The current (Dec 2012/Jan 2013) issue of The Linguist, the official journal of the Chartered Institute of Linguists, carries a chatty article about one Mary-Jess Leaverland, a young lady who “shot to stardom after winning the Chinese ‘X-Factor’”. She had turned to studying Chinese, leading to a degree in Music and Chinese at the University of Sheffield, after becoming disillusioned with school French lessons. Her TV break came after she went to Nanjing as part of her degree work.
All credit to her for her success in modern languages as well as in music.
I’m not so impressed, though, by her reported comments on Chinese pronunciation.
So English vowels sounds are more ‘open’ than those of Chinese, the pronunciation of the latter being ‘all at the front of the mouth’?
I don’t think her study can have included any phonetics. Otherwise she would have known that the antonym of ‘open’, of a vowel sound, is not ‘front’ but ‘close’. The vowel systems of both Chinese and English include open vowels as well as close (and mid) ones, back ones as well as front ones.
The Chinese vowel sounds that are unusual to English ears (Mary-Jess is from England) include y (Pinyin ü, (q)u etc), which is indeed front, though in no way ‘quite similar to Italian’. More strikingly, they include ɨɻ and ɯɹ (both represented in Pinyin as i, the first when preceded by sh, r, ch, zh, and the second when preceded by s, c, z). See blog,26-27 Jan 2007. These do involve the tongue tip, but are central and back respectively rather than front. There is also ɚ (er), which is like the corresponding AmE sound, but again entirely un-Italian.
OK, The Linguist is for linguists in the sense of polyglots, interpreters and translators, not in the sense of scholars of linguistics; but even so, I don’t think it should print ignorant nonsense, even if no one is going to take it seriously. It’s unprofessional.