When you say “peas” and “peace” do the words sound the same?
What about “pick” and “pig”?
or “dug” and “duck”?
If they do you might be suffering from terminal devoicing. It sounds serious, but don’t worry, despite its name, there is a cure. We’ll get to that later. First, what is it, and who typically suffers from it?
In German, in many Slavic languages, Russian and Turkish the pronunciation of consonants at the end of words often changes. In German we call it Auslautverhärtung; the hardening of a final consonant. For example in
the pronunciation is the typical voiced “d” sound
The pronunciation often sounds more like a “t”
Although in Swiss German this isn’t always as obvious as in High German, it can still lead to problems with the pronunciation of word endings in English. Sometimes my students say “set” instead of “said” or “back” instead of “bag”. This issue affects the following sounds: /b/ /d/ /g/ /v/ /z/, s (when pronounced /z/) and dsch /dʒ/. These are all voiced consonants -basically, when you say them you can feel a vibration in your throat (try saying these letters with your fingers lightly resting on your throat and you’ll see what I mean).
These voiced consonants are changed in terminal devoicing and sound more like unvoiced consonants (no throat vibration). /b/ turns into /p/, /d/ into /t/ and the other sounds turn into /k/, /f/, /s/ and tsch /t͡ʃ. In this way “peas” /z/ becomes “peace” /s/, pig /g/ becomes pick /k/ and dug becomes duck /k/.
So, how can you cure a case of terminal devoicing? One remedy is a big dose of vowels (a,e,i,o,u). If you lengthen the vowel before the final consonant it will sound better. Saying the consonant at the end softer as well will help to balance the word out.
In the following recording, I read out these perculiar phrases.
I picked a pig
peas for peace
I want my bag back
I dug a hole with a duck
Each time I say these phrases, the first time I devoice the last consonant of one of the words, and the second time I lengthen the vowel and soften the final consonant, for example “piiiiig” or “peees. I have exaggerated the pronunciation to make it clearer.
First, listen to the difference between the two phrases and then try practicing the right version of each phrase. Being aware of this difference in English can really be a game changer as it affects so many words. Here are just a few to practice:
Anyway, I will wish you a good evening, morning, afternoon, or night! If you need some more help with your pronunciation, or any other English issues that are holding you back, send a mail to email@example.com to book a free discovery call. I offer one-to-one English coaching in Zurich and online.