Now That we are back in school I wanted to post something I’ve noticed all summer needing reminders….Namaste, The Queen Cronista
Re: Plural of nouns: Pronunciation.
In American English, the sound of “s” depends on which sound comes before it.
1. If the noun ends in an unvoiced consonant sound: /f/, /k/, /p/, /t/, /th/-(thin), pronounce “s” as /s/.
2. When it ends in a voiced consonant sound, /b/, /d/, /g/, /l/, /m/, /n/, /ng/, /r/ or with a vowel sound, /a/, /e/, /i/, /o/, /u/, pronounce “s” as /z/.
3. If it ends with /s/, /z/, /sh/, /ch/-chair, /zh/-the second “g” in garage, /dz/-(j), pronounce “s” or “-es” as /iz/.
In other words, if the noun ends with a sound other than the 5 unvoiced consonants, pronounce “s” with a /z/ (or with an /iz/ as the case may be).
It is not only assimilation that is in operation here. Its opposite, dissimulation, is also at work. In assimilation, two sounds become more like each other when they are in proximity. In dissimulation, just the opposite happens: some kind of phonological change occurs in order to make two sounds more distinct. In the case of words ending in a sibilant, an epenthetic (“extra”) schwa [ə] is inserted in order to separate sounds that are phonetically close. What sibilants have in common is that they are all produced with a hissing sound. If similar hissing sounds are pronounced in succession, e.g. bus + s [bʌss], the plural ending cannot be clearly perceived by the listener. By assigning it a separate syllable in which it is preceded by the neutral vowel, we can hear the plural, possessive, or third person singular verb marking clearly. This is an example of dissimilation at work.
The pronunciation rules for regular verbs marked for past tense and past participle (we’ll just say “past tense” here for simplicity) also involve both perseverative assimilation and dissimilation. Using spelling as a clue, we will assume the underlying plural marker to be /s/. In the case of the regular past tense verb marker, we will assume the underlying form to be /d/. As with the plurals rules, /-d/ is devoiced when preceded by a voiceless sound, and maintains its voicing when preceded by a voiced sound. But to obtain the dissimilation rule, we must examine other features of the past tense marker besides voicing. /d/ has no hissing sound, so the sibilant rule will not apply here. Sounds classified as sibilants are based on both manner of articulation – they are all fricatives or affricates – and place of articulation – all are either alveolar or palato-alveolar sounds. If the same pattern applies to the past tense marker, what kinds of sounds can we expect will require a dissimilation rule? You may know the answer already, but try to derive it anew by yourself on the basis of manner and place of articulation. Please think about this carefully before reading on.
/d/ is a stop, produced at the alveolar ridge. What are the alveolar stops in English? /d/ and /t/. And indeed, if a verb ends in /d/ or /t/, we also add an epenthetic [ə] schwa before adding the final /d/ marking. But do we pronounce it [t] as in picked or [d] as in canned? According to the rule of perseverative assimilation which applies here, the final consonant should have the same voicing value as the preceding sound. That sound in this case is a schwa, which is a vowel, and vowels are voiced. So the past tense of regular verbs ending in [d] or [t] is [d], just as the plural marking after sibilant consonants is [z] rather than [s].
The rules for regular English plurals for the past tense form of regular English verbs are explained in these videos:
How to Pronounce Plural Nouns: American English
How to Pronounce -ed verb endings: American English Pronunciation
Contraction (page 32) and schwa elision (page 33) both involve phonetic reduction. Another important kind of phonetic reduction is the neutral vowel or schwa. We have thus far, including on this page, referred to schwas as a given, without discussing in detail what a schwa actually is, where the word schwa and concept of the schwa originally came from, and the role of the schwa in the rhythm of spoken English. We’ll do this in the following English Island article.