Author Topic: Pronounciation of f, p and ph  (Read 942 times)

Offline xian0099

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Pronounciation of f, p and ph
« on: September 29, 2018, 02:15:47 AM »
Hi, there, I found these consonants have some association with each other  in pronunciation. For example, in Texas, there is a town Pflergeville, the first letter “P” is voiceless, so is for Pfennig Ln in the town. Some Korean pronounce “if” as “ipu”. And in Chinese, p and f can be replaced by each other in pronunciation. I wonder if there is any difference between f and ph in pronunciation. When my son was 1 year old, who was taken care of by his grandma, he called her Pfo-pfo instead po-po (grandma). He learned from his grandma who was from remote mountain area in Southwestern China.

Offline Daniel

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Re: Pronounciation of f, p and ph
« Reply #1 on: September 29, 2018, 02:32:46 AM »
The sounds certainly are similar in some ways, but they are not the same. In your examples, you're mixing up different languages, dialects, and second-language-learner pronunciations. So there are several different questions here.

What is similar about the sounds is that they are all labial (pronounced with the lips) and also voiceless (versus v and b for example).

The differences:
[f] is a fricative (hissing sound, produced when there is a narrow construction where turbulent airflow makes a sound)
[p] is a stop (or plosive, where a 'popping' sound occurs from the release of a complete construction of airflow)
[pʰ] is like [p] but also aspirated meaning there is a small h-like sound following it, produced by the glottis (vocal folds). Note that frication and aspiration are very similar, which is why you find this sound to be similar to [f].
[pf] is actually a combination sound, where both [p] and [f] are pronounced together. This is called an affricate and another example is "ch", which is really just a combination of "t" and "sh" sounds.

There are also other interesting relationships between sounds that you might not expect. For example, if you record [b] then chop off the initial release (it's a stop sound, like [p]), then you will surprisingly hear [f]. Acoustically the sounds are almost identical aside from the first part. (You might hear something similar with [p], although for [pʰ] the aspiration would probably make it sound different to you, but still similar to some extent.)

So... what does all of this mean? Well, sounds vary in different languages, and when they come in contact, mixing or borrowing occurs in somewhat systematic but also maybe unexpected ways. For example, speakers of some languages replace English "th" with a [t] sound, and others with an [s] sound. Neither one is "more correct" (since both are different from English), but for whatever reason (based probably on the sounds in the language and how they therefore perceive English) speakers of different languages differ in what they think sounds closest. So that would explain the examples of language learners you gave. Something similar would apply to children learning a language as they adjust toward adult-like usage-- this is normal around 5 years old, plus or minus a few years.

As for the example of "pf" in Texas, that's actually from German-- a number of German immigrants historically moved to Texas, and there is even a (now very endangered) dialect of German spoken there (and other similar dialects elsewhere in the United States). Those words are just borrowed from German, for names of towns, streets, etc. (Pfennig means 'penny', for example. I'm not sure about "Pflerge-".) Historically in German, over a thousand years ago, a sound change happened in German where word-initial [p] became [pf]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/High_German_consonant_shift -- what this means is that variation in speakers (either children learning the language, or via contact, or just general variation in society and then dialects) caught on and became the new norm. This happens in all languages, but in this case it again shows us that these sounds are in some sense related. Additionally, something else happened even earlier (probably around 3,000+ years ago), when [p, t, k] became [f, th, kh~h] in early Germanic-- this is why in English we say "father" but in Spanish the same original root became "padre" (from the distant ancestor of Germanic and Latin, referred to as Proto-Indo-European, where the sound was originally a "p"). See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grimm%27s_law
« Last Edit: September 29, 2018, 02:35:07 AM by Daniel »
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