English: voiced pronunciation with -ss- spelling

Discussion in 'Etymology, History of languages and Linguistics (EHL)' started by jkerchek, Apr 7, 2014.

  1. jkerchek Member

    Hong Kong
    Has anyone noticed some words with ss have very irregular and strange reading
    such as dissect and dessert

    dis-sect should never read die-sect
    des-sert should never read dizurt
    Does anyone know reasons?

    There are more examples for the corrupted ss -> z
    scissors, possess, dissolve
    Is there any rule for the ss->z corruption?
  2. origumi Senior Member

  3. CapnPrep Senior Member

    A lack of discipline, and perhaps some kind of mental deficiency? :D Actually, if you consider illiteracy a mental deficiency, that is actually part of the answer. You say that "des-sert should never read dizurt" but this means nothing to people who don't read at all. And voicing of intervocalic is a rather common phenomenon, although it is not a regular change in modern English.
    Scissors actually goes the other way. The original pronunciation was [z] and it was originally spelled with one "s" (Anglo-Norman cisours, cf. modern French ciseau). In this case, literacy got in the way and the spelling was "corrupted" by people who knew too much Latin for their own good.
  4. jkerchek Member

    Hong Kong
    Very true
    But I think there must be some reasons for other words
  5. Sepia Senior Member

    High German/Danish

    It is not really because of the double consonant. At least it is not the only reason. It is because it makes one of the "s" belong to the previous syllable.

    Like in "sister" and "dial".

    But the question "why" is really a tricky one. Because at some time in the evolution of the language enough people thought ist would be a good idea to write such a sound in exactly this way.

    The system works even in a number of romance languages too. But, hey, not in Spanish. For some reason they tend to avoid double consonants.
  6. CapnPrep Senior Member

    For some reason they tend to avoid the sound [z] altogether… Talk about corrupted pronunciation. :D But at least they had the decency to update their spelling.
  7. Cenzontle

    Cenzontle Senior Member

    English, U.S.
    Sepia, are there Romance languages with inconsistencies or exceptions to VsV = [z], VssV = ?
    Add to the list of English words in which -ss- = [z]: the place name "Missouri".
    The University of Missouri, especially in the context of sports, has the nickname "Mizzou".
  8. berndf Moderator

    German (Germany)
    You find intervocalic <s> that is not voiced in some Italian words. Spanish doesn't have the [z] sound at all, so that doesn't count (as CapnPrep said above). I am not aware of a voiced <ss> in any. In languages that maintained <ss> not only orthographically but also phonetically, like Italian, that would be extremely unlikely as a long /s:/ prevents intervocalic voicing quite effectively. But it could theoretically happen in French as /s:/ doesn't exist any more (at least not phonemically distinct from /s/) but it doesn't and a can't tell why. In German you observe the same: /s:/ and /s/ are phonetically merged and are purely orthographic today but there is no voiced <ss>. There the reason is because the voicing of intervocalic /s/ happened earlier that the decay of /s:/, so this might be also the reason in French.

    I presume that in English the process of voicing of intervocalic /s/ continued after the merger of /s:/ and /s/ had been completed and therefore also affected <ss> in some words which at that time was already purely orthographic.
  9. jkerchek Member

    Hong Kong
    How about dissect?
    I haven't found a single exception for dis-s reading dies.
  10. berndf Moderator

    German (Germany)
    You are trying to make sense of English pronunciation of Latin words? Doesn't you think that's asking a bit much. :D
  11. Cenzontle

    Cenzontle Senior Member

    English, U.S.
    I sent a post that seems to have disappeared. Maybe there's a rule against consecutive postings.
    In that note, I suggested that the "die" pronunciation of "dissect" may be due to influence from "bisect", whose first syllable is always like "buy", not "bih".
    (Incidentally, the "die" pronunciation is an option given in Webster's Third International Dictionary, but not in the OED. A.E. vs. B.E.?)
    Similarly, contamination from one word to another may be at work in "dissolve"—perhaps influenced by the [z] sound of "resolve"?
  12. Sibutlasi

    Sibutlasi Senior Member

    Actually, that is not true: whenever syllable-final "s" is followed by a syllable starting with a voiced consonant, it is pronounced [z], as in "lesbiana", "desviación", "desde", "riesgo", "sesgo", "isla", "Esla", "islámico", "mismo", "chusma", "asno", "asram"....etc. On the contrary, that never happens when a vowel follows "s" inside a word, because in that case "s" must be syllable-initial and so voiceless, i.e., . Across word boundaries, finally, a syllable- (and word)-final "-s" may or may not be asimilated to a following vowel or voiced consonant, as in "...es en Madrid" or "...es de Madrid", depending on how carefully and how fast the speaker articulates such sequences. So, why an intervocalic (and syllable initial) "s" cannot be realized as [z] requires as much explanation in Spanish as it does in other languages, even if Spanish has no phonemic s/z contrast (which may be what you meant).

  13. berndf Moderator

    German (Germany)
    Yes indeed.
  14. CapnPrep Senior Member

    I would say the -ss- is pronounced as so why are we discussing it in this thread? :)
    Actually, I believe you have… :rolleyes: And here's another one: dissyllabic.
    In these two cases, if it makes you so upset, you can choose a different pronunciation of dissect (with [dɪ]) and a different spelling for disyllabic (with only one "s"). And you can look down your nose at everyone who does it different because you know English better than them. Isn't that nice?
  15. jkerchek Member

    Hong Kong
    Make sense!

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