TheEnvironmentalist Nov 9 '17 at 8:57

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