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About unaspirated voiceless consonant and voiced consonants.

For example, in pa.pe.pi.po.pu and ba.be.bi.bo.bu, ta.te.ti.to.tu and da.de.di.do.du, ca.co.cu and ga.go.gu, their pronunciations are too much alike for me.

Do Spanish native speakers if in a sentence hear an unknown word like these four words dentro - dendro - tendro - tentro, would you recognize them and write them correctly? They sound the same for me.

Also, can anybody give me some advices about how to speak them correctly?

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    The context of the sentence would clarify which word was being used. – user2603 Mar 3 '14 at 9:52
  • Tongue twisters are the way to go! If not that, then just repeat da, de, di, do , du outloud in the mirror or something when you're alone. – dockeryZ Apr 14 '14 at 18:32
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We don't normally mix up those sounds in Spanish.

The Spanish 'p/b' pair is basically the same as in English. The only difference is that in English 'p' is a little more "explosive". (BTW, recall that in Spanish there is no difference between 'v' and 'b', if an English pronounce an English 'v' we will interpret the same as a 'b')

Regarding the pair 't/d', again, it's similar to English. But, again, English 't' is more explosive (we, Spanish, hear the English 't' in 'into' as a somewhat intermediate between our smoother Spanish 't' and the 'ch' sound). The Spanish 'd' sound is also smoother that the English, I'd say that it should be regarded as an intermediate between the normal English 'd' and the consonant in the word 'the', but (important!) always keeping the tongue behind the teeth. That's why we, Spanish speakers listening to English, have trouble in distinguishing 'then' and 'den'.

The general pattern, as you see, is that Spanish consonants (t,d,p,b,c,g) tend to be smoother or weaker.

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    I was taught that Spanish has two sounds for "d". The typical example is the word "dedo" (finger). The first "d" in "dedo" is more explosive and closer to the English "d". The second "d" is smoother and closer to the English "the". – Nico Mar 2 '14 at 22:05
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    @Nico: Indeed, though it depends on context; the first 'd' of dedo can be either [d] or [ð], depending on what sound precedes it. The same is true of /b/ ('b' and 'v'), which alternates between [b] and [β], and /g/ ('g' except in 'ge'/'gi'), which alternates between [g] and [γ]. And in all three cases, I think it's important to keep in mind that Spanish-speakers perceive it as the same sound (like how English-speakers perceive the same /p/ sound for the 'p' in pit as for the 'p' in spit). – ruakh Mar 5 '14 at 21:06
  • @Nico, of course the first "d" is more explosive. Unless specified with an accent, the stress always goes onto the penultimate vowel in a word. E.j. "Dédo" == "Dedo" – dockeryZ Mar 17 '14 at 18:44
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    @ZaneEdwardDockery: It's true that the first syllable of dedo takes the accent/stress, but that has nothing to do with the first /d/ being [d] (depending on what precedes it) and the second being [ð]. Notice that if you replace dedo with dedito, the accent/stress will shift to the second syllable, but the two /d/ sounds will not change. – ruakh Mar 30 '14 at 6:56
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    @Lucas: I'm sure that you can't distinguish them, but that doesn't mean they're exactly the same. :-) This is actually one case where native speakers are at a disadvantage: we internalize our native language's phonology so completely, and at such a young age, that if a given sound is pronounced slightly differently in different contexts, we completely lose the ability to perceive the difference. I don't know anything about the Alicante accent, but tell me: does the [d]-[ð] alternation really stand out for you when you hear all other Spanish accents? If not, then you must have it, too! – ruakh Nov 24 '14 at 6:07
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In some languages, the difference between voiced/voiceless consonants is unimportant; they do, nevertheless, differentiate between aspired and non-aspired consonants. The main example for this is Chinese. I guess this is the case with your mother language.

Native Spanish speakers usually have no problems telling a voiced (b, d, g) consonant from its corresponding voiceless (p, t, k). But, to us, pairs of aspired-non aspired consonants sound just the same. A native Spanish speaker will not be able to differentiate Chinese pairs such as x/sh, q/ch, j/zh and the like, while a native Chinese speaker has no difficulty with them.

As for advice on how to pronounce these consonants correctly, it is difficult to do unless we know what is your mother language and how does its consonant system work.

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Based on my own experience, I would say that these misunderstandings never happen with Spanish words in a normal conversation. All of the pairs I could think of are so removed from each other in meaning and function that it's hard to imagine a situation where they could be mistaken:

  • barco(ship) / parco(poor)
  • cada(each) / cata(tasting)
  • Paca(short name for Francisca) / vaca(cow)
  • pecado(sin) / pegado(glued)
  • pedo(fart) / dedo(finger)
  • pera(pear) / vera(side)
  • secar(to dry) / segar(to harvest)

The confusion, however, is possible with people's surnames. For example, a name such as "Marcelino Patrón" is sometimes mistaken for "Marcelino Padrón". But, again, I would say it is difficult to find pairs of surnames affected by this problem.

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  • the word deda doesn't exist, the word for toe it's dedo like for finger, if you want to be more especific you can also say dedo del pie (finger of the foot / toe) – El_Mochiq Mar 2 '14 at 20:02
  • @El_Mochiq the word "deda" is used in my region (north of Spain). I've removed it from the list of pairs, since it's not recognised by the RAE. – Nico Mar 2 '14 at 21:36
  • @El_Mochiq I have found the word "deda" is used in some parts of Galicia. See here – Nico Mar 2 '14 at 21:53
  • it is not Spanish – El_Mochiq Mar 2 '14 at 23:46
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    Yo creo que donde pasaría esa confusión de los apellidos es si la conversación es por telefono, Además Padrón es un apellido muy comun al menos en cuba y supongo que en España tambien, pq nosotros descendemos de los españoles – Emilio Gort Mar 5 '14 at 15:45
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Spanish has two series of phonemical stops: voiceless /p t k/ and voiced /b d g/ (for their orthographical representation, see final note).*

Spanish voiceless stops are, phonetically, always unaspirated voiceless stops: [p t k]. The voiced stops, however, are commonly realized phonetically as voiced approximants or fricatives: [β ð ɣ]. This is a kind of lenition (meaning "weakening, softening", from Latin lenis weak"). They only appear as stops after a pause (such as in the beginning of a phrase) or a nasal consonant.

So in most cases the main phonetical clue that distinguishes (phonemical) voiceless from voiced stops, in Spanish, is the presence or absence of lenition.

English voiceless stops are aspirated ([pʰ tʰ kʰ]) word-initially and syllable-initially in stressed syllables. English voiced stops are phonetically only partially voiced, but they are definitely realized as stops (they don't experience lenition).

So for English speakers the main phonetical clue when contrasting voiceless and voiced stops is the presence or absence of aspiration.

Summarizing, this is distribution of phonetical stops in Spanish and English:

---------+----------    
SPANISH  |  ENGLISH
---------+----------    
p  t  k  |  pʰ tʰ kʰ
         |  p  t  k
---------+----------
β  ð  ɣ  |  b  d  g
b  d  g  |  
---------+----------

Spanish /p t k/ are like English /p t k/ in spot, steam, sky. Spanish intervocalic /d/ is close to English /ð/ in this, those. Spanish /b d g/ after pause or nasal consonant are mostly as in English.

Spanish speakers learn to "tune in" to certain phonetic distinctions and ignore others. Most Spanish speakers wouldn't believe the two d's in dedo are not the same sound, just as most English speakers wouldn't believe the two p's in paper are different.

In rapid speech, or with too much ambient noise, or in an otherwise non-optimal setting, Spanish speakers might confuse /p/ and /b/ or /t/ and /d/ or /k/ and /g/, but in most cases (as in every other language, since the setting is rarely optimal) context is enough to avoid the confusion.

As with any new language, one must learn to discern these contrasts and "tune out" the ones found in one's own language that interfere.

* Orthography: The sounds /p t d/ are always represented as p, t, d; /b/ is commonly b or v (there's no difference, repeat, no difference in Spanish between those, no matter what other people tell you!); /k/ is usually c before a, o, u and qu before e, i, except in a few borrowings that employ k, and /g/ is g before a, o, u, ü and gu before e, i.

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First of all these three words: dendro, tendro, tentro don't exist in the Spanish language. So if you here something like that, you must be hearing dentro that means inside

pa.pe.pi.po.pu for the sound of the p is really like the English one, close your lips and blow the air, the word POWER is a good example to know how to say it.

ba.be.bi.bo.bu this sound is the opposite of the p, you have to close your lips but you have to aspire(?) the air, the word BYE is a good example to know how to say it.

ta.te.ti.to.tu this sound is made with the tongue and the palate and blowing the air, the word TEA is a good example to know how to say it.

da.de.di.do.du this sound is made with the tongue and the palate too, but just don't blow the air, is a lot like the sound th in English the=*de* or da. DICE is a good example to know how to say it.

ca.que.qui.co.cu this sound is made in the deep palate and the tongue at middle height, blowing a little air. the same as k, the word CAMERA is a good example to know how to say it.

ga.gue.gui.go.gu this sound is made in the deep palate and the tongue at middle height, but you have to aspire(?) the air. The word GAIN is a good example to know how to say it.

This is a good statr but I think that Spanish emphasize more the pronunciation of the consonants.

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