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In my experience, French speakers habitually struggle with both of the th sounds in English, because I was under the impression the sound did not exist in French, where th is pronounced as t.

However, I've just come across the French word for labyrinth - "labyrinthe", and apparently it's pronounced with the English th. It's the first time I've encountered that sound in French.

If the sound exists in French, why do French speakers struggle with it in English? Or do they usually pronounce it as as t when speaking this word aloud? Is this one of the only actual instances of the English th sound in French?

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    I've never heard any European French speaking native pronounce labyrinthe other than [labiʁɛ̃t], the pronunciation you can listen to on the wiktionnaire is the only one I've ever heard and the /θ/ sound doesn't exist in French, neither does the /ð/ sound. All the words ending with the in French (Greek origin) are pronounced with [t].
    – None
    Commented Oct 1, 2023 at 5:57
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    Ah okay I think I was mishearing the audio on the sites I was getting examples from, now that I listen again with this confirmation, I hear it the way you said. Commented Oct 1, 2023 at 6:50
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    No, it is pronounced with a [t] sound.
    – Frank
    Commented Oct 1, 2023 at 18:09
  • The most common word ending by "inth" is "ninth" with "th" pronounced (as in plinth, jacinth, absynth). I assume this may explain some confusions.
    – Graffito
    Commented Oct 1, 2023 at 21:34
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    @Graffito sorry, are you talking about English? I'm a bit confused about the relevance of common th endings outside of French. Commented Oct 2, 2023 at 5:10

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The English th sounds ( /θ/ or /ð/ ) do not exist in French, and labyrinthe is no exception.

If it ever sounds like a French word has been pronounced aloud using either of these sounds, there are two possible explanations:

  1. The speaker mispronounced the word because they have a foreign accent.
  2. You misheard what they said, because you knew it was spelled with a th and your brain tried to parse the sound in the way you are accustomed to.
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    The third possibility is that the French speaker knows foreign languages and thinks that borrowed words should be pronounced as in the original language. Though this is not the case of labyrinthe.
    – Roger V.
    Commented Oct 5, 2023 at 13:17
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While French speakers don't struggle with "Labyrinthe", they often do indeed struggle with pronouncing interdentals. Typically, European speakers will pronounce them as s/z (for example there's a character in Asterix in Brittain called "Zebigbos", see also Wiktionary). On the other hand, Quebec speakers are more likely to mispronounce it as a full stop.

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