Tuesday 11 December 2012

alas, no voicing

Pablo Solares writes from Spain to ask how to tell whether a word has s or z. Given that daisy has z, he says,
I do not understand why it is fortis in basic ˈbeɪsɪk. I thought that after diphthongs it was always fortis.

The best I can say in reply is that your supposed rule is wrong. In English, unfortunately, the pronunciation cannot reliably be determined from the spelling. That applies particularly to the matter of s versus z with the spelling s.

Compare phase with z and base with s. Or, for that matter, erase with z in BrE but s in AmE.

Although the spelling z or zz reliably signals z (except in a few borrowed words), while c before i, e, y may correspond to s but never to z, even double ss sometimes corresponds to z rather than s, as in scissors ˈsɪzəz and possessions pəˈzeʃn̩z.

That’s why you should always look up the pronunciation in a suitable dictionary, and learn each new word with its pronunciation.


  1. > c before i, e, y may correspond to s but never
    > to z

    Except in the word electricity, strangely enough.

    1. Err, surely the 'c' before 'i' in electricity is indeed /s/, not /z/??

    2. Really? I've only ever heard the pronunciation with [s] you'd expect from the spelling, [-ˈtrɪs.ɪ.ti].

      OED gives seven pronunciations (!) of which all have [s].

    3. Yes, and the OED doesn't even list -ti vs or forms without the vowel before this last syllable. But -z- certainly exists.

      (Phillip Minden.)

    4. Jack Windsor Lewis suggests that Mr Solares might like to look at Section 4 Item 5 Spellings of the English Phonemes at www.yek.me.uk. Para 13 deals with /s/, while para 14, on /z/, mentions the oddity of electricity (calling the /z/ form "a common subvariant').

      (Also, see the LPD entry for electricity.)<

  2. ...or perhaps consonants/items 9 and 10 in JW-L's English Pronunciation for Spanish Speakers, at http://www.yek.me.uk/engpronforspan.html . Though this doesn't address Pablo Solares's exact query, it's still a useful reference point.

  3. What about 'conver[z]ation' instead of 'conver[s]ation'?

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  5. Message by "Alba" deleted because anonymous/pseudonymous. To post a comment you MUST give your true name.

  6. Electrizity? Converzation? Surely only in Zomerzet? ;-)

    1. The interesting thing about those is that despite the immediate associations, those pronunciations aren't limited to Zomerzet and Chermany.

      (Phillip Minden)

  7. > c before i, e, y may correspond to s but never
    > to z

    Also 'crescent' with /z/ for many BrE speakers?

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