I know that dictionaries say that the "g" and "c" refer to different phonetic symbols. But I cannot hear a difference!
Also, I find it impossible to pronounce a hard "g" sound immediately after an "s" smoothly. Is it true?
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That is because after the sound /s/, the distinction between the voiced/voiceless pairs like /d/ and /t/, /b/ and /p/, and /g/ and /k/ is neutralized. A voiceless consonant that follows /s/ loses aspiration, the 'h'-like puff that usually accompanies the voiceless consonants like /t/, /p/, and /k/ in English, while after /s/ you can't really have voiced consonants, in which your vocal cords vibrate. So the means of distinguishing the voiced and voiceless consonants are lost in this environment.
Nevertheless, dictionaries usually transcribe the pronunciations of 'disgust' and 'discussed' differently because the idea is that the underlying sounds (at an abstract level, as evidenced by the spelling) are different, even if they come out the same.
The Longman Pronunciation Dictionary notes a possible pronunciation where you would use the sequence /-zg-/ for 'disgust', and in this rare case you would actually pronounce the pair differently.
The following blog post is about whether to transcribe similar sequences in Welsh as /sd/ or /st/, and it mentions the same point about English in passing, even using the same example of 'disgust' and 'discussed'.
fivejedjon'Disgust' and 'discussed' can therefore sound very similar indeed.Yes, but definitely not identical.
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