Saturday, April 23, 2011

Brought to you by the letter R

I find it interesting that the general sound associated with the letter R in English, when present in any of the languages which I've studied, is qualitatively different from the English sound.
  • Chinese: Something of a cross between R and a very light G as in rouge (a word which itself has French origins), an example being 日 (rì; sun, day). The sole exception I know of is when the R is followed by UI (Pinyin) in, e.g., 瑞 (ruì; lucky, auspicious), when there is no very light rouge-G sound; in this specific Pinyin context only, it seems very much like an English R to me.
  • French: Comes with an "airy" H sound, i.e., R is aspirated, as in rural (rural), one of the French words I find most difficult to pronounce smoothly (though the U doesn't make it any easier!). When double-checking on "aspirated", I saw that P in pie is given as an example of an aspirated letter; I wasn't particularly aware of that aspiration as a native speaker.
  • Japanese: A cross between an R and an L, e.g., in this romaji (Roman letter) rendering: arigato (thank you).
  • Spanish: R is "rolling" (along the tongue), and there is also RR, which is even more rolling, as in borrador (chalkboard eraser). Keep those two sounds straight for pero (but) and perro (dog)....
  • Taiwanese: There is no R-type sound, as my former Taiwanese teacher confirmed. (A Cantonese-speaking friend also said Cantonese has no R-type sound.)

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