Wednesday, 29 September 2010

the digraph zh

In transliterating Russian names, the question arises what to do about Cyrillic ж, IPA ʒ, the voiced palatoalveolar fricative. The usual convention is to write it zh.

Today’s Guardian carries a full page devoted to the abrupt sacking of the mayor of Moscow, Yuri Luzhkov (Юрий Лужков). The feature comprises three articles by three named authors. And whereas Luke Harding and Simon Tisdall consistently spell his name correctly as Luzhkov, David Hearst spells it correctly twice, but incorrectly, ‘Luzkhov’, four times. Let’s hope this is just due to his inaccurate typing. It would be too depressing to think that Hearst, who spent several years in Moscow as the paper’s foreign correspondent there, is not sure how the name is written in Cyrillic and thus how it should be spelt in English.

(Phonetic footnote: since Russian assimilates voicing in consonant clusters, Luzhkov is actually pronounced luʃˈkɔf. So it would be phonetically accurate to write it as Lushkov or indeed Lushkof. The usual Luzhkov is not a transcription but a transliteration.)

How familiar is this zh convention to a general readership? We all know about Dr Zhivago, or at least all of us who are over a certain age. (Pasternak’s novel was published in 1957, and David Lean’s film of it came out in 1965.) Some will have heard of General Zhukov or other figures from Russian history whose name includes this sound/digraph. But there don’t appear to be any familiar Russian placenames that include it [PS: but see comment below!], nor any Ukrainian, Bulgarian, or Serbian names.

The logic behind the use of zh for this sound is transparent. As the letter s stands for the sound s and the digraph sh for the sound ʃ, so given that the letter z stands for the sound z the digraph zh must stand for the sound ʒ.

Respelling systems deployed to show pronunciation in some monoglot English dictionaries (notably those published in the USA) represent ʒ as zh pretty much without exception. So one can say that writing zh is a well-established convention, despite the claim in Wikipedia that it is ‘ad hoc’.

The only European language that uses zh for ʒ (or for anything else) in standard orthography appears to be Albanian — not a language often learned by outsiders. I can’t think of any non-European languages that use it, either.

But this digraph is indeed used in the Chinese romanization known generally as (Hanyu) Pinyin. So we are all becoming familiar with names such as Zhang, Zhou and Zhu. But here zh stands for a different sound! The corresponding sound in Mandarin is not ʒ but an affricate , or more precisely unaspirated . I notice that sports commentators who know very little about foreign languages often pronounce it z in the names of Chinese competitors. Those who are somewhat more sophisticated say ʒ. Only those who have bothered to find out the facts say , which is the closest English equivalent.

22 comments:

  1. Wikipedia might call zh for ʒ "ad hoc", but it does use it in its pronunciation respelling key.

    ReplyDelete
  2. But there don’t appear to be any familiar Russian placenames that include it

    Nizhny Novgorod is the fourth biggest city in Russia.

    Mozhaysk is not so large but it is the closest town to Borodino (so you'll know it if you know War and Peace, say).

    ReplyDelete
  3. There's a digraph "zh" in Breton. An example is "Breizh", the Breton name of Brittany. The phonetic value of the digraph seems to vary according to the different regions. But I don't know much about Breton!

    ReplyDelete
  4. Thanks for these comments. I ought to have thought of Nizhny Novgorod. And I ought to have remembered that in standard Breton orthography zh is used in cases where most speakers have z but one dialect area has h.

    ReplyDelete
  5. @ Anonymous, re Breton.
    The zh digraph represents /z/ in some dialects and /h/ in others. It's amusing to hear people with an interest in the area but not knowing about the language pronounce it as if it were a voiced postalveolar fricative!

    ReplyDelete
  6. Navajo uses zh for /ʒ/, and IIRC a few related languages do the same.

    ReplyDelete
  7. The name Nadezhda (the full form of Nadia) is not so uncommon — Mrs Mandelstam and Mrs Stalin, for example. And not so long ago another politician was in the papers here:
    Vladimir Zhirinovsky.

    ReplyDelete
  8. As luke commented above, Navajo uses , as do most of the Athapaskan languages. Impressionistically, it's the way to write the voiced postalveolar affricate in North America, except a few that use ž.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Russian ж is a retroflex, so shouldn't we use IPA ʐ?

    ReplyDelete
  10. In addition to Nizhny Novgorod, there's also a large city called Voronezh.

    ReplyDelete
  11. The logic behind the use of zh for this sound is transparent. As the letter s stands for the sound s and the digraph sh for the sound ʃ, so given that the letter z stands for the sound z the digraph zh must stand for the sound ʒ.

    By the same logic, ‹dh› ought to transparently stand for the voiced dental fricative /ð/. However, despite its reported use in "the Albanian alphabet, Swahili alphabet, and the orthography of the revived Cornish language" for this purpose, it really doesn't work this way in English, for me at least.

    The majority of the respelling schemes used by English-language dictionaries listed here use a modified ‹th›, rather than ‹dh›, to represent /ð/

    ReplyDelete
  12. With ‹dh›, there's also the ambiguity with /dʱ/ as in the transcription of Indo-Aryan languages, e.g. dharma. This would be mapped to plain /d/ in English.

    For what it's worth, Icelandic or Old Norse ð is sometimes seen rendered ‹dh› in English texts for general consumption.

    Now for the idle question part of my comment... Would any language use a phoneme /zʱ/? That could justifiably be transcribed ‹zh› in analogy with ‹dh› for /dʱ/. I've seen /zʱ/ given as a possible pronunciation for Marathi झ, although this usually seems to be transcribed as an affricate /dʒʱ/ or /dzʱ/.

    I could also make a case for Korean ㅅ to be transcribed as /z̥ʰ/ to indicate that it is both lenis voiceless and aspirated.

    ReplyDelete
  13. @ Jongseong: Now for the idle question part of my comment... Would any language use a phoneme /zʱ/?

    I'm not a phoneticist, so treat anything I say with extreme caution, but, as someone married to a Marathi speaker, I would say झ is usually a /dzʱ/ but with a /d/ often so shadowy as to almost escape hearing.

    ReplyDelete
  14. "Marathi /dzh/ is frequently heard as as [zh] (aspirated [z] ...", Masica, Indo Aryan Lanauges, p. 102. Masica goes on to add that there are otherwise no aspirated sibilants in Marathi, so there is no potential loss of opposition.

    According to the chapter on Marathi in Cardona and Jain, "Indo-Aryan Lanauges", Marathi /dz/ contrasts both with /dʒ/ and /dzh/. I presume that /dzh/ also contrasts with /dʒh/, although it doesn't say that explicitly. The same chapter indicates that the /ts, dz/ series of stops is not orthographically distinguished from the /tʃ, dʒ/ series, both using the Devanagari letters usually transcribed c, j.

    ReplyDelete
  15. All the Russian words and names so far have been relatively easy to pronounce. (If you ignore the devoicing, that is.) Not so the conductor Gennady Rozhdestvensky.

    His name is not so often heard on radio now, but a few years ago he was still broadcasting live and making new recordings. I'm sure I remember broadcasters struggling with the pronunciation.

    ReplyDelete
  16. Thanks, Ian Preston and vp, for the information on Marathi. That clears up why I saw both /dʒʱ/ and /dzʱ/ for झ.

    Serbian names would normally use ‹ž› following the Serbian Latin alphabet, as in Mateja Kežman. In English, the diacritic is frequently dropped so that you would simply have Kezman in this case. On the other hand, ‹đ› is usually rendered ‹dj› for English consumption, as in Djokovic for Đoković. Note that the Croatian name Tuđman is also more likely to be rendered Tudjman than Tudman.

    Solzhenitsyn and Brezhnev are two Russian names that may be familiar to a general English-speaking audience.

    ReplyDelete
  17. For what Wikipedia means by "ad hoc" in this context, see "Ad hoc pronunciation. Basically all it means is "not IPA".

    ReplyDelete
  18. How could I have overlooked Solzhenitsyn and Brezhnev?! It shows how inefficient my mental retrieval routines must have become.

    ReplyDelete
  19. I first encountered 'zh' while browsing the explanatory pages of the Compact Oxford, aged six or seven. (Yes, even then I was destined to grow up to read linguistics blogs.) I vaguely remember thinking it quite a revelation.

    ReplyDelete
  20. see also Chelsea player Yuri Zhirkov for a name many young people and football enthusiasts might recognise. as well as Aleksandr Kerzhakov, who used to play for Sevilla, and is now back with Zenit...

    ReplyDelete
  21. Interesting point about the digraph zh and its use. It is very consistent: “zh” is used to transcribe the voiced palato-alveolar sibilant fricative in phonetic transcriptions of European languages; however, as you can see from WALS, the sound (and "z") is very rare outside the western Old World. It is listed in the Wikipedia article on the Breton language.

    ReplyDelete
  22. The fall of Communism has turned Tadzhikistan and Adzharia into Tajikistan and Adjara. But Azerbaijan was rarely Azerbaidzhan. And Stalin is still usually Dzhugashvili rather than Jughashvili.

    This evidence suggests DZH is a politically-incorrect trigraph.

    ReplyDelete