Differences from English spelling for consonants
Many of the letters used in English are not used in our standard spelling of Australian languages—c,
f, j, q, s, v, x, z. Most languages (with a few exceptions in Cape York and the Daly River area)
have no consonants at all of the kind technically called fricatives (produced with a noisy stream
of air through the mouth: the sounds spelled in English with f, v, th, s, z, sh, and h.
On the other hand, there are sounds unlike those of English, for which a combination of two letters is used.
ng is like the sound in English sing or singer, but unlike English, it also occurs at the beginning of words.
Combinations with r—rt, rd, rn, rl—are like t, d, n, l except that the tip of the tongue is curled back a bit behind the upper gums, which makes the stops have a bit of an r-sound—something like American or Irish heart, hard, barn, and barley. These sounds—which are called “retroflexed” because the tongue is bent back—do not occur in all Australian languages.
The sounds spelled with h as the second letter are a bit like English th. But they are produced with a tongue shape that is different. The best way to produce them is to fix the tip of the tongue against the back of the lower teeth and then make the sound t, d, n or l, with the blade of the tongue—the part behind the tip—touching the top front teeth and gums. These sounds are sometimes called laminals (based on the Latin word for blade) and dentals (from the Latin word for tooth.)
The sounds spelled with y as the second letter are produced with the tongue shaped the same way, but the blade of the tongue touches the top of the mouth further back. To make th put the tip of your tongue against the back of your lower teeth and try to say a t as in top; to make ty put the tip of your tongue against the back of your lower teeth and try to say a ch sound as in chop. The sounds spelled ty, dy, ny, ly are sometimes called palatals because the highest part of the tongue is at the hard palate in the roof of the mouth.
The sounds spelled t, d, n, l (without a following h or y or a preceding r) are pronounced much like the English sounds in butter, hidden, bunny, silly). They involve the tip of the tongue touched against the upper gums. These sounds are sometimes called apicals (after the word for tip) or alveolars (after the Latin word for the ridge behind the front teeth).
The sounds spelled k, g, ng are pronounced much like the English sounds of baker, bugger, singer, with the back of the tongue against the soft palate. They are sometimes called dorsals (after the Latin word for back) or velars (after the Latin word for the soft palate).
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