Malayalam has as many as 6 different articulation points for consonants.
Malayalam distinguishes dental consonants (tongue against or just behind the upper teeth) and alveolar consonants (tongue further back). It also has retroflex consonants (tongue curled backwards).
English th-sounds as in "this" and "think" are dental, but English t and d are alveolar. So you'd expect that native speakers of Malayalam, when listening to native speakers of English, would always hear their dental th (aspirated) and d. But it isn't that simple:
What do you think the last consonant in "cut" is? I hear a different *
one from the one in "cat".
* Malayalam has a long/geminate unvoiced alveolar stop which sounds identical to me in all contexts. The English unvoiced alveolar stop seems to sound the same as it when adjacent to front vowels but different from it when adjacent to back-vowels.
Greg: > The final "t"s in my pronunciations of "cut" and "cat" > are the same.
So they (Americans) all say ... until I pronounce "cut" with a Malayalam alveolar t. Then, they're stumped since they find themselves obliged to acknowledge that (1) I'm the one who's pronouncing it with a t that sounds the same as in "cat" and (2) that it sounds totally different from their pronunciation of "cut".
To make this clearer, Mr. Mathews sent me these samples:
with alveolar t