June 13, 2010 | Greek

Limping and Lisping

I encounter a couple of pronunciation challenges in Greek.

It has been eight days since my last run. Grumpily, I went to midtown this morning to swim; this is all part of my cross-training plan, to give my injured heels a chance to heal. I hope it works, because otherwise I wouldn’t be getting in a pool. I am not much of a swimmer.

On my way home, I came across a street fair on Broadway, where I observed but did not come anywhere close to purchasing deep-fried Oreos.

Times Square This Morning

Times Square This Morning

Street Fair: A New York Summer Staple

Street Fair: A New York Summer Staple

I took Pimsleur with me on my midtown journey (though not in the pool). There is one thing I am finding a little hard about Greek pronunciation, illustrated in this transliteration of a short, simple sentence: ThaEEthela naFOW. I have been informed by my Pimsleur lessons that it means, “I would like to eat.”

The two th sounds in it are like what you hear at the beginning of the word “think,” not the th of “then.” Every time I say this sentence, I feel as though I am lisping.

But I can’t figure out what exactly makes me feel that way, because it’s not as though th doesn’t exist in English. What about William Thackeray? Agatha Christie? And “earthy,” “ethical,” etc.?

Is it maybe the combination of th sounds in quick succession? Or just something weird about my own perception?

Whatever the issue, it’s a little painful for me to say this sentence. I find it awkward. I assume I’ll get used to it, but for now, it brings to mind a day back in second grade when a speech therapist suddenly came into my life. While all the other kids were out playing, she took me into an empty classroom and worked with me on my pronunciation of my s’s.

Apparently I had a lisp. And it was apparently a big enough deal to someone that someone else was assigned to help me get rid of it. (For which I am grateful; life is easier without a lisp.) I don’t think it took more than three meetings to get rid of the problem, but lisplike sounds, even in other languages, remain tricky for me.

Σορτς (Shorts, Specifically the Boyfriend Roll-Up from the Gap)

Σορτς (Shorts, Specifically the Boyfriend Roll-Up from the Gap)

By the way, to complicate things, “shorts” in Greek is pronounced “sorts.”

It is really hard for me to drop the contribution of the h to that word. Saying “sorts” instead of “shorts” feels like a kind of lisp itself, or maybe an anti-lisp.

I had similar types of issues with certain sounds in Arabic and Korean. I just need to be mature about this and push through, or I may go hungry when I end up in Greece one day.

Comments (8)

Ken • Posted on Mon, June 14, 2010 - 11:47 am EST

Hmm, interesting about the ‘th’.  The difference in the two English ones is just being voiced or non-voiced.  Try saying, “I think Thatcher was thick.”  Does it still make you feel as if you were lisping?

Jordan • Posted on Mon, June 14, 2010 - 9:13 pm EST

I enjoy your blog. I think I have read everyone of them! If you don’t like the lisping sound stay away from Castillian Spanish. It has tons of lisping. Everything from Como s(th)e llama and on….  See you at the races!


Katherine • Posted on Tue, June 15, 2010 - 8:54 am EST

There are two ‘th’ sounds in Greek, Δ delta and Θ theta.  The delta sound is more similar to the ‘th’ sound we make in English, such as the words you mentioned above.  The theta sound is close to a lisp in certain words, similar to how the Spanish pronounce ‘C’ (thinco).  Wait until you hear the word αληθια, which means really!

Ellen Jovin • Posted on Tue, June 15, 2010 - 10:15 am EST

Ken: nope. It made me laugh, however.

Here’s something that does make me feel as though I’m lisping: Thoth. That is the name of a performer I used to see a lot in Central Park.

Ellen Jovin • Posted on Tue, June 15, 2010 - 10:26 am EST

Hello, Jordan (also a runner, I gather?). Thank you very much for your kind words and for reading the blog! Yep, Castilian Spanish took some getting used to, I must admit. I had one Spanish teacher back in school who spoke it, so I gradually became accustomed to it. But those sounds still really stick out for me when I hear it!

Ellen Jovin • Posted on Tue, June 15, 2010 - 10:27 am EST

Katherine, I look forward to it. :)

Ellen Jovin • Posted on Tue, June 15, 2010 - 10:57 am EST

Katherine, one more thing: can we clarify the sounds a bit further? My understanding is that the delta is the sound you hear in the English word “then,” as well as in the Greek word δεν, which is (also) pronounced “then” and means “not.”

And that the theta is the sound you hear in the English word “think,” as well as in the Greek sentence “ThaEEthela naFOW,” which I just looked up on Google translator: Θα ήθελα να φάω. Although I would like to issue a general caveat that one should not blindly trust translators, Google’s version corresponded perfectly with the sounds I have been taught on Pimsleur but just didn’t know how to write. I see two thetas (Θ) in that sentence, corresponding to the “th” sound in “think.”

Katherine • Posted on Tue, June 22, 2010 - 12:55 pm EST

Yes, the δ/then,  θ/think equations definitely work, as Pimsleur describes it.  It just seems to me that θ theta is pronounced slightly softer than the English ‘th’ in think, and feel like it corresponds a little better to the Castilian sound for ‘c’, hence why you feel you are lisping.  That being said, with my heavy NY accent I am not the best person to be commenting on American/English accents! haha

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