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Aspiration confuses me

I looked at the tips section but I don't fully understand the difference. I am not a native english speaker, and I just heard from here that the P in sponsor and pirate are different.

edit: thanks for the answers everyone! I've been practicing for a while and I think I mostly have the hang of it.

June 25, 2020



It’s a very subtle difference. Most native English speakers don’t even notice it. The two sounds are completely allophonic in English. It’s just that when a native English speaker says pirate they let out a small puff of air when making the p sound. That same puff doesn’t occur when they say the p sound in sponsor. The tips points it out because apparently Finns don’t ever aspirate their consonants, and because of that English speakers who speak Finnish usually sound like they’re gasping out their words.


You make a little but noticeable puff of air with an aspirated consonant. (Native?) English speakers can feel this by putting a hand in front of their mouth when saying the p in pirate or the c in cat. They do not when they say 'sponsor' or 'scat'. It is very difficult for me NOT to automatically, routinely aspirate consonants beginning words. I don't think Finns will be too confused understanding foreigners if we aspirate our k, p, t sounds, though. Just as English speakers will understand foreigners even if they don't aspirate these when they begin words.


It's fine most of the time if you want to aspirate them. The biggest reason for including aspiration in the tips was Finns sometimes failing to understand double consonants when the latter part is aspirated by the speaker. If you puff out the double T in matto, "carpet", very violently, we have trouble hearing the first t. So then you end up with mato, "worm". The other reason for including that bit about aspiration in the tips was English speakers from certain areas struggling to understand spoken Finnish, because we do not have aspirated k's, p's, or t's. :)


I think the stereotypical Indian accent basically never aspirates p, k, t either. Which makes it sound different to the anglosphere, but still perfectly understandable.


I have the same trouble; it's almost impossible for me not to aspirate (though I'm trying mightily not to do it). Unaspirated 't' sounds very similar to "d" to my anglophone ear, and unaspirated "p" similar to "b". The unaspirated "k" well I don't know what it sounds like (g-like perhaps?). I've also been using memrise for additional vocabulary practice, and the male and female speaker pronounce some of their vowels quite differently from each other and also very noticeably their t's and k's. I assume differences in their native dialects, but this makes it all the more confusing for an absolute novice lol. I guess it's good practice for real-world Finnish, but it's making it hard for me to mold my own sound set as I'm just learning. The speaker for the DL course is beautifully clear and wonderful.

I'm having a harder time cementing the vocabulary than I am assimilating the grammar; but I'm one of those people who find grammar much easier (or at least more interesting) than the brute force work of memorization (which is a pain in every language that exists).


It might help to know that non-aspirated consonants is something that Finnish has in common with French, Spanish, and Italian, to name a few examples.

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