Post-alveoloar consonant phonemes /ʒ/, /ʃ/

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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

  • 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.

  1. /ʒ/ as in beige with /z/ as in bays
  2. /ʒ/ as in beige with /ʤ/ as badge
  3. /ʒ/ as in fusion with /ʃ/ as in fission
  4. /ʃ/ as in shell with /s/ as in cell
  5. /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.

  1. Pronunciation: Listening exercises
  2. Pronunciation: Production exercises
  3. Pronunciation: Controlled activities
  4. Pronunciation: Interactive activities


2.1 Tongue twisters

  1. Sally sells seashells by the seashore. So if Sally sells seashells by the seashore, where are the seashells that Sally sells?
  2. 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.
  3. Ah shucks, six stick shifts stuck shut!
  4. The sixth sick sheik’s sixth sheep’s sick.
  5. She sells cshs by the C shore. [programmer’s lingo: csh = c-shell]
  6. 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.[1]


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/.

1.

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.


2.

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.

/ʃ/ /ʒ/ /ʧ/ /ʤ/
fish

English
reddish
selfish
squeamish
outlandish              

beige

rouge
barrage
deluge
mirage
collage              

church

wretch
besmirch
attach
unlatch
reattach              

scourge

language
adage
sewage
beverage
advantage              


2.4 Latin word formation

Note the following Latin word stem changes, where another consonant becomes /ʒ/.

/d/ → /ʒ/ /z/ → /ʒ/ /t/ → /ʒ/
conclude

include
exclude
delude
divide
decide
provide
collide
explode
persuade              

conclusion
inclusion
exclusion
delusion
division
decision
provision
collision
explosion
persuasion              
confuse

transfuse
revise
supervise              

confusion
transfusion
revision
supervision              
convert

invert
divert
revert              

conversion
inversion
diversion
reversion              


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.

medial final
Caesar
composer
loses
ruses              
seizure
composure
luges
rouges              
bays / baize
brews
liaise
loose
rues              
beige
Bruges
Liège
luge
rouge              


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.

medial final
(beige)
(leisure)
version              
(badge)
(ledger)
virgin              
(beige)               (page)              


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.

medial
Aleutian
Asher
Confucian
dilution
mesher              
allusion
azure
confusion
delusion
measure              


3.4 /ʃ/ as in shell with /s/ as in cell

initial medial final
cell

cyst
seal
saving
seethe
selfish
scene
single
subtle              

shell

schist
she’ll
shaving
sheathe
shellfish
sheen
shingle
shuttle              

accomplices              

basses
furnaces
eraser

accomplishes              

bashes
furnishes
erasure

accomplice              

bass
furnace
office

accomplish              

bash
furnish
offish


Actually, a relatively good number of minimal pairs exist for /s/ versus /ʃ/; here are some more.

initial medial final
C she

cell shell
censor censure
cert shirt
sack shack
sad shad
sag shag
said shed
sake shake
sale shale
sallow shallow
Sam sham
same shame
sandy shandy
sank shank
satyr shatter
save shave
saving shaving
sawed shored
scene sheen
seal she'll
sealed shield
sear shear
search shirts
seesaw seashore
seat sheet
seek chic
seep sheep
seethe sheathe
seething sheathing
self shelf
selves shelves
selfish shellfish
sell shell
sew shew
sift shift
sigh shy
sign shine
simmer shimmer
sin shin
single shingle
sinus shyness
sip ship
sire shire
snaps schnapps
sole shoal
sock shock
soccer shocker
sod shod
sou shoe
suitor shooter
sop shop
soar shore
sort short
sot shot
sour shower
subtle shuttle
suck shuck
sun shun
surly Shirley
Swiss swish              

bast bashed

crust crushed
cyst schist
fist fished
gust gushed
hasten Haitian
hast hashed
parcel partial
rust rushed
whist wished              

accomplice accomplish

bass bash
crass crash
finis finish
furnace furnish
gas gash
Iris Irish
joss josh
lass lash
lease leash
mass mash
mess mesh
muss mush
office offish
Paris parish
plus plush
puss push              


3.5 /ʃ/ as in share with /ʧ/ as in chair

initial medial final
had Chad

shaft chaffed
shah char
shan't chant
shard Chard
share chair
shat (vulgar / taboo) chat
shatter chatter
sheaf chief
shear / sheer cheer
sheet cheat
sherry cherry
shied chide
shilling chilling
shin chin
shine chine
shipboard chipboard
ship (vulgar / taboo) chip
shit chit
shock chock
shoe chew
shoo chew
shop chop
shopper chopper
shore chaw
shore chore
shows chose
shuck chuck
splosh splotch
swish switch              

fuchsia future

washer watcher              

bash batch

Boche botch
bush butch
cache catch
cash catch
chic cheek
crush crutch
dish ditch
hash hatch
hush hutch
lash latch
leash leach
leash leech
marsh march
mash match
mush much
nosh notch
push putsch
racial Rachel
rash ratch
reddish Redditch
wash watch
wish which
wish witch              


4 See also

  1. 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.

4.1 Other pages

Portal:Phonology