When something is stuck on the plate that you are cleaning, you can't get it off easily, and can't remember or don't know what is on the plate. Or it came out of a dishwasher and there's something stuck to it. Or your child wonders out loud why you are inspecting the plate closely, is it a bug, is it food, or is it an unknown objrct?
I know I'm reaally late to the party, but I wanted to add that this sentence 'feels' like something a parent might say to their child if aforementioned child isn't eating portions of their meal (i.e. a parent 'reminding' a child that they still have vegetables they need to eat)
I agree. To my native speaking mind, it would be much more common to hear "What is that you're eating?" or "What are they serving?" Almost to the point of excluding the plate altogether. If one did involve the plate, it would be to ask, "What is on YOUR plate?" as in, it looks pretty good, and I want to know what it is, so I can order it, too.
I think there is a difference.
что на тарелке asks simply "What is on the plate." Maybe you can't see it and the answer would be also simple like "breakfast/apples"
While Что это на тарелке is "What is it/this/the thing on the plate?" You see what's there but you don't know what it is. The answer to this question could be: "It's called xy, it's a tradditional Russion dessert."
This reply is to your comment below; I didn't see a reply button there. How can I change the pronunciation chart to reflect that there are exceptions? I had the chart reviewed before posting it, but clearly you are correct. Should I remove that notation completely, or simply add, "There are always exceptions" or "In general,..." first?
I'm afraid the most accurate way to describe it is to say "in most cases it is pronounced 'ch,' but in some consonant clusters and very common words it is pronounced 'sch' to facilitate enunciation." You can give a few common examples like что, мужчина, конечно... to really get the point across.
By the way I don't know if you've noticed, but in those cases it is pronounced like щ - not like ш. That way it stays a soft consonant. It's not extremely important but it's a little tidbit of consistency I really enjoy pointing out. :-)
One last anecdote on the topic which I find even cooler: there are two versions of the word конечно. The one you're introduced to in this course, with the ч pronounced sch, is an adverb which means "of course." But if you pronounce it like ч is usually pronounced, it's the neuter short form of the adjective конечный, meaning final/finite (you can see how it's related to конец, the end.)
Thank you for the explanation! I had noticed that, yet defaulted to the 'sh' sound as it is explained in my textbook. Oddly, it uses конечно (of course) as one of the examples, but uses 'sh' to describe the sound. It's probably done that way to make it easier for new learners. I think this defeats the purpose, however, as learning things incorrectly is never a good thing. Thanks again!