Soft … to the point of silent

I’m still reading this month’s Vanity Fair and came across this:

The Report (pronounced with a soft t, as is Colbert) debuted in the fall of 2005 as a spin-off of Comedy Central’s The Daily Show, the critical and popular success that’s often referred to by its host, Jon Stewart, as a “fake news” show.

— from Seth Mnookin’s “The Man in the Irony Mask

I’ve heard/seen “soft” (vs. “hard”) used to refer to different non-silent pronunciations of the letters c (soft [s] vs. hard [k]), g (soft [ʒ] vs. hard [ʤ]), but I don’t think I’ve ever heard of “soft” referring to a completely silent letter in English. If anyone else has, please comment about it below.

In Turkish there’s a “soft g” — “yumuşak ge”, spelled Ğ/ğ — that is generally silent. According to this Wikipedia article:

In Turkish, the ğ is known as yumuşak ge ‘soft g’ and is the ninth letter of the Turkish alphabet. It has no independent pronunciation (although when articulated it sounds similar to Guttural R), but rather indicates a lengthening of the preceding vowel, which normally does not appear in Turkish when the ğ is absent. For example, dağ (mountain) is pronounced like [da:], yağ (oil) is pronounced like like [ja:]. The ğ must be located after a vowel and can therefore not be the initial letter of a word. When found after the vowels e, i, ö or ü, the ğ is pronounced like -but not same as- [j]. Also when found between two vowels, it is sometimes pronounced like -but not same as- [j]‘.

I’m not exactly sure what the “when articulated”/”Guttural R” business is all about — I’ve never heard Turkish speakers actually do this — but the rest sounds about right.

[ Footnote: best pronunciation guide ever — “My name is Coach Z, pronounced with an oach Z.” (See this for an explanation, sort of.) ]

5 thoughts on “Soft … to the point of silent

  1. Michael Becker

    Some non-standard dialects of Turkish have some sort of voiced dorsal continuant for ğ (maybe a uvular approximant?), so their “soft g” is really soft, not silent.

    I don’t know what the pronunciation of ğ was when they invented the name for it, but even if it was silent around Istanbul, they knew that it was soft in other dialects.

  2. Eric Bakovic

    Later in the same article, we find out that Colbert’s name was originally [‘koʊlbɚt], not [kol’bɛɹ]. Here’s how he finally changed it:

    It was on his flight to Chicago that he decided once and for all that he was going to change the way his last name was pronounced. He was bumped up to first class and seated next to an astronaut. “I thought, well, if I’m ever going to do it, it’s going to be now,” Colbert says. “I talked to [the astronaut] about it, and he said, ‘Well, I think you know.'” When Colbert had boarded the plane, he had a hard t at the end of his name. When he got off, it was gone.

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