Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Why we need linguistics education for all

In last month's issue of Cigar Aficionado, while reading an article on cachaca (Brazil's national liquor of choice, distilled from sugar cane but by a different method than rum), this gem of pronunciation advice caught my eye, concerning the three different c's in the word:

The first is hard, the second is the soft blend of "ch" as in "chagrin," and the third is a combination of "s" and "z" like the "c" in "facade": ka-SHAH-sa.

The first description is well-known to any speaker of English; we often talk about "hard" c's (/k/) and "soft" c's (/s/). The second description is a little confusing ("blend" of what? "c" and "h"?), but fairly transparent with the example word. The third description, however, really threw me for a loop. A combination of "s" and "z"? They seem to have picked the one feature of phonetics that truly is on or off, without any gradations (yes, there are several types of voicing, but it all comes down to either the vocal folds are vibrating or they aren't). It's clear enough what sounds they mean : /s/, as evidenced by the sample word "facade." But what the heck were they trying to describe by saying that this normal "s" sound is somewhere between /s/ and /z/? Maybe unbeknownst to me everyone else pronounces "facade" with a breathy voiced "z".


Anonymous said...

Hi Ryan- As Marketing Director for a Cachaça Company it is great to see you have taken the time to help pronounce a word that is so important to us and often times a hard word to learn how to say. I thought you might find this video both funny and helpful for your readers:

Alex Remington said...

Also, yeah, as the Marketing Director there said, there oughta be a cedilla on the c in cachaça.