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RUDN University linguists conducted comprehensive study of how Russian speakers perceive Greek sound

RUDN University

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IMAGE: Linguists from RUDN University found out how Russian speakers differentiate between similar consonants of the Greek language and associate them with Russian sounds. view more 

Credit: RUDN University

Linguists from RUDN University found out how Russian speakers differentiate between similar consonants of the Greek language and associate them with Russian sounds. The results of the study were published in the Speech Communication journal.

Efficient learning of a foreign language depends on a student's mother tongue and similarities between the sounds of the two languages. If they have a lot of similar sounds, foreign speech is perceived better, and if a student's mother tongue has no or few sounds similar to those of a foreign language, the progress will be slower. For example, it could be quite difficult for a Russian speaker to learn Greek, as some Greek consonants don't have Russian analogs. Linguists from RUDN University were the first to conduct a comprehensive study of these consonants and to identify what sounds Russian speakers associate them with.

"Our study covered several Greek consonants that do not have direct analogs in the Russian language. Our goal was to find out what Russian sounds they are usually associated with. Moreover, we assessed the ability of Russian speakers to differentiate between similar Greek sounds and perceive them in syllables that begin either with a consonant or a vowel," said Georgios Georgiou, Ph.D., a postdoc, and a researcher at the Institute of Modern Languages, Intercultural Communication and Migration at RUDN University.

Unlike Greek, the Russian language doesn't have fricative sounds [θ] and [ð], palatal plosive [?], or palatal fricative [ç]. For their study, the team chose 16 Russian-speaking students that never learned Greek before. The students were asked to listen to a recording with fragments of Greek words, specifically, syllables containing the sounds [θ], [t], [ð], [d], [?], [g], [ç], [x]. After that, the students were asked to match the Greek sounds with Russian ones that could potentially be used to replace them. Also, the students stated the acoustical differences between the sounds in the pairs [θ]-[t], [ð]-[d], [?]-[g], and [ç]-[x].

The students were quite successful in differentiating between similar Greek sounds regardless of the types of syllables they were used in. Traditionally, scientists believe that Russian speakers find the Greek sound [θ] similar to Russian [t]. However, the majority of participants decided it was similar to [f]. As for the sound [ð], the participants found it similar to [z] both vowel and consonant initially.

"Previously, we thought that in the Russian language [θ] was most likely to be replaced with [t], and [ð] with [d]. This is because this occurs in some linguistic borrowings from Greek to Russian, such as the word "????????????????" - "orthodoxy". It is still unknown why the experiment showed a different result. It may be due to the fact that in addition to Russian the participants spoke basic English which gave an additional dimension to their perception of foreign sounds. Another possibility is that some of the participants came from regions of Russia and initially spoke Russian dialects that were quite different from the literary norm. Regardless of the reason, this is an interesting result, and we plan to study this issue further," added Georgios Georgiou from RUDN University.

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