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Using the International phonetic alphabet

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International phonetic alphabet and its sounds

Language is foremost about sound. English has twenty-six letters in its alphabet, some languages have more letters, Hawaiian only has ten. But our alphabet (and other alphabets) have more than thirty-six different sounds to be represented by those twenty-six letters. The Chinese and the Japanese have to learn thousands of characters in order to be able to read a newspaper in their languages.
When you include all the sounds from other languages that don’t exist in English you have well over one hundred various sounds. How are these sounds to be represented fairly accurately in some writing system? When you look up an entry in a dictionary it shows you how to pronounce the word by using the Iternational Phonetic Alphabet. This special alphabet attempts to represent all the possible linguistic sounds of the whole world. You really have to have someone demonstrate the foreign sounds to pronounce them correctly.
For example, the letter, ‘p’ in the English word, ‘papa’ is different from the letter ‘p’ in the French word, ‘papa’. The French ‘p’ isn’t ‘plosive’, i.e. there is no puff of air used to say it. The letter ‘s’ can be like ‘s’ in the word ‘safe’ or ‘s’ as in the word ‘reason’ or ‘s’ as in the word pleasure, or ‘s’ as in the word, ‘pressure’. Yes, they are all somewhat different. So, there you have four different ‘s’ sounds, and some of them don’t exist in languages other than English. The letter ‘t’ in the word ‘tea’ is different from the letter, ‘t’ in the word ‘tree’. In the word, ‘tree’, the letter, ‘r’ influences the pronunciation of the ‘t’. Sure, you automatically make these adjustments and are totally unaware of them; it’s a no-brainer. But, in the English word, ‘ton’, the letter,’t’ influences how the letter, ‘o’ is pronounced. In French it’s the opposite! A French person prepares his/her mouth to say the letter ‘o’ and then adds the ‘t’, ‘b’ or some other letter.

Phonetics can get quite complicated and exhausting. When you talk of ‘fricative’ and ‘glottal stop’ sounds that you do naturally in English you don’t have to be preoccupied with this phenomenon in other languages if you OPEN YOUR EARS!
After all, you can get a few Americans from different sections of American to say the same sentence, and you’ll get different interpretations.



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