Sunday, January 30, 2011

Basic Course: Lesson 2

In the first lesson, the Basic Course gave us the 174 potential rhymes of Taishanese, derived from five tones, five vowels, seven diphthongs and six final consonants. It’s worth listening to the lesson one audio to get a hang of the tones.

The focus of the second lesson is the initial consonants, of which there are 20. In the drills, you hear them combined with the different rhymes. The consonants are transcribed as below, using an adapted Wade-Giles transcription, and organized by phonetic features (compare with Standard Cantonese).

p p’ m f  
t t’ n lh l
ch ch’   s y
k k’ ng h  
kw kw’     w

I intend to transcribe these consonants using a system similar to Hanyu pinyin, as in the table below. The change only applies in the first two columns.

b p m f  
d t n lh l
j ch   s y
g k ng h  
gw kw     w

If you want to learn more about the arguments for one transcription over another, you should investigate the Daoism-Taoism romanization issue. For my concerns, I’m much more comfortable using the second table, as this scheme is consistent with the standard pinyin and Jyutping transcription schemes for Mandarin and Cantonese, respectively.

Most of these consonants are pronounced as in English, albeit usually with very slight differences. For example, the s in Taishanese is made with the tip of the tongue pointed down against the bottom teeth; in English, the s is made with the tip of the tongue pointed toward (but not touching) the top front teeth. For all practical purposes, however, you could just use the English pronunciation of these letters and speakers would be able to understand you just fine.

Three consonants, however, are completely foreign to English: lh, gw and kw.

The sound lh is a voiceless lateral fricative. It sounds a lot like simultaneously pronouncing the th in thief and the l in leaf: thlief. In Welsh, this sound is denoted by ll, as in the name Llewelyn. (For the linguistic geeks out there, I would not say that this sound is a voiceless alveolar lateral fricative in Taishanese.) It’s a real pain for many non-native speakers to master lh. In fact, it’s one of the last sounds that children master as they grow up (if not the last sound). A common habit of young children is to pronounce lh like kl. Adults, please don’t do this.

The sounds gw and kw are essentially pronounced by articulating the two letters at exactly same time. All you have to do is round your lips for w (as though you’re saying “Ooh!”) at the same time as you make the g or k sound. In my family’s dialect, we don’t really have this sound, but I’ll continue to transcribe it in my posts here.

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