Monday, May 16, 2016

[s] as in "horse" vs [z] as in...

The Big Bang Theory, Season 3, Episode 23, "The Lunar Excitation".

This excerpt is a great example of the [s z] contrast in English. Spanish speakers have a hard time with this contrast because Spanish only has voiceless [s]. Portuguese has both [s] and [z], yet Portuguese-speaking learners of English also have a hard a time with some [s z] contrasts because of the typical positions those sounds might take in a word. 

In  the example below, the [s z] contrast is at the end of the word, and in Portuguese, there is only [s] at the end of utterances (think of "invés" and "talvez", for instance - both have a final [s] if followed by a pause). However, English might have either [s] or [z] in any position of the word, as the example below shows:


video

If you read Portuguese, you see that the joke is lost in the subtitles, because the punch line of the joke lies in sound similarity of the words, which are contrasted only by the final [s z].

Here are a few more [s z] minimal pairs in Engligh:

[s] [z]
ice eyes
spice spies
loss laws
price prize
face phase
loose lose
once ones
race raise
advice advise
niece knees

Extra explanation 1: Notice that some of the final [z] sounding words above, and the one in the video, are plurals. This is so because when you add the -s morpheme (for plurals, 3rd person singular in the simple present, or the genitive case 's) to a word ending in a voiceless sound, the final -s will be the voiceless [s] (as in cups, stops and Jack's); when you add it to a word ending in a voiced sound, the final -s will be the voiced [z] (as in eyes, plays and Carla's), and when you add it to a word ending in a sibiliant (i.s. [s z ʃ ʒ tʃ dʒ]), the final -s will be pronounced [ɪz] or [əz], with an extra syllable (as in glasses, washes and Carlos').

Extra explanation 2: Another source of difficulty for Portuguese speakers regarding English [s] is the rule that, in Portuguese, the letter 's' between two vowels always sounds like [z], which is not true in English. Therefore, Brazilian learners of English tend to mispronounce the following words, which should all be pronounced with [s] (and not [z], as Brazilians tend to do): house, mouse, blouse, base, case, crisis, basic, useful, fantasy, disorder, disappear, dishonest, misuse, misinform, misinterpret.

Stay tuned for more videos, and if you have a suggestion of a video clip I could use to illustrate a feature of English or Portuguese phonetics, please send it to me.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Elision with Ed Sheeran

Final part of the song "Photograph", by Ed Sheeran.

In rapid, everyday, connected speech, English speakers tend to simplify long/complex consonant clusters. This feature, called Elision or Dissimilation, may occur in a few different contexts, and Ed Sheeran illustrates one of them very clearly: when two words meet creating a 3-consonant cluster or when there is a non-initial 3-consonant cluster within a word, the consonant in the middle of the cluster might not be pronounced. This is why you might find the renditions in brackets of the phrases/words below in connected speech:

'next day' [nɛks dej]
'reached Paris' [riːtʃ pærɪs]
'blind man' [blajn mən]
'acts' [æks]
'texts' [tɛks]
'postman' [pows mən]

Now watch the video and check out the word in which a consonant is clearly not pronounced:

video

Yes, it's the word 'sixth', rendered by Ed Sheeran as [sɪkθ].

Stay tuned for more videos, and if you have a suggestion of a video clip I could use to illustrate a feature of English or Portuguese phonetics, please send it to me.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

[u:] as in Luke vs [ʊ] as in look

Modern Family, season 3, episode 10, "Express Christmas".

The scene is perfect to illustrate how the [u: ʊ] contrast can be challenging to speakers of languages that have only one high back vowel, such as Spanish (character Gloria's native language) and Portuguese (my native language). Therefore, no matter what Gloria is trying to say, "Luke" or "look", the boy (Luke) always understands "look".


video

I particularly like it when Gloria says, "I don't hear the difference", which shows that first foreign language learners need to be aware of the two sounds perceptually. EFL/ESL teachers need to help those learners create two phonetic categories, one for [u] and another for [ʊ], where there is only one in their native language. 


I also like it when Luke explains the difference by saying that "one is my name". It shows that contrasting sounds of any language are so easy to be noticed by its native speakers that they simply focus on the meaning, and not on the articulatory action to produce those two sounds. It is like an English speaker with difficulty to make the [paw] [pãw] contrast in Portuguese, and a Brazilian saying that it is easy because one is something you eat.

Luke-look is actually one of the very few minimal pairs with [u: ʊ] (fool-full, pool-pull, cooed-could are a few others), and the spelling does not help a lot with the choice of the correct sound. There are many words spelled with "oo" that sound [u:] and other that sound [ʊ]. Take the simple phrase "good food", for instance. Both words end in "-ood", yet "good" is pronounced [ʊ] and "food" [u:]. Here is a small list of words spelled with "oo" and their appropriate vowel sound.

[u:] [ʊ]
boot book
food cook
fool foot
mood good
moon hood
pool hook
roof look
room stood
zoo took

Stay tuned for more videos, and if you have a suggestion of a video clip I could use to illustrate a feature of English or Portuguese phonetics, please send it to me.

Hello, world!

Welcome to my brand-new blog, Phonetics Thru Videos!

I'm a professor of Phonetics and Phonology at the Federal University of Ceara, in Brazil, and my idea with this blog is to create a collection of video snippets that can be used to illustrate phonetic features, characteristics, issues and phenomena of English and Brazilian Portuguese. 

Each post will have a very brief explanation of the feature/phenomenon illustrated in the video segment. Feel free to navigate, save the videos, leave comments and share the posts and the blog. Also, if you have a suggestion of a video clip I could use to illustrate a feature of English or Portuguese phonetics, please send it to me.

I hope you enjoy reading the blog as much as I enjoy writing it!