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Comfort Level in Production of Non-English Coda |1

Comfort Level in Production of Words With Non-English Codas

Anika Reza

Carleton University

Abstract
Comfort Level in Production of Non-English Coda |2

English has rules that govern what codas can be and cannot be produced in English and this is

knowledge that is learned implicitly learned by the general public. This experiment attempts to

see if English speakers can voice words that have codas that would violate the rules of English

and if they can produce the sounds, how comfortable they are in doing so. Knowledge of other

language and bilingualism is taken into account but all participants were screened so that the

primary language they speak is English and their comfort level is considered complete.

Participants are presented with a list of non-English words part of which, though not English,

follow English word construction rules and coda restraints and the rest of the words do not. The

working hypothesis is that all the words that follow the English word structure rules will be easy

to pronounce and the comfort level in pronouncing them will be high and the words that do not

follow the English word structure rule will either be unpronounceable or will be pronounced with

difficulty. All the words chosen are no more than seven letter to ensure that the comfort level

rating is not skewed because readers are not intimidated by what looks like a big word.

Introduction

The /ð/ and /θ/ are both represented by〈th〉in everyday English writing though they

have very different sounds. The two sounds are produced with the tongue touching the back of
Comfort Level in Production of Non-English Coda |3

the front teeth therefore they are dental fricatives and they share other phonetic factors except

one; voicing. The Theta is voiceless while the Eth is voiced. Bridget Smith notes in her abstract

that “the single grapheme [〈th〉] does not provide any hints about which sound it represents…

[and] this ambiguity is carried over from Old English, where the orthography was equally

unrevealing” (2007). Therefore with no specific markings telling readers which to choose, the /ð/

or the /θ/, and readers consistently choosing the proper phoneme pronunciation when reading

English words points to a underlying grammatical rule. This paper is interested in finding out

how this underlying grammatical rule would apply to unfamiliar words. The rule of thumb seems

to be that word-initial〈th〉spells /θ/ except in function words such as articles and determiners.

Word-medial〈th〉is /ð/ in Germanic words but /θ/ in Greek or Latin words and word-

final〈th〉is almost exclusively /θ/ (Wells, 2007). This paper will focus primarily on the word-

initial〈th〉though any information gathered on word-medial or word-final〈th〉will be

factored into the overall conclusion it will not be discussed in the results section. My hypothesis

is that English speakers will use /θ/ to pronounce unfamiliar words beginning with〈th〉since,

as noted above, /ð/ in the word-initial position is used for function words only.

Method

Participants

Research participants were 20 Carleton University Students (10 men and 10 women)

from various backgrounds but they all spoke English and had attended English schools for the
Comfort Level in Production of Non-English Coda |4

primary part of their lives. Ethnicity of participants was not evaluated. All the participants were

undergraduates ranging in age from 18-22.

Apparatus

Data was gathered by having the participants read into a mike which was attached to a

laptop. A simple software called Sound Recorder (comes installed in almost all PC and laptops)

was used to record these sounds. On a piece of paper there were 3 normal English sentences and

on the other side there were 3 other sentences which consisted of made up words. The English

sentences had a high number of〈th〉words, a good mix of those pronounced with /θ/ and /ð/.

This was done to make sure participants pronounced words beginning with /θ/ and /ð/

respectively and could differentiate between them. The 3 sentences with made up words had

word-initial〈th〉that were either completely unknown, similar to an existing〈th〉word but

slightly different or a〈th〉word that exists in the English language but is set in an unfamiliar

setting.

Procedure

Participants read 6 sentences; in total 3 of which were in English and 3 others were in an

unfamiliar language. Each participant read from the same paper which had the sentences but

were not allowed to hear each other pronounce the words. They were given an opportunity to

look over the unfamiliar sentences if they chose to do so before they read them. Participants had

no knowledge on the specific data that was being gathered but they had been informed that the

data was being collected for a linguistics assignment. An effort was made to seek noiseless

environments but was not always successful. However, since the nature of the data sought was

easily discernable to the naked ear, the background noise was not much of a factor. Data on

pronunciation of words were successfully obtained.

Results
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The data gathered differentiated between the pronunciations of〈th〉in the beginning of

the words versus when it was found in the middle of a word or at the end. It was found that on

average the /ð/ was used 13.5% of the time by the participants when given words beginning with

〈th〉that were unfamiliar or were in an unfamiliar setting. The /θ/ was used 86.5% of the time

(view appendix B Table 1). When given an absolutely unfamiliar word that does not even

resemble a known English〈th〉word the participants pronounced them with /θ/ almost 100% of

the time with the exception of one individual for the word “theya”. When given a recognizable

English word such as “thy” and “thou” in an unfamiliar setting the majority of the participants

still pronounced them with /ð/ just as they would have if they had been speaking English. 60%

pronounced “thy” and 70% pronounced “though” with /ð/ (view appendix B Table 2). When

given unfamiliar words that look and may sound like an English〈th〉word the participants

chose /θ/ overwhelmingly over the /ð/. The only exception seems to be the word “tha” which

surprisingly saw a 50/50 split in the usage of /θ/ versus /ð/ (Table 2). The word “thay” also saw a

70% usage of /ð/ which is unusual but the reason I chose not to consider it too strongly is

because the word was hyphenated as “aks-thay” in the sentence therefore the hyphen may have

contributed to this unusually high number of people using the /ð/ over /θ/ and it may be incorrect

to consider the〈th〉as word-initial.

Discussion

The average ration of pronunciation when turned into percentage revealed that overall

participants used /ð/ 13.5% of the time and /θ/ 86.5% of the time when pronouncing words

beginning with〈th〉. This data substantiates my hypothesis that participants will use /θ/ over

/ð/ when pronouncing unfamiliar words. When the data gathered is further broken down we see

that words that have no resemblance to English words were virtually pronounced 100% of the

time with /θ/ which further substantiates the claim that English speakers will pronounce any

unfamiliar words beginning with〈th〉with /θ/ (Appendix A). The words that were similar to
Comfort Level in Production of Non-English Coda |6

English words but different saw on average /ð/ used 16.67% of the time and even here the usage

percentage is quite low. These data points to the fact that when English language pronunciation

rules cannot be directly used to pronounce a new word individuals revert to using /θ/. This is

seen when the data from the pronunciations of existing English words in an unfamiliar setting is

investigated. Participants on average used /ð/ 65% of the time versus /θ/ when pronouncing “thy”

and “though” which shows that though the setting is unfamiliar individuals utilize the

pronunciation rules of the English language and apply them to these words. Thus according to

these data it may be conclude that English speakers use /θ/ almost 100% of the time when

articulating absolutely unfamiliar words and that /θ/ usage is still very high on words that are

similar to English words. However the pronunciation of〈th〉English words, even in an

unfamiliar setting, will see the readers utilizing English pronunciation rules.

References

(2007, Jan 5) Theta and Eth, your new Phonetic Phriends. Linguistic Mystic. Retrieved Nov 23,

2007, from: http://linguisticmystic.com/tags/conventional-linguistics/phonetic-phriends/

Smith, Bridget. (2007, Aug). Eth - forsake thigh name. XVIIIth International Conference on

Historical Linguistic, 67. Abstract retrieved Nov 25, 2007, from Université du Québec a

Montréal online conference publication: http://www.ichl2007.uqam.ca/pdf/

booklet_abstracts.pdf

Wells, John. (2007, Oct). Rothersthorpe. John Wells’s phonetic blog. Retrieved Dec 03, 2007,

from: http://www.phon.ucl.ac.uk/home/wells/blog0710a.htm
Comfort Level in Production of Non-English Coda |7

Appendix A

These are the sentences of unfamiliar words English speakers read out loud and which were
recorded.

The unfamiliar sentences: 1) Aks-thay thoot kayo yathur rafat thaee mokhi thy

2) Theis polt thou haiyu tha jadut reina thula hikoray thep

3)Eth denuba thi janio thapor thenu eyra shahad ib theya

Table 1

Transcription of the pronunciations of a portion of the participants with the number of times /θ/
or /ð/ was used. Purple and red represents〈th〉in the initial position in the word uttered while
yellow and green represents the sounds produced in either the middle or end of a word.

Anam 1) æks-ðeɪ θut k əjo: jæθʊɹ rɑfɑθ θɑi mɔkhi ðai Symbol Number

ð 1
2) θeɪs pɔlt ðaʊ həju θə dʒɑdut reɪna θulɑ hɪkoʊrε θεp
ð 2
3) εθ deɪnubɑ θi dʒɑnioʊ θɑphoʊr θεnu eɪrɑ ʃɑhɑd ib θeɪɑ θ 10
θ 3
Fahim 1) æks-ðeɪ tut keɪjoʊ jɑθʊɹ rɑfɑθ θeɪ mɔkhi ðai Symbol Number
Comfort Level in Production of Non-English Coda |8

2) ðiz pɔlt ðaʊ hɑiju ðɑ dʒɑdut rina θulɑ hikoʊraɪ θεp ð 1


ð 5
3) εθ dεnubɑ θi dʒɑnio θɑpor θeɪnu eɪrɑ ʃɑhɑd ib ðeɪɑ
θ 6
θ 3
Gayathri 1) ɑks-θeɪjɑ θuθ kijʊ jɑθʊɹ rɑfɑθ θi mukhi θiɑ Symbol Number

ð 1
2) θɪs ploʊt θoʊ hiju θɑ dʒɑdut rinɑ θulɑ hikɪoʊrε θεp
ð 0
3) εθ dənubɑ θi dʒɑnio θɑpɚ θεnu jɪɑr ʃɑbð ib θɪɑ θ 12
θ 5
Healy 1) æks-ðeɪ θut kaɪjo jɑθɝ ræfɑt θɑi moʊkhi θai Symbol Number

ð 1
2) ðiɑz pɔlεt ðaʊ həju θə dʒædɪt rinɑ θulɑ hɪkoʊrε θæph
ð 2
3) εθ dεnoʊbɑ θi dʒænioʊ θɑpɚ θεnɪu ɪərɑ ʃæhɑd ib θeɪɑ θ 10
θ 2
Hikmo 1) æks-ðeɪ θɔɪ k əjo: jæθɝ rɑkfɑ θiæ mɔkhi ðai Symbol Number

ð 1
2) θis pɑt θaʊ həju ðɑ dʒɑtoʊr reɪna θaʊlɑ hɪkoʊrεɪ θεɪp
ð 3
3) εθ dεnub ðai dʒænoʊ θɑrpoʊr θænoʊ jɑrɑ sɑhɑdɑ ib θ 9
θɑhɑ
θ 2
Janet 1) ɑks-ðeɪ θɪut kæjo jɑθɝ rɑft θeɪ mɔkhi ðai Symbol Number

ð 1
2) θeɪʌs pɔlt ðaʊ həɪjo ðɑ dʒud reɪna θulɑ hɪkoʊrεɪ θεf
ð 3
3) εθ dεnubh θi dʒɑnioʊ θæpɝ θεnu irɑ ʃɑhæd ib θeɪjɑ θ 9
θ 2
John 1) æks-ðeɪ θut k əɪjo jɑθʊɹ rɑfæth θɑi mɔkhi θi Symbol Number

ð 1
2) θeɪs pɔlt ðaʊ həju θə dʒɑdut reɪna θulɑ hikoʊrε θεp
ð 1
3) εθ dεnubɑ θi dʒɑnioʊ θɑp ɔər θεnu eɪrɑ ʃɑhɑd ib θeɪjɑ
h
θ 11
θ 2
Kapil 1) æks-θeɪ θoʊt kɑo jɑθʊɹ rɑfɑt θeɪ mɔkhi θεi Symbol Number
Comfort Level in Production of Non-English Coda |9

2) θeɪs pɔlt θɔ hiju θə dʒɑdɑt reɪnu θulɑ hɪkoʊrε θεp ð 0


ð 0
3) εθ dεnubɑ θi dʒɑnioʊ θɑppɑr θεnu jɑrɑ ʃɑʒɑd ib θeɪɔ
θ 12
θ 3
Russel 1) ɑks-θeɪ θuth kεjɔ jɑθʊɹ rɑfæθ θai mɔkhi ðai Symbol Number

ð 0
2) ðeɪs pɔlt ðaʊ hεju ðə dʒɑdut reɪna θulɑ hɪkoʊreɪ θεp
ð 4
3) iθ dɪnubɑ θi dʒɑnioʊ θɑppɔr θεnu eɪrɑ ʃɑhɑd ib θɪɑ θ 8
θ 4
Saif 1) ɑks-ðeɪ θɑt kəɪjɑ jɑθʊɹ rɑfɑθ θeɪ mɔkhi ðε Symbol Number

ð 1
2) θɪs pʌl ðoʊ haɪju ðə dʒɑdu rina θulɑ hɪkoʊrε θεp
ð 3
3) εθ dεnubɑ θi dʒɑnioʊ θɑpur θεnoʊ jɑrɑ ʃɑhɑd ib θeɪɑ θ 9
θ 3

Appendix B

Table 1
C o m f o r t L e v e l i n P r o d u c t i o n o f N o n - E n g l i s h C o d a | 10

The ratio of the number of times /ð/ was used versus /θ/ when pronouncing〈th〉in the word-
initial position.

Ratio of ð pronunciation vs. θ Number of People Percentage


2:10 4 16.7% : 83.3%
3:9 6 25% : 75%
5:6 2 45.45% : 54.55%
0:12 4 0% : 100%
1:11 2 8.3% : 91.7%
4:8 2 33.3% : 66.7%
average: 1.5 : 9.6 average: 13.5% : 86.5%

Table 2

The different unfamiliar〈th〉wordswith their descriptions and percentage of participants who


pronounced them with either / ð/ or / θ/

Description Word Pronounced with ð Pronounced with θ


Supposed to be similar to the word “they” thay 70% of participants 30% of participants
Supposed to be similar to the word “thought” thoot 00% of participants* 90% of participants
Supposed to be similar to the word “thy” thaee 00% of participants 100% of participants
The real word “thy” in an unfamiliar setting thy 60% of participants 40% of participants
Supposed to be similar to the word “these” theis 30% of participants 70% of participants
The real word “thou” in an unfamiliar setting thou 70% of participants 30% of participants
Supposed to be similar to the word “the” tha 50% of participants 50% of participants
Absolutely unfamiliar word thula 00% of participants 100% of participants
Supposed to be similar to the word “them” thep 00% of participants 100% of participants
Supposed to be similar to the word “thee” thi 20% of participants 80% of participants
Absolutely unfamiliar word thapor 00% of participants 100% of participants
Absolutely unfamiliar word thenu 00% of participants** 100% of participants
Absolutely unfamiliar word theya 10% of participants 90% of participants
*One participant pronounced that word without either θ or ð
C o m f o r t L e v e l i n P r o d u c t i o n o f N o n - E n g l i s h C o d a | 11

For better visibility of this table please view the second .pdf attachment.