@Susan Wikipedia seems to say that ס was originally /s/ and ש was /ʃ/, /θ/ and /ɬ/, but over time the /ɬ/ turned into /s/.
@Dɑvïd English orthography is just too messy
@ktm5124 A phoneme is an abstract basic sound, which is then realised as multiple 'allophones' in speech. For example, in many languages voicing is not phonemic, so that [b] and [p] are two variations of the one sound. In English voicing is phonemic, but aspiration isn't, so [p] and [pʰ] are allophones, but in other languages they are separate phonemes, and to speakers of those languages will sound completely different.
Another example is that in many languages [l] and [ɹ] are allophones. That's where the 'jokes' of Asian people saying "flied lice" come from. It was also the case in a language I worked with in PNG, and I could never tell if one of their villages was meant to be pronounced "Boilave" or "Boirave". I guess for them they're the same!
@ktm5124 Oh, I should've read this before launching into an explanation :P
@ktm5124 The technical term is assimilation. So a prefix like in- would be written phonemically as /iN-/ with N standing for a nasal. (But because it also has allomorphs il- and ir- maybe it should even be written as /iC-/
@curiousdannii Of note, although that one often gets cast as a Chinese thing, the dialects I'm aware of (Mandarin and Shanghai, less certain about Cantonese) can distinguish l/r just fine. It's really the Japanese (and apparently speakers of some language in PNG!) who can't.
As I understand, in at least some major dialects of Chinese (maybe all, I don't know), the /l/ and /r/ sounds exist but are prosodically restricted. The /l/ can only appear syllable-initially while the /r/ appears syllable-finally. This means that a Chinese speaker would have more trouble with ...
@Susan @curiousdannii @ktm5124 I'm aware from personal experience that Chichewa speakers (central Malawi) have a serious problem distinguishing L/R. I have my own set of amusing examples gathered at first-hand. ;) From Wikipedia:
> l and r are the same phoneme, representing a sound something between [l] and [r]. The spelling rules are to write 'r' after 'i' or 'e', except after a prefix, as in lilíme 'tongue'.
@Dɑvïd That's interesting, do you visit Malawi often? Just last week my wife and I were hosting one of the couples behind the Learn2Serve programme which is training church leaders by the thousands out there.
Most of it was founded just a few years ago by somebody trained at one of the bible colleges up here in Scotland, it's pretty amazing how far they've gotten with it in such a short space of time
@Dɑvïd Interesting! L and R are both liquids, and in Greek, third declension nouns have a similar declension if they end on a liquid. There must be some intrinsic relation between these two phonemes, which has led them to be grouped as liquids.