Consonant phonemes /ʒ/, /ʃ/
English has two fricative consonants that are produced in the post-alveolar or pre-palatal regions of the mouth: the fricative pair /ʒ/ and /ʃ/.
- The voiced fricative /ʒ/ as in beige, also written as /ž/ in some texts that do not strictly follow the International Phonetic Alphabet.
- The voiceless fricative /ʃ/ as in fish, also written as /š/.
In teaching pronunciation, these are often distinguished from each other, from the English /s/ and /z/ sounds, from the English palatal consonant phonemes /ʤ/, /ʧ/, and from post-alveolar or palatal consonants in the students' first language. In this article, slash marks like /ʃ/ indicate a phoneme, while angled brackets like <sh> indicate a letter or spelling.
- 1 Linguistic description
- 2 Practice activities and materials
- 3 Minimal pairs
- 4 See also
1 Linguistic description
- Manner of articulation: Both sounds are fricatives (friction sounds) produced by directing the air flow between the tongue and the top of the oral cavity. More technically, it is a sibilant fricative, that is, it is produced by pushing the air stream along the grooved tongue surface (the tongue blade, or the front section of the tongue) creating a hissing-style high frequency noise due to air turbulence.
- Place of articulation: Both sounds are palato-alveolar, i.e., with the tongue blade approaching an area ranging from behind the alveolar gum ridge to the pre-palatal area. In English, the tongue is apical, that is, the tongue blade is pointed up toward the alveolar/palatal region. Friction is created between the tongue tip (apex) plus tongue blade area and the palatal-alveolar area.
- The /ʒ/ sound is voiced, i.e., produced with vibration of the vocal cords.
- The /ʃ/ sound is voiceless, i.e, produced without vibration of the vocal cords
1.1 Cross-linguistic comparison
The voiced consonant /ʒ/ is fairly common in European and other languages, most notably in French, e.g., jour. The voiceless consonant /ʃ/ is common in European and other languages, e.g., in German Schwein pig. In French, German, and Russian, the lips might be slightly more rounded for these sounds.
East Asian equivalents present some difficulties, as the equivalent or analogous sounds are produced differently and have different syllabic patterns. Chinese (Mandarin and other varieties), Japanese and Korean have alveolo-palatal fricatives, which are produced with the front tongue blade. More importantly, while the English sounds are apical, with the tongue blade and tip pointing up toward the alveolar-palatal area, in these East Asian languages, the tongue blade is flat, and friction is created between the flat tongue blade and the alveolar-palatal area. This tongue position is termed laminal, as opposed to apical. Examples:
- The voiceless fricative /ɕ/ as in Mandarin 西安 Xī'ān, Korean 시 si poem and Japanese 塩 shio salt. This is also the same sound as the German ich.
- The voiced fricative /ʑ/ is a variant - an allophone or a sound in some dialects - of Japanese and southern Chinese.
For East Asians, their sibilant fricative sounds are more syllabically restricted. In English, these sounds can occur anywhere in a word in principle - word-initially as in show, medially as in vision or fission, and word-finally as in fish. East Asians may need to learn to pronounce these word-finally without inserting an extra vowel. Koreans and Japanese have particular problems, as their sibilant fricatives do not occur word-finally in their languages without an extra end vowel. This is also related to the laminal pronunciation of the Korean and Japanese fricatives. Thus, their pronunciation of fish can sound like fishy or fish-uh with a flat tongue.
In Russian, the voiced and voiceless fricatives are retroflex or fully palatal, with the tongue bent further back toward the central palatal area - primarily the voiceless retroflex /ʂ/. Learners will need to bend the tongue slightly forward.
Chinese has another consonant series of palatal fricatives like the Russian sounds, in addition to the alveolar-palatal consonants. This includes the voiceless retroflex /ʂ/ and a voiced fricative /ʐ/, which varies with a more rhotic or r-like in some environments; specifically, it is more sibilant syllable-initially, and more rhotic in syllable-final position.
1.2 Teaching /ʒ/ and /ʃ/ production
For those from a first language (L1) background from Europe and many other parts of the world, these sounds may not be so problematic. Some languages might have /ʃ/ but no /ʒ/, so learning to hear and produce /ʒ/ is simply a matter of pronouncing /ʃ/ and then vibrating the vocal cords. Students can place their hands on their throats to feel the vibration. They can begin with the voiceless - voiced contrast between /s/ and /z/ to learn how to vocalize another unvoiced consonant.
Students whose L1 has alveolar-palatal or fully palatal sounds instead will need to learn to adjust their tongue position, bringing it more forward or more back. East Asians need to learn to pronounce these sounds with an apical tongue pointing toward the top of the oral cavity instead of the flat-tongue pronunciation. They will also need to learn to pronounce final /ʒ/ and /ʃ/ without inserting an extra vowel or extra air flow at the end.
It should be noted that the voiced consonant /ʒ/ is less common in English. It occurs mainly in Latin words where an /s/ or other sound palatizes to a /ʒ/ in certain environments, e.g., decision, and in French loan words like beige. The /ʃ/ is much more common and probably deserves more priority and attention than /ʒ/.
2 Practice activities and materials
Minimal pairs, which contrast a target sound with a sound that is a separate phoneme, are typical starting points for production and practice activities, particularly comparing the following, depending on the learners' levels and L1 backgrounds.
- /ʒ/ as in beige with /z/ as in bays
- /ʒ/ as in beige with /ʤ/ as badge
- /ʒ/ as in fusion with /ʃ/ as in fission
- /ʃ/ as in shell with /s/ as in cell
- /ʃ/ as in share with /ʧ/ as in chair
These contrasts should be shown with minimal pair contrasts in syllable-initial, consonant cluster, medial, and final position. For more on types of minimal pairs activities to train listeners to discern and produce sounds, see the following.
- Pronunciation: Listening exercises
- Pronunciation: Production exercises
- Pronunciation: Controlled activities
- Pronunciation: Interactive activities
2.1 Tongue twisters
- Sally sells seashells by the seashore. So if Sally sells seashells by the seashore, where are the seashells that Sally sells?
- I wish to wish the wish you wish to wish, but if you wish the wish the witch wishes, I won’t wish the wish you wish to wish.
- Ah shucks, six stick shifts stuck shut!
- The sixth sick sheik’s sixth sheep’s sick.
- She sells cshs by the C shore. [programmer’s lingo: csh = c-shell]
- I think she should sit.
And an odd poem:
Moses supposes his toeses are roses,
but Moses supposes erroneously.
For Moses, he knowses his toeses aren't roses,
as Moses supposes his toeses to be.
2.2 Short narratives
The following are some short narratives that I wrote for practicing fricative and affricate (blend) consonants, namely, the sounds /s/, /z/, /ʃ/, /ʒ/, /ʧ/, /ʤ/.
In the zoo at night, silence fell as the zoo visitors left. Crickets chirped as church bells rang out from an adjacent district. In the cages, crocs guarded their eggs as ducks lapsed into slumber. The elks cringed as already satisfied tigers nearby loudly belched. The asps blitzed about their dens, while hedgehogs rummaged for grubs, and black bats emerged from the warmth of their crypts. A lynx triumphed over its prey and plopped it down before its mates, as wolves glimpsed at the skunks kept safe from them by a chain link cage, and loathed the four-legged morsels that they could not grasp.
Out by the oaks, ants who had waltzed amongst each other in the daytime relaxed for the night, as did ant lions that had delved into the sands. Spiders in their orbs wrapped their desiccated bugs and other victims that they had bagged in spider silk, like limbs set in casts. Under the light of the street lamps, various insects made their attempts at acts of courtship, but the less lucky dating applicants were jinxed by the heat of the light bulbs.
2.3 Word-final position
Watch out for these sounds at the end of words. There should not be an extra syllable.
2.4 Latin word formation
Note the following Latin word stem changes, where another consonant becomes /ʒ/.
|/d/ → /ʒ/||/z/ → /ʒ/||/t/ → /ʒ/|
3 Minimal pairs
3.1 /ʒ/ as in beige with /z/ as in bays
There are few words with a /z/ - /ʒ/ distinction; some of these are rare words or European place names, and none in initial position.
|bays / baize
3.2 /ʒ/ as in beige with /ʤ/ as badge
Very few word pairs exist for the /ʒ/ - /ʤ/ distinction; near-minimal pairs are in parentheses.
3.3 /ʒ/ as in fusion with /ʃ/ as in fission
Very few word pairs exist with a /ʃ/ - /ʒ/ distinction, and all are in medial position.
3.4 /ʃ/ as in shell with /s/ as in cell
Actually, a relatively good number of minimal pairs exist for /s/ versus /ʃ/; here are some more.
|accomplice accomplish |
|bash batch |
4 See also
- Not real words here, but a children’s term for ‘toes’; the rhyme is from Donald O'Connor and Gene Kelly in the film Singing in the Rain.