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The True Meaning of Voiced G?


In Tones 5, 徐老师 explains that Chinese “G” is unvoiced: no sound from the throat. I have never understood this. Can you explain what it means and how to make your “G” voiced or unvoiced?

To pronounce “G”, we stop the air from flowing through our vocal cords. No air flow means no vibration of the vocal cords. So how is it that English “G” is voiced? And more importantly, how do we stop voicing it?


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So called ‘voiced sound’ is a linguistic term, which means with the vibration of throat (starting before the stop). In English, /b/, /d/, /g/ are actually voiced sound. When saying them, we have to start making throat vibration before the air stream goes breaking through the stop made by lip or tongue. But, in Mandarin, there is almost no voiced consonant except /r/.

If you want to say Mandarin’s /b/, /d/, /g/ correctly, you have to try not to push your throat with energy, but just let the air go through it. Make the stop only with your lip or tongue. Imagine the sound you say spirit , student and skit, they are exactly the /b/, /d/, /g/ in Mandarin.

Frederic Xu

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Xu Laoshi,

Thanks for answering so many questions!

So the voiced consonant vibration is before the stop. Is that still true when the consonant is at the beginning of a word (e.g. “boy”)?

After the stop, is there also a delay before vibration starts?


YES, boy, dog, and good are examples of voiced consonant.

The throat vibration can last during the pronunciation, even when lip or tongue stop is made. All vows are voiced.

In Mandarin, the vow comes directly after the consonant. And, a vow-initially-writtened syllable has to be spoken with a glottal stop in front of it, e,g. ānquán, píng’ān, ēndiǎn,

Frederic Xu

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That is exactly what I don’t understand. I think that when I stop the air, the vibration stops, too. The vocal cords can vibrate when air flows through them, but not when the air is not flowing.

Is my thinking wrong?


There is not only one air gateway on a human’s head, is it?

Actually, English. Japanese and Taiwanese native speakers have been speaking with voiced and non-voiced contrast phonology system for thousands years.

And remember, to tell an aspirated consonant from a non-aspirated one is even more important for speaking and listening Mandarin Chinese. : )

I just read what you wrote about the glottal stop before initial values. I didn’t know that! But it seems easy and natural. What about words that start with “y” (英国)?

Yes, we have another gateway in our nose. Isn’t that how we make our “m” or “n” sound? Our lips stop the air from leaving our mouth, but it continues to exit the nose. Air continues to flow over the vocal cords, and the vibrate.

Is that we we are doing when we say “boy”?

The only other option I see for continuing the air flow during the “b” stop is to store in mouth and nose, puffing out the cheeks or increasing the pressure.

I believe that the distinction between voiced / non-voiced consonants exists. I just don’t understand it and doubt that I am pronouncing it correctly.

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I think the important distinction to understand is the one between an aspirated and unaspirated sound. Lets take an example from English:
Care - Scare
Here, the first sound in care is an aspirated unvoiced sound. This means that air comes out of your mouth in a forceful way. In scare the letter c represents an unaspirated unvoiced sound. This means that the air comes out of your mouth in a less forceful way. Put your hand in front of your mouth when saying care and scare and you should notice the difference. The c in care is the k sound in Mandarin and the c in scare is the g sound in Mandarin.

A similar pair is top and stop in English. The t in top is aspiated and is similar to the t in Mandarin, while the t in stop is unaspirated and is similar to the d in Mandarin. Both are unvoiced. Your vocal chords will not vibrate before getting to the o sound in these words.

You can also compare with how you would say d and t or g and k when whispering. When whispering you do not voice any sounds and usually you will use aspiration to distinguish between the t and d, or k and g.