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Getting the Cantonese ‘z’ Sound Right December 21, 2006

Posted by Edwin in Cantonese, English, Phonetics.

There has been a discussion in a Cantonese learner’s forum about the pronunciation of the Cantonese Jyutping ‘z’ sound. There is indeed an obvious difference between this sound and the English ‘j’ sound.

To complicate things a bit more, there is yet another sound which kind of sits between the 2 sounds. This is the girlish accent which you can hear from many Cantonese-speaking teenagers.

I find it very difficult to explain the ways to pronounce these different sounds, so I might as well illustrate them. Lacking a better illustrator, I am going to volunteer. Listen carefully to the 6 sounds in the following audio clip:

  1. 租 (zou1) – correct pronunciation
  2. 租 (zou1) –still acceptable but sounds very girlish
  3. Joe – English
  4. 渣 (zaa1) – correct pronunciation
  5. 渣 (zaa1) – incorrect pronunciation. Even the girlish accent does not have this
  6. Jar – English (British non-rhotic ending)

It seems to me that in the correct Cantonese pronunciations (1 and 4), I use more of my tongue tip. In 2, 3, 5, and 6, my tongue is flatter and it sides stay closer to my side teeth. To pronounce the English ‘j’ sound (3 and 6), you would start vibrating the vocal cord slightly before releasing the air (voiced).

For those who are learning Cantonese, the differences might seem to be small, but at least you know there are differences. I believe if you get it right one day, you will surely impress the native speakers.



1. Immigration Adviser Graves end - March 23, 2013

After I originally left a comment I appear to have clicked the -Notify me when
new comments are added- checkbox and from now on every time a comment is added I get 4 emails with the exact same comment.
Perhaps there is a means you are able to remove me from that service?

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