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Subject: Non-native pronunciation of English
Question: Many German adults learning English pronounce ''the'' something like
''ze'', whereas many Dutch pronounce it as ''de''. Neither German nor
Dutch have a voiced /th/, but both languages have /d/ and /z/. So why
does one language tend towards /z/ while the other tends to /d/?

Reply: Hi,
Your question is an interesting one and it is often asked, as the
same phenomenon occurs in other countries. The French also
pronounce voiced /th/ as /z/ and voiceless /th/ (as in 'thin') as
/s/, just as the Germans do. And in Québec, one pronounces the two
/th/s as /d/ and /t/, just as the Dutch do. And of course, French
doesn't have the dental /th/ phonemes. So why the difference? From
a phonetic standpoint, both /t,d/ and /s,z/ share some common
features with voiced and voiceless /th/: /t,d/ is dental, as is
/th/ while /s,z/ are fricatives (consonants which make a friction
noise during their production) as is /th/. So speakers of France
French and German choose to retain the same type of sound (i.e. a
fricative) but modify the place of articulation, substituting an
alveolar (area just behind the teeth) place for the dental, while
speakers of French in Québec and the Dutch keep the place of
articulation (the dental area) but substitute a stop (a sound where
the outgoing air is momentarily stopped during its production) for
the fricative. But that still doesn't really explain the
difference, doesn't it? Well, not really. The answer probably lies
in cultural customs...For some reason, that is simply the way the
Germans and the French have been pronouncing these sounds and in
the long run, it seems that it has become a 'custom', the same
being true for the Québécois and the Dutch. It's a cultural thing,
Hope this helps!

Reply From: Robert A Papen      click here to access email
Date: 20-Sep-2012
Other Replies:
  1. Re: Non-native pronunciation of English    Geoffrey Richard Sampson     (20-Sep-2012)
  2. Re: Non-native pronunciation of English    Anthea Fraser Gupta     (22-Sep-2012)
  3. Re: Non-native pronunciation of English    Elizabeth J Pyatt     (20-Sep-2012)

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