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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, really! 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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