112 votes

Why do Japanese people have difficulties in pronouncing English?

Several reasons: English pronunciation isn't easy Don't think that, just because you find it easy, most people in the world will; English pronunciation is actually quite complex by any measure. ...
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41 votes

How did שְׁלֹמֹה (shlomo) become Solomon?

For the vowels, pay close attention to the nəquddoth (vowel dots)! Between the shin and the lamedh is a shəwa mark; sometimes this indicates an extra-short vowel, sometimes no vowel at all. But ...
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  • 51k
23 votes

Pronunciation of P in Latin, versus Ph in Greek

I'm going to take a slightly different approach than Jk's answer, which does a good job coming at this from a Greco-Roman perspective. Instead, I'm going to focus on the Punic situation because it's a ...
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  • 4,492
22 votes
Accepted

Phonetic distortion when words are borrowed among languages

The term is loanword adaptation. It happens every time someone tries to use a word from a different language when speaking another. It's because every language has a different set of sounds that can ...
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  • 4,652
21 votes
Accepted

How did Greek loanwords with 'ae' come to be pronounced [i] in modern English?

Greek αι (/aj/) was regularly borrowed into Latin as ae (/aj/*). In Latin, ae eventually monophthongized into /ɛː/; in Vulgar Latin/Proto-Romance, vowel length was lost and this eventually merged with ...
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  • 51k
20 votes

Are syllable initial consonant clusters pronounced in Ancient Greek?

There is very little doubt they were pronounced: they are still pronounced in many languages other than English where they were loaned, and crucially in modern Greek; they were also spelled with those ...
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  • 1,726
19 votes

Why do Japanese people have difficulties in pronouncing English?

Here's an answer from developmental psychology: When a baby is born they can natively pronounce phonemes of every language, but as they develop, their brains are constantly calculating and keeping ...
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  • 307
17 votes
Accepted

dear, ear, fear, gear, hear, near ... why are bear/pear pronounced differently?

This question isn't just about spelling, because when these spellings were standardised, it is highly likely that all these words ending with "-ear" were pronounced in the same way. However, gradually ...
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  • 5,543
17 votes
Accepted

What is the correct term for a "lazy L"?

It's called "l-vocalization" (previous related question: Dark L vs L Vocalisation). A range of sounds can result from it, and because of this and also because of differences in ...
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  • 16.5k
16 votes

What characteristics are unique to English (or at least rare among language as a whole)?

While it is not clear to me what should be considered as "unique" to a language, since all the languages are different, so also unique in many ways, but they also share many basic features and ...
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16 votes

Native English speakers: worse understanding of other accents?

The first thing to consider is that this is a comedy show, and Lily Tomlin is a comedian. The second is that US speakers of English don't have a lot of exposure to UK accents, especially those most-...
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  • 66.7k
15 votes

What do you call a failed attempt to use the "standard" speech?

The closest term to what you need is hypercorrection which is sometimes called hyperurbanism: In linguistics or usage, hypercorrection is a non-standard usage that results from the over-application ...
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  • 15.4k
15 votes

Pronunciation of P in Latin, versus Ph in Greek

At some time in the history of the Greek languages, the letters Phi, Theta, and Chi represented aspirated consonants /ph/, /th/ and /kh/. The Romans felt that they were different enough from their ...
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14 votes

Are syllable initial consonant clusters pronounced in Ancient Greek?

I'll assume you're a native English speaker. Since English doesn't have these clusters, it's difficult for an English speaker to hear or produce them correctly. But it is not impossible, and there is ...
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  • 16.5k
14 votes

What was the original pronunciation of 'ä' in German?

“Originally” is a problematic concept. The letter “ä” was not used in Old and Middle High German. The plural of gast is gesti in OHG and geste in MHG. In early New High German the letters ä, ö and ü (...
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  • 22.6k
14 votes

Proto-Indo-European (PIE) words with IPA

The problem is, nobody is quite sure how PIE was pronounced! When we talk about PIE phonemes like /*d/, we don't mean it was actually IPA [d]. We mean that "there seems to have been a phoneme, which ...
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  • 51k
13 votes
Accepted

Is there a voiced-unvoiced pair for R or L in any language?

As leoboiko mentioned, there are languages with voiceless liquids, like Icelandic. In the IPA, they are simply transcribed with a voicelessness ring diacritic: [r̥] and [l̥]. In Icelandic, these ...
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  • 16.5k
13 votes

Is American Sign Language phonetic?

Do you mean can you know how to sign a word in American Sign Language by reading it in English? Well no, because the two languages are not really that similar. Sign languages are not transformations ...
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  • 5,416
13 votes

Native English speakers: worse understanding of other accents?

Lily Thomlin is a comedian. She's playing the supposed difficulty of understanding the accents as a joke. If you pay attention, she laughs quite appropriately to the jokes the others make. When ...
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  • 231
12 votes

What characteristics are unique to English (or at least rare among language as a whole)?

John McWhorter recently explained some. I'll add to that here. English has a number of features that, while not absolutely unique to English, just rare in the world, are unique to English as a ...
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  • 4,314
12 votes
Accepted

How to Romanize "شایق" in order to be easiest to an English speaker?

Gh would be preferable to q in my opinion. In Iranian Persian, q̈âf has merged with ġayn, both representing a [ɣ]~[ɢ], sound. While this sound doesn’t exist in English, the closest sound is certainly [...
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  • 1,152
11 votes
Accepted

from ekwos to ippo : transition from kw to p in greek

The key is, there was never a digamma in hippos in the first place! (At least, not as far back as we have evidence for: there may have been one earlier than that.) Early Greek, like Latin, had a set ...
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  • 51k
11 votes

Phonetic distortion when words are borrowed among languages

It's not "deliberate" – it's the automatic, nigh-inevitable result of fitting a set of sounds from one language's inventory into a different inventory. It's like changing a photo from RGB to CMYK or ...
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  • 2,208
10 votes

Is American Sign Language phonetic?

It appears you are (implicitly) asking about Sutton Sign Writing. If you don't know the system, obviously you can't learn a new sign. It's not clear how many signers know the system, but it appears ...
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  • 66.7k
10 votes
Accepted

What is it called when a person pronounces the letter t in the word "metal" as something more similar to a d sound?

The phenomenon is known as "flapping", and the result, transcribed as [ɾ], is a "flap". It also applies to /d/, but people notice it most when applied to /t/ since the result is more different ...
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  • 66.7k
9 votes

Why is "Shanghai" pronounced the way it is in English?

As a general rule, English speakers don't learn the pronunciation of place names from speakers of that language; they use general rules for pronunciation. Hence [br̩lɪn] instead of [bɛrlin], [ɔzlow] ...
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  • 66.7k
9 votes
Accepted

Trying to make sense of "...but voiced obstruents are not always voiced"

The basic rule is that players from Shirtless Team are always shirtless, but players from Shirt Team don't always wear shirts. Sometimes, at the end of the day, it gets too hot and they take off ...
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9 votes

Why are the Egyptian and Hittite versions of Tutankhamun's name different?

It's important to remember that hieroglyphic Egyptian usually makes the consonants clear, but not the vowels. Tutankhamun's praenomen is thus transcribed nb-ḫpr-(w)-rꜥ (or nb-xpr-(w)-rꜥ, depending on ...
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  • 51k
9 votes

When we talk about front and back vowels in the vowel chart, does it refer to the position of the tip of the tongue or the whole body of the tongue?

The articulatory definition of front and back vowels (i.e. the definition based on where the tongue is in the mouth) is based on the location of the constriction—that is, the place where the vocal ...
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  • 51k
8 votes
Accepted

Phonology vs phonetics : /ʁɔz/ vs [ʁoz]

Although /ɔ/ and /o/ do contrast in certain positions in French, the distinction is neutralized before /z/, where phonetically it's always the high-mid vowel that appears: [oz] but never [ɔz]. So it's ...
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  • 10.5k

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