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I've played around in Praat a bit trying to identify unknown syllables in Mandarin by just looking at the spectrograms. Since there is a very limited number of syllables in Mandarin (slightly over 400 disregarding tone), it's often possible to guess the right syllable or at least be very close.

Stops, however, cause problems. It's easy to separate aspirated and unaspirated stops, of course, but what about identifying different unaspirated stops, such as [p/t/k]? I have looked at a number of samples from different speakers and several textbooks, but the theory doesn't match the samples I have, and samples from different speakers seem different and I can't find any pattern.

So, my question is pretty simple: Is it possible to distinguish between e.g. [p/t/k] in Praat? I realise that it might be hard with just one sample, but what if samples of all three were available, could you tell which one is which somehow?

In case someone wants to look at the samples, I have put [pa], [ta] and [ka] on Dropbox.

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    k should have a velar pinch (F2 and F3); p should have the lowest formants compared with t and k. – Alex B. Mar 22 '14 at 17:04
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    Rather than having people download files from Dropbox, could you provide the spectrograms in your post? I think the question (and responses) would be more accessible to everyone that way. – musicallinguist Mar 23 '14 at 13:24
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    So my thinking is that you can only (at best) ever really guess with stops. The main clue will be the segment immediately preceding it, whether it is a vowel or consonant, and you should see F2 and F3 pinch for k, as @AlexB mentions. And also, yes, you should see the formants rise from front to back, so with all three you should have a fairly good chance of guessing well. – jimsug Mar 23 '14 at 19:44

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