N+TH, Z+TH Sounds
I recently got an email from someone asking me to clarify a few points on pronunciation, specifically, some consonants followed by TH, such as S and N. This person says, because their position in the mouth is so different from that of the TH, sometimes I find it difficult to shift from one to the other. For example, ‘can you return them?’ ‘Where is the car?’ Also, do you pronounce the TH at all times or are there exceptions, like when you talk fast? Because sometimes when an American is talking, I hear a TH sound but I don’t actually see the tongue come through the teeth. This is a great question and thank you for your email.
Let’s start with the first sample you gave, and that is an N followed by a TH and the sample sentence ‘can you return them?’ Now, in this case the TH of ‘them’ is voiced, so make sure that you’re continuing to make noise with your vocal cords. So, how does the tongue move? Can you return them? The tongue, to make the N, has the position of this part of the tongue raising and touching the roof of the mouth about here. Nn, nn, them. So in order to see them through the teeth, it’s just a subtle movement of pulling the tip from here down through the teeth. Can you return them? Can you return them?
The second example, ‘Where’s the car?’ has the voiced zz followed by the voiced TH. And I do notice when I say this phrase that my tongue does not come through my teeth: where’s the car? Rather, the tongue presses against the teeth. This part of the tongue presses right where the teeth come together, without actually coming through. Where’s the car? This would only work on a voiced sound. Th, th. For the unvoiced TH, the tongue must come through. The difference in tongue position between the zz and th consonant sounds is very slight. The tongue on zz is behind almost closed teeth very lightly touching, zz, zz, or almost touching. For the TH, the tongue comes through the teeth or, in my case, in this particular phrase, presses against the closed teeth. So the tongue, the tip of the tongue, has an extremely slight movement forward. Zz, zz the car. Where’s the car?
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