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  • So let’s talk about differences.

  • Some things are easy to tell apart, like chocolate and broccoli.

  • Others can be hard to differentiate, like violet and indigo. But when it comes

  • to the sounds of language, what you notice and what you don’t is a matter of what you

  • already know. I’m Moti Lieberman, and this is the Ling Space.

  • Every sound that gets used in language is made by moving air through some combination

  • of your mouth, nose and throat. This is what’s known as the vocal tract.

  • When you move your tongue and lips to make a particular sound, that changes the

  • shape of the vocal tract, and in turn, that changes the properties of whatever sound you're going to make.

  • So for example, the difference between a [p] and a [t], which are both sounds where no

  • air can escape the mouth, is that in one, you close your lips, like [p], and in the other, you

  • move your tongue to the alveolar ridge, that raised area right behind your top front teeth, like [t].

  • So we make different language sounds by having variation in the way we shape our vocal tracts.

  • But how much variation is enough to make a real difference in what we hear? How far do

  • we have to move our tongues around before we get to a new sound of our language, that’s

  • totally different from any other sound? It turns out there’s no universal answer to

  • that question. There’s no target inside your mouth that saysThis far! No farther!

  • Or youll be a different sound!” The inside of your mouth is a continuous spacethere’s

  • no actual dividing line between the different areas, no special gap or marker saying

  • NOW YOU ARE IN THE ALVEOLAR ZONE”.

  • Every language in the world has to come to its own conclusions about how it can divide up

  • the different ways we can shape the mouth. Every learner, every speaker, needs to know

  • what those meaningful differences are. Those basic sounds a language has, those ones where

  • if you swap one for another, you really notice something has changed? Those sounds are

  • known as phonemes, and knowing what your language’s phonemes are is an essential part of

  • knowing that language. Phonemes are what you use to build words; if you change a phoneme, you

  • get a different word.

  • And I really mean that literally - the simplest way that linguists test whether a pair

  • of sounds are phonemes in a language or not is to see if switching themand only them

  • changes the meaning of the entire word. Any pair of words that differ in only one

  • sound, but have their meaning change, is known as a minimal pair. If you can find a minimal

  • pair, then both of the sounds that got swapped have to be phonemes.

  • Let’s look at some examples. Take the two words [blu] and [glu]. Blue glue, right? The

  • only thing that’s different about them is that first sound; one starts with

  • a [b] and the other starts with a [g], but the rest of the sounds are the same. That one change

  • causes the meaning of the whole word to change! Blue and glue are a minimal pair; moving [b]

  • to [g] makes a meaningful difference. And that means that /b/ and /g/ must be different

  • phonemes in English.

  • And we can do this with any pair of sounds in Englishthose sounds can be at the beginning,

  • like blue and glue; at the end, like cheek and cheat; or in the middle like beat and

  • bit. Those minimal pairs show us that /b/ and /g/, /k/ and /t/, and /i/ and /ɪ/ are

  • all different phonemes in English. And you could go through and find pairs like this for all

  • the basic sounds of English.

  • But like I said before, every language comes up with its own set of phonemes. So that means

  • that some things that are different in one language may be part of the same phoneme

  • in another language. So, take [i] and [ɪ]. As we just saw, those are different phonemes

  • in English; we know this because we have the minimal pair [bit] and [bɪt]. But if youre a Turkish

  • or a Spanish speaker, those two sounds are part of the same vowel phonemethe space in your mouth

  • where you can make that [i]-ish sound is just bigger, rather than being cut into two.

  • So to them, [bit] and [bɪt] sound pretty much the same. It’s similar for a pair of

  • consonants like [l] and [ɹ]; English might have a minimal pair like [lej] andej],

  • but Japanese only has one sound like that, likeej]. This is part of

  • why people speaking a language other than their native tongue often sound like they

  • have some kind of foreign accent. Theyre using their phonemic inventory and applying it to

  • a language with a different one!

  • And, lest you think English is special, it’s not. Other languages carve up the sound spectrum

  • in a way English doesn’t. So if youre a French speaker, there’s a difference between

  • [u] and [y], like in the minimal pair [vu] and [vy], which mean you and sight. If

  • youre an Arabic speaker, there’s a difference between [q] and [k], like in [qalbi] and [kalbi],

  • which are my heart and my dog. English speakers probably had a lot of difficulty telling the

  • difference between those.

  • Now this makes a lot of sense - we don’t make sounds the same way every time. Our tongues hit slightly

  • different points, our mouths close slightly differentlyany number of factors could be different.

  • If we had to pay attention to every single detail of every phoneme, we’d never have any time to

  • pay attention to what anyone was saying. It’d be all, “hey, you just saidNERV,’

  • but the last time, you saidNERF’ (with a slightly less heavy v), and was that important?

  • Oh man, was that important?” No. This way, you know what’s important, and it’s

  • only the sounds that change meanings.

  • There’s a lot of research out there that shows that we can’t really tell the difference

  • between two sounds that aren’t phonemes in our language. For example, a 2000 study

  • examined responses in the brain to two different syllables, [ta] and [da]. Now, these sounds ranged

  • between [t] and [d] at set intervals. There’s a boundary in how we perceive [t] and [d] – if

  • the vocal folds vibrate later, that’s a [t], and if they vibrate earlier, that’s

  • a [d]. English learners notice changes in how long it takes for that vibration to start

  • only if they cross over that boundaryif it moved the sound from a [t] to a

  • [d], or vice versa. But if it varies a bunch without crossing the boundary, if it stays

  • in [t]-land or [d]-opolis? English learners don’t care. Even their brains don’t care.

  • Or how about this: French doesn’t have an [h] sound, so it's really hard for a French speaker

  • to hear when there’s an [h] in English. A 2011 neurolinguistic study found that English speakers

  • really boggle when they hear the last word in a sentence likeThe mechanic filled

  • the tire with hair.” It’s just not right. But French speakers don’t careto them,

  • it still sounds like the tire got filled with air. Nothing more normal than that! So their

  • brains just process it normally.

  • One last case about what variation we can hear: let’s think about the sentenceLet’s

  • scoop this goop.” Or in particular, let’s focus onscoopandgoop.” If youre

  • an English speaker, that [k] and [g] sound different, right? Excepttheyre not.

  • That last pair was exactly the same, except for the [s] at the beginning. Listen again:

  • goopandgoop.” But /k/ and /g/ are phonemes in English, right? So we should

  • be able to hear the difference between them there. That’s what phonemes are, right?

  • So how can that work?

  • That’s the work of allophones and variation that’s driven by rules, which will be our

  • topic for next week's video. Cliffhanger! That’s right, weve reached the end of the Ling

  • Space for this week.

  • For now, though, if you could hear the difference between my phonemes, you learned that

  • speech sounds are made by changing the shape of our vocal tracts; that there are no universal

  • differences between one sound and its neighbour; that phonemes are what we build words from,

  • because they make meaningful differences; that every language comes up with its own

  • set of phonemes, and that we can use minimal pairs to figure them out; and that we can only hear

  • the differences between sounds that are phonemic in our language.

  • The Ling Space is written and produced by me, Moti Lieberman. It’s directed by Adèle-Elise

  • Prévost, our production assistant is Georges Coulombe, and music and sound design is by

  • Shane Turner. Our educational consultants are Level-Up Learning Solutions, and our graphics

  • team is AtelierMuse. Were down in the comments below, or you can bring the discussion over

  • to our website, where we have some extra material on this topic. Check us out on Twitter and

  • Facebook, and if you want to keep expanding your own personal Ling Space, please subscribe.

  • And well see you next Wednesday. Go dté tú slán!

So let’s talk about differences.

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B1 中級 美國腔

音素和泛音,第1部分。 (Phonemes and Allophones, Part 1)

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    J.s. Chen 發佈於 2021 年 01 月 14 日
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