Linguistics: How do I get my foreign diction more specific than IPA?
April 27, 2006 9:56 AM   Subscribe

LinguisticsFilter: There are a lot of resources explaining how to transcribe a language into IPA, but I don't have any that get into the nitty gritty of how one language pronounces a given consonant compared to another. Are there good resources on this front? Are there resources on how to speak in various foreign accents?

I'm an opera singer, and have had diction classes and read books on simply getting a full IPA transcription of a language, but there's a significant step between reading IPA and reading Italian, for example. German and English both have the "sh" sound, but the German one has much lower formants. Where do I get practical resources on these subtle differences? (By practical, I mean something that can be helpful for learning these, like audio files comparing languages, accents, etc.)

A particularly useful learning tool I've seen in the past is the use of accents in English, where the teacher will speak the same phrase in an accurate American, British, German, French, etc accent, and the differences become extremely clear. Are there resources for this?
posted by sirion to Science & Nature (8 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
How about the Speech Accent Archive?
posted by Alison at 10:23 AM on April 27, 2006

UCLA has a phonetics archive. Tons of useful stuff. Also, they offer a CD with the original Sounds of the World's Language on it. SOWL is a probably a pretty good resource for you, but the CD's expensive. Try ILL'ing it.
posted by cog_nate at 11:15 AM on April 27, 2006

Well, this guy might be of some help [found long ago on Languagehat].
posted by oflinkey at 2:29 PM on April 27, 2006

I'm surprised that a strict IPA transcription wouldn't help you understand accents. Maybe look for transcriptions with lots of diacritics which help you understand the forming of each sound. Accents are just words said in one language using the phonemes of another language, so they should be able to be transcribed using strict IPA. When you say "how one language pronounces a given consonant compared to another" do you mean the actual letter, like t or the actual sound, like the different t's in 'tap' and 'later'?

If the IPA charts don't help, maybe the SAMPA charts might.
posted by nakedsushi at 2:45 PM on April 27, 2006

There's a huge amount to accents that the IPA alone can't represent. If you look in Kenyon and Knott, you'll see that for many words the Southern variant is the same as the New York variant. After your head's done exploding from that one, you'll see that that's actually accurate in terms of the IPA, which does nothing to indicate the relative lengths of the phonemes.
posted by Zed_Lopez at 4:11 PM on April 27, 2006

I think what you're looking for are phonetic contrastive analyses.

If you read phonetic contrastive analyses on English vs. X language, you can see what the general problematic differences are, and work on those.

You spoke of formants in your question. Knowing the formant levels of an utterance might help you talk about the differences between languages, but it likely won't help you actually imitate a specific sound. You can't train your mouth to make lower formants. (Or maybe as a trained opera singer, you can. But let's say operatic training doesn't give you this ability.) The things you can do are change where your tongue is placed, whether you aspirate your consonants or not, etc.

Other than that, I suppose you could have a native speaker of both languages pronounce the same word, listen closely, and note the differences. Depending on how you learn, reading about the differences might be more helpful, or hearing the differences might be the only way you'll catch them.
posted by TG_Plackenfatz at 4:27 PM on April 27, 2006

the IPA, which does nothing to indicate the relative lengths of the phonemes.

I don't have any good answers to the question (except to look in grammars, and understand the distinction between broad and narrow transcription), but this is absolutely not true, at least in practice. I don't remember whether it's officially part of IPA, but IPA transcriptions almost universally use ":" to indicate length, either of vowels or consonants. There are a few other things you might need to know (like dipthongs are always long but not necessarily marked as such), but this is sufficient for describing the vast majority of length contrasts (if not all).
posted by advil at 5:18 PM on April 27, 2006

Actually, to update what I said, IPA officially includes even more length marking for really narrow transcriptions -- cf. the chart, in the "suprasegmentals" section. Though in practice you never need anything except short and long, and many languages in broad transcription there's no need to mark length at all.
posted by advil at 5:21 PM on April 27, 2006

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