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I'm a native Arabic speaker -Egyptian- we don't have the V & P sounds natively, I'm fully capable of pronouncing the V sound & telling the difference between it & the F sound perfectly, but I struggle with P, I don't know if I'm pronouncing it as B or not & I struggle with telling the difference between the two even though I know it, both are a bobbing sound caused by the release of air build up, with the difference being that the B one is voiced, this is the exact difference between F & V with the V being voiced, but they both feel so short and exactly the same, for example Pat vs Bat, isn't the a kind of voiced, all I hear is the bob sound followed by a voiced a then the T sound, I feel that the bob is stronger in P, is this the only difference or am I missing something?

Is there any words in which the difference is more prominent, & is there a way to pronounce P correctly even if I can't tell the difference?

by the way I can in most cases guess correctly if a word -even if it's the first time hearing it- is written with P or B but I can't pinpoint the difference in hearing

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  • This is often the hard part in listening and speaking a new language: sounds that do not exist in your own language. I have no trouble hearing P and B. But I am sure there are things in Arabic that would be hard for me to hear.
    – GEdgar
    Aug 16, 2020 at 1:42
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    In American English, /p/ is usually undistinguishable from /b/ except when it begins a stressed syllable, when it is aspirated. Pin is [pʰɪn], very different from bin [bɪn]; but with spin, stop, staple, for instance, you can use either [p] or [b]. If the P is spelled double, then you need to devoice: happy doesn't sound right with a [b]. If you hold it longer, you have more time to devoice it. Don't aspirate it unless it starts a stressed syllable, like press. Aug 16, 2020 at 1:42
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    Think of the "pop" sound -- a sudden release of air. This (obviously) goes with "p" -- the "b" sound is more restrained. But associated with this are some very subtle motions of the lips and tongue which differ between the two sounds.
    – Hot Licks
    Aug 16, 2020 at 1:44
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    @JohnLawler Do you have a staple–stable merger then? :)
    – tchrist
    Aug 16, 2020 at 2:02
  • I can distinguish them if I need to, but normally I don't. Any more than I need to distinguish bear, bare, and bear. Aug 16, 2020 at 2:03

6 Answers 6

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Try “P” by just exhaling heavy while slightly puckering your lips, similar to simply blowing candles out. Only use your breath and lips, not your vocal cord.

Try “B” by puckering your lips firmly and as you exhale vocalize the sound a lamb makes “bah, bah”

I’ve never tried to help someone with a pronunciation that isn’t in front of me, in person… So I’m hoping my advice helps but if not then don’t worry, it’s likely due to my inexperience with teaching pronunciation, especially via Internet. If you are still having difficulties, let me know if you’d like to try via phone call or video call. I wouldn’t mind taking the time to try a different method.

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  • As it’s currently written, your answer is unclear. Please edit to add additional details that will help others understand how this addresses the question asked. You can find more information on how to write good answers in the help center.
    – Community Bot
    Jan 23, 2023 at 2:40
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    How can they "vocalize the sound a lamb makes" if they can't hear it??
    – Lambie
    Apr 30, 2023 at 16:06
  • Since we want answers on this site to help all readers, not just the OP, "let me know if you’d like to try via phone call or video call" is unhelpful.
    – alphabet
    Apr 30, 2023 at 17:34
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If you whisper the word bee over and over again, you will begin to notice it sounds like pea. That is because you are emitting breath without using your voice. So what you have to do is purse your lips as if you were going to make 'b', but instead say 'he'.

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    The reason this works is that both whispering and saying "he" will cause you to aspirate the sound.
    – alphabet
    Apr 30, 2023 at 13:44
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I can feel for you and your difficulties. It is the ventriloquist with his alphabet of frozen lipped vocabulary that substitutes 'D' and 'T' for both 'P' and 'B'. It is only the context and words used that trick the ear into hearing the expected consonant. The only cure will be to expose yourself to the brunt of the language you wish to adapt to. For this I can recommend Python, Monty at length; http://montypython.50webs.com/scripts/Series_3/45.htm This routine is about an Englishman who adapts to his own difficulties.

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  • That transcription is bit off from the recording I have...
    – Jim
    Aug 16, 2020 at 7:36
  • @Jim It is also off from the book I have of all their scripts. Many versions are about. Tis pity we have only TV from the 70s to parse and argue. Much better remains of Shakespeare and his environs.
    – Elliot
    Aug 17, 2020 at 4:45
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The two sounds involve the same mechanical acts of the mouth. The "B" sound is infinitesimally slower which trends toward a kind of Buzzing sound, like the Bee insect's wings. The "P" sound is faster and sharper. Compare to a bang from fireworks. An explosive PoP.

As a side note, the "Z" sound uses different mouth actions but the same vocal cord action of "B", as in buZZing. It's a vibration, not a popping sound.

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There's a little whiz of air in the P sound and none in the B sound. It's kind of like actually saying a little H sound (as in "hooray") right after the P.

When both Americans and the English pronounce P, they blow a little air into the vowel. (Yes, they blow into P, no pun intended :)

It can be heard very well in the Beekeeping sketch with Mr. Prawnbaum.

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Geoff Lindsey's video on aspiration covers this well. In English, the distinction between /p/ and /b/ is often one of aspiration rather than one of voicing per se. When /p/ occurs at the start of a word or at the start of a stressed syllable, it is generally aspirated, whereas /b/ is never aspirated. As John Lawler commented:

In American English, /p/ is usually undistinguishable from /b/ except when it begins a stressed syllable, when it is aspirated. Pin is [pʰɪn], very different from bin [bɪn]; but with spin, stop, staple, for instance, you can use either [p] or [b]. If the P is spelled double, then you need to devoice: happy doesn't sound right with a [b]. If you hold it longer, you have more time to devoice it. Don't aspirate it unless it starts a stressed syllable, like press.

/p/ also tends to shorten the length of the preceding vowel sound due to prefortis clipping. Moreover, if the preceding sound is /aɪ/, then /p/ can trigger "American raising" in American English, causing a change in the starting point of that diphthong.

As Geoff Lindsey states, in some cases there is no difference: the "p" sound in "speech" should arguably be transcribed as [b]. As John Lawler notes above, there are other words in which the voicing is more relevant, e.g. the double p in words like "happy."

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  • You always need to pronounce p without voicing! Apr 30, 2023 at 13:04
  • @Araucaria-Nothereanymore. Not in words like "speech," as Geoff Lindsey states. John Lawler says above that "with spin, stop, staple, for instance, you can use either [p] or [b]."
    – alphabet
    Apr 30, 2023 at 13:42
  • Yes, there's no aspiration in syllable onsets following an initial fricative, true, so the primary distinction is lost in that environment. But it's not a good way to present it that there are a few places where the lack of voicing is important, when the fact is that it's important in the vast, vast, vast majority of cases. Apr 30, 2023 at 14:02
  • @Araucaria-Nothereanymore. Feel free to post your own answer if you have more information. I'm following Lawler in saying that "In American English, /p/ is usually undistinguishable from /b/ except when it begins a stressed syllable, when it is aspirated."
    – alphabet
    Apr 30, 2023 at 14:35
  • Is your point that, when aspirated, /p/ is also not voiced? Or is it that /b/ gets devoiced more often than /p/ gets voiced?
    – alphabet
    Apr 30, 2023 at 14:44

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