Most of the implosives found in the world’s languages are voiced. That means that the rarefaction in the pharynx and mouth (the glottalic ingressive mechanism) is combined with a simultaneous vibration of the vocal folds dependent on a pulmonic egressive airstream. Interestingly, in my experience learners generally find this combined airstream easier to produce than the purely glottalic one that is needed for voiceless implosives.
But does what we teach in the classroom agree with what we find in real languages?
Just over a year ago I wrote about the Zulu song Thula sizwe (blog, 8 Sep 2009).
Now Catherine Paver, in a very late comment on that posting, has drawn our attention to a website called “Sing Africa!”. Thank you! This site contains the words and music to a number of South African songs — Zulu, Xhosa, and Sotho — along with sound clips comprising not only the complete songs but also slow demonstrations of the authentic pronunciation of each word in turn.
Here you can confirm what I wrote last year about the Zulu implosives:
The implosives are only very mildly implosive and the main auditory difference between them and the plain voiced plosives is that plain [b] and [ɡ] are depressors, while weak-implosive [ɓ] and [ɠ] are not. In singing, though, such tonal subtleties are naturally lost.
In the word-by-word clip of Thula sizwe, listen to uŋgabokhala uŋɡaɓɔˈkʰala, the third word in the song. That’s what a bilabial implosive ɓ in this real language sounds like. The “implosiveness” is much less than in the exaggerated versions we tend to get in the classroom. Mea culpa, perhaps. We see the same thing in the last word, uzokuŋqobela uzɔɠuˈŋǃɔɓɛla, with both velar ɠ and bilabial ɓ.
The implosives of Sindhi seem to be similarly weak.
I wonder if there are any languages with really strong, noisy implosives.