LINGUIST List 5.507

Mon 02 May 1994

Sum: /s/ -> [sh] in 'str' clusters and other environments

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  1. Dan Alford, Summary: /s/ -> [sh] in 'str' clusters and other environments

Message 1: Summary: /s/ -> [sh] in 'str' clusters and other environments

Date: Mon, 2 May 1994 09:28:19 +Summary: /s/ -> [sh] in 'str' clusters and other environments
From: Dan Alford <dalfords1.csuhayward.edu>
Subject: Summary: /s/ -> [sh] in 'str' clusters and other environments


A few weeks ago, I posted a query to LINGUIST regarding ess -> esh
changes I { had been watching for some months in words such as
Street, Straight, deStroy, conStruct, inStructor, etc., where TSU is
either a full esh or something similar. Beyond this /s/->[S] /__tr set
of words, more anomalous ones include deScribe, reSpect,
anniverSary and State. Thirty people replied within about a week.

My thanks to the following respondents: Laurie Bauer (VUW, NEW
ZEALAND), Henry Churchyard (UTEXAS), Don Churma (BSU), Pat Crowe
(SUNY, BUFFALO), Willem de Reuse (UARIZONA), Michael-Jean Erard
(UTEXAS), Maik Gibson (READING, UK), Gladney (UIUC), Guy Haas
(Informix), Mike Inouye, Gregg Kinkley (UHCC, HAWAII), Randy LaPolla
(USINICA, TAIWAN), Paul Listen (BERKELEY), Jules F. Levin (UCR),
Maryellen MacDonald (USC), Jack Martin (WM), Thomas Maxfield
(UMASS), Marjory Meechan (UOTTOWA, CANADA), Marlene Abrams
Miller (BERKELEY), Amoena Norcross (CLEMSON), David Parkinson
(CORNELL), Marc Picard (CONCORDIA, CANADA), Karen Robblee (PSU),
Henry Rogers (UTORONTO, CANADA), Bob Rothstein (UMASS), Mary
Ellen Ryder (IDBSU), Hal Schiffman (UWASHINGTON), Steve Seegmiller
(MONTCLAIR, NJ), Linda Shockey (READING, UK), Joseph Stemberger
(UMN). My apologies to those few above I didnUt post my thanks to
personally when their postings arrived.

NOTICING THE PHENOMENON

One respondent copped to being a native speaker of this after trying it
out in his/her own mouth; background = predominantly Cape Cod (via
mother), with Western PA, Brooklyn (via dad) and NYCUs northern
suburbs. RI realize IUve been giving a [Str] to RstrS words, probably for
all my life.S (Crowe)

I mentioned Tdoing Christian SlaterU as a term some students use in
describing the phenomenon, to which Parkinson replied that
substituting s->sh/_tr gives him a dead ringer Slater voice in his
head. Others mentioned hearing this in Holly Hunter, possibly Eddie
Murphy, Luci Tapahonso (a Navajo poet writing in English) (de Reuse),
and even Richard Nixon (Miller) -- while in a more general manner
still others mentioned hearing it quite often on NPR & local affiliates
(Rothstein), in young (15-25) speakers (Listen), and in the entire male
cast of R90210S (Inouye).

Shockey remembers hearing the phenomenon at Ohio State in early
60s-70s, especially in students from Connecticut and New Jersey,
though never before /pr/ or /kr/. Maxfield remembers hearing, in T89,
a Jewish woman and other friends from Forest Hills (some as early as
T78), especially TstreetU and TstraightU; many people noticed it in their
pronunciation of TinStructorU, and wondered if there were any Yiddish
influence going on. Martin, inspired by the posting, says a quick hand
count of students, mostly from Virginia, showed that a number of
them do indeed have [S] in TrestrainU.

In a more global dialectal vein, Bauer writes from down under that
R[S] for [s] is common in New Zealand where the last sound in the
cluster is a palatal or [r].... I have not noticed it over stops other than
/t/, which would figure if it really is regressive assimilation of
place.... Incidentally, it has been suggested to me that this feature is
regional within NZ.S Kinkley notes, Rthe retroflexion phenomenon you
allude to...is well-known and widely-spread...in Hawaii. It is one of
the ways to tell native-born, but TcorrectU English-speaking TnativesU
around here. Even newscasters will be caught saying ThishtoryU or
TshtreetU without realizing it. I lived in Honolulu from 1975-1982,
when it was already well-established...it still abounds. I did not hear
it on the mainland though (So. Indiana and No. Illinois) in an 8-year
hiatus.S From England, Gibson notes that beyond the [shtr] found
especially in non-standard South-Eastern varieties, a broad Cockney
accent seems to have some backing of ess in RstS, especially strong
when /r/ is involved. And, back in mainland U.S., Seegmiller notes
that the phenomenon Ris one of the shibboleths of our speech
departmentUs Taccent reductionU course. Pronunciations like TshtreetU
have long been on the list of impermissible features, which leads me
to believe that it has been around for a long time.S

Stemberger says itUs been around for a long time, and wonders why it
is that IUm just now noticing it, while MacDonald reports its
existence in central and northern Texas, in fairly upper class dialects
-- noting that most politicians have it, and that itUs been around for a
few decades.

On the negative side, reacting to my proffered possibility of this as a
southern-based phenomenon, Norcross notes that, living in South
Carolina for 7 years, sheUs never heard it in coastal, midlands, or
mountain regions there, and a couple of natives of such she checked
with Rfound it hard to doS. Rogers argues that since /sh/ -> [s] in
shrimp, shrine, shroud, etc., in much of the US south, this is probably
NOT a southern retroflex assimilation.

As you can clearly see, these citations are from all over the map, as
it were, suggesting that while this phenomenon may be found in local
dialects, this is not merely a local dialect issue.

POSSIBLE MOTIVATIONS/EXPLANATIONS

Stemberger and Martin both see this as a straightforward
assimilation of /s/ to the palatoalveolar place of articulation of /r/,
and /t/ also assimilates, starting with /tr/ as [ch], then extending to
the assimilation of /s/ as [S]. Stemberger adds that this is not fully
general in the US, that there is no tendency for all dialects to have
[sh], but it is nonetheless a long-standing pronuncation in some
dialects. Others also mentioned /tr/ -> [chr] as in RchrainS &
RchruckS, but allowed that it is hard to explain some of the other
examples. (Parkinson, Shockey, Meechan) Picard mentioned the same
/t/->[ch]/_r as showing up in KahnUs _Syllable-Based Generalizations
in English Phonology_, adding the pasture/mixture/gesture examples
mentioned by others.

Churma notes, RIUm not sure IUd refer to this as an TalternationU: it
seems quite systematic for a given speaker.S I agree, though I meant
TalternationU in a dialectal rather than idiolectal sense.

And in a particularly poignant response, Miller (realizing that this Ris
the sort of hypothesis that would have guaranteed being shot down in
flames when I was in schoolS) was Rwondering how much this is a
sound change. Projecting from my own history, I wonder if what these
people have in common is that they used to lisp and had some sort of
speech therapy somewhere along the line...[where] they were drilled
more on syllable-initial and isolated occurences of ess than in
complex clusters.S Counterbalancing SeegmillerUs shibboleth, she
reasons that since especially newscasters Rhave been evaluated,
however subconsciously, by their producers and found to speak
acceptably,... I think that argues for good old allophonic alternation, if
I may use so old-fashioned a phrase, that in whatever this
environment is, esh is accepted as ess. Maybe it isnUt new at all.S

RELATED PAPERS

Robblee reports that RMichael Shapiro has an article coming out in
American Speech (TA Case of Distant Assimilation: /str/ > /shtr/U).
His description is consistent with your observation that the
phenomenon is not regional, and he suggests that the initial fricative
may be a retroflex assimilating to /r/ without any such change in the
/t/.S Stemberger has a half-written paper on the phonological
representation of liquids and glides in English, and Churma adds,
concerning my Rforay into pharmacological linguistics,S that the
interested reader may check RThe Phonology of DrunkennessS by
Lester & Skousen in a 1974 CLS paravolume on Natural Phonology,
where /s/->[S] everywhere.

RELATED SIDE-ISSUES

Levin wonders if this has any relation to the lateral [s] of Bogart,
while Parkinson goes further with what he calls STHE (Standard
Thirties Hollywood English) of Bogart, Cagney, Jimmy Stewart, etc.:
RShay you wizheguyzh, thereUzh gonna be some changezh around here,
shee?S. He wonders whether STHE was real or merely a Hollywood
invention. (or does this relate to pharmacological linguistics?)

In a related reply, Schiffman notes lots of [S] for /s/ in the
southwest cowboy sort of macho voice from Texas, NM, etc., and as
well in professional and other women who want to sound tough, such
as social workers. He also writes: RLabov reports [S] before /t/ in
South PA dialect, which is considered highly stigmatized; it has been
proposed that it comes into this dialect from the Neapolitan dialect
of Italian.S He notes Richard Valeriani at NBC doing this, as in Rshtate
departmentS, and wonders about his possible S. Philly background.

Various people noted ess/esh distinctions in words like grocer(y,
ies), anniversary, and sociology/sociolinguistics, although I always
thought the last came from the unofficial contraction in class
designations such as SOC 101.

CONCLUSION

Finally, no respondent mentioned this next possibility for the RstrS
phenomenon, which came from the students in my RStudy of LanguageS
class -- and actually, it seems to fit the facts quite nicely, and can
be tried out on your own. If you hold your jaws clenched together and
attempt to pronounce the suspect words, the tongue does not reach
the target [s] position, instead tipping up slightly into an apical-ess,
which can easily be confused acoustically with a full esh. Some
dialects may have a clenched-jaw phonetic set of the mouth, and this
effect can also occur through mandibular swelling and, as one student
mentioned, prolonged use of methamphetamine (TwiredU); one student,
a nurse, couldnUt even hear the str/Str difference until she mimicked
having her own jaws wired shut.

All in all, this was a wonderfully exciting romp in the mouth -- an
unfolding discovery process with input from around the globe. Thanks
again to the contributors for fascinating reading.

 -- Dan Moonhawk Alford ny relation to the lateral [s] of Bogart,
while Parkinson goes further with what he calls STHE (Standard
Thirties Hollywood English) of Bogart, Cagney, Jimmy Stewart, etc.:
RShay you wizheguyzh, thereUzh gonna be some changezh around here,
shee?S. He wonders whether STHE was real or merely a Hollywood
invention. (or does this relate to pharmacological linguistics?)

In a related reply, Schiffman notes lots of [S] for /s/ in the
southwest cowboy sort of macho voice from Texas, NM, etc., and as
well in professional and other women who want to sound tough, such
as social workers. He also writes: RLabov reports [S] before /t/ in
South PA dialect, which is considered highly stigmatized; it has been
proposed that it comes into this dialect from the Neapolitan dialect
of Italian.S He notes Richard Valeriani at NBC doing this, as in Rshtate
departmentS, and wonders about his possible S. Philly background.

Various people noted ess/esh distinctions in words like grocer(y,
ies), anniversary, and sociology/sociolinguistics, although I always
thought the last came from the unofficial contraction in class
designations such as SOC 101.

CONCLUSION

Finally, no respondent mentioned this next possibility for the RstrS
phenomenon, which came from the students in my RStudy of LanguageS
class -- and actually, it seems to fit the facts quite nicely, and can
be tried out on your own. If you hold your jaws clenched together and
attempt to pronounce the suspect words, the tongue does not reach
the target [s] position, instead tipping up slightly into an apical-ess,
which can easily be confused acoustically with a full esh. Some
dialects may have a clenched-jaw phonetic set of the mouth, and this
effect can also occur through mandibular swelling and, as one student
mentioned, prolonged use of methamphetamine (TwiredU); one student,
a nurse, couldnUt even hear the str/Str difference until she mimicked
having her own jaws wired shut.

All in all, this was a wonderfully exciting romp in the mouth -- an
unfolding discovery process with input from around the globe. Thanks
again to the contributors for fascinating reading.

 -- Dan Moonhawk Alford %->)
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