Final "s" in English

  • Nino83

    Senior Member
    Italian
    I'm not sure of what I'm saying (so wait for some expert in etymology and history of the English language).

    Us derives from the Old English us while as from the Old English alswa, so probably (?) that /s/ was just pronounced /z/ (but the word also < eallswa is pronounced with an /s/ so this explanation is not convincing).
    Another possible explanation is that in English personal pronouns are always at the end of a prosodic unit, while the word as is often placed before personal pronouns, that in English (except he/she) begin with vowel or voiced consonant, or before the definite and indefinite articles.
    These are only speculations.
     
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    merquiades

    Senior Member
    English (USA Northeast)
    /s/ bus, cuss, fuss, Gus, puss
    /z/ does
    /s/ ass, bass, gas, mass, pass
    /z/ as, has
    /s/ kiss, miss
    /z/ is, his

    Having gone through the mental list, it seems to me that words with "meaning" are with /s/, those that are purely grammatical (conjuctions, auxiliary verbs) have /z/.
     
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    Testing1234567

    Senior Member
    Cantonese
    /s/ bus, cuss, fuss, Gus, puss
    /z/ does
    /s/ ass, bass, gas, mass, pass
    /z/ as, has

    Having gone through the mental list, it seems to me that words with "meaning" are with /s/, those that are purely grammatical (conjuctions, auxiliary verbs) have /z/.
    It seems to me instead that "ss" is pronounced as /s/ while "s" is pronounced as /z/, in the word-final position.
     

    merquiades

    Senior Member
    English (USA Northeast)
    It seems to me instead that "ss" is pronounced as /s/ while "s" is pronounced as /z/, in the word-final position.
    I have learned never to rely on spelling in English just sound. Anything is possible in written English. Otherwise the s, ss would be logical: buss, uss. But there are so many instances when it is just the opposite. Desert, dessert, etc.
     

    Nino83

    Senior Member
    Italian
    It seems to me instead that "ss" is pronounced as /s/ while "s" is pronounced as /z/, in the word-final position.
    But gas and bus are spelled with a single /s/.

    Probably because grammatical words are in unstressed position while meaning words are at the end of prosodic unit, so after them there is a pause.

    I got on the bus | as you know | but I forgot | to punch the ticket |
    Really? | How is it possible? |

    Do you only refer to monosyllables? Otherwise, how do you pronounce the final s in houses..?
    When the /s/ comes after a voiced consonant of after a vowel, it is pronounced /z/, after unvoiced consonants it is pronounced /s/.
    works, loves, catches > wɜːks lʌvz kæʧɨz, so in houses it is pronounced /ɨz/.
     

    bearded

    Senior Member
    When the /s/ comes after a voiced consonant of after a vowel, it is pronounced /z/, after unvoiced consonants it is pronounced /s/.
    works, loves, catches > wɜːks lʌvz kæʧɨz, so in houses it is pronounced /ɨz/.
    Yes, I know that rule. I was only objecting to merquiades' statement ''words with meaning are with /s/''.
     

    Nino83

    Senior Member
    Italian
    Yes, I know that rule. I was only objecting to merquiades' statement ''words with meaning are with /s/''.
    Ah, ok.
    It seems that merquiades (correct me if I misunderstood) was referring to those nouns ending with an /s/ in the singular.
     

    Nino83

    Senior Member
    Italian
    About us, it is used in a similar position, i.e after the verb.

    He gave us | the book is placed at the end of the prosodic unit while He has got | a new car is placed in an unstressed pretonic position, inside the prosodic unit, so, probably, the /s/ assimilates partially with the following consonant/vowel.
     

    merquiades

    Senior Member
    English (USA Northeast)
    About us, it is used in a similar position, i.e after the verb.

    He gave us | the book is placed at the end of the prosodic unit while He has got | a new car is placed in an unstressed pretonic position, inside the prosodic unit, so, probably, the /s/ assimilates partially with the following consonant/vowel.
    Good point. The final -s in us seems to assimilate back and forth depending on what is following, and can even have an intermediate pronunciation. "Give uz the book" "He gave ussa book" "GIVE it to us/uz!" "Give it to USS!" Perhaps native speakers pay little attention to the pronunciation of the final -s which is why it was never standardized.
     

    Sobakus

    Senior Member
    I remember reading that during the Early Middle English period the voiceless and voiced fricatives split (ostensibly under French influence), wherein all grammatical monosyllables had their fricatives voiced. It's not just /s-z/, it's /θ-ð/ and /f-v/ (with the necessary exception of off) as well. This looks like simple untstressed lenition, same goes for the plural and 3p.sg. markers (a later development).
     
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    Scholiast

    Senior Member
    Greetings

    I fear there is no single or simple explanation for the inconsistency here, and at the risk (no, in the certainty) of complicating things further:

    (1) In some English dialects (Highland Scots, some Welsh and Irish accents) one hears "as", "is" and "has" with an unvoiced /s/. And in emphatic contexts ("He has to do this"), even RP speakers will sometimes pronounce "has" this way too.

    (2) Some words, mediated from Latin by Norman French ("cousin" > consanguineus, "cause" > causa), have an intervocalic voiced /z/ presumably because the French did already (and with the last example, so does Italian, cosa).

    (3) There are other monosyllabic written forms which show equal inconsistency: "hose", "pose" "rose", (with /z/), but "dose", "close" [adj.] (with /s/), "rouse" (/z/) but "louse" and "mouse" (/s/), "ease" (/z/) but "lease" (/s/) and these examples could surely be multiplied.

    (4) Then there are words such as "use", which are homographic, but whose function (in this instance, noun or verb) is determined by whether /z/ or /s/ is pronounced.

    No doubt some of these oddities can be explained by the words' individual lexical histories. But if there is a general rule, it must be one with so many exceptions as to be hardly useful.

    Σ
     

    berndf

    Moderator
    German (Germany)
    No doubt some of these oddities can be explained by the words' individual lexical histories. But if there is a general rule, it must be one with so many exceptions as to be hardly useful.
    That's how I see it as well. To make things worse, since the phonological development happened before fixing of the spelling, modern spellings are not always etymologically correct. E.g. the noun life and the adjective live appear similar in form but only the adjective had originally an intervocalic /f/: The noun is from the OE nominative lif (i.e. the modern -e is unetymological) whereas the adjective is derived from the OE dative of the noun (on life > alive > live).
     

    Scholiast

    Senior Member
    Greetings again

    Thanks, berndf, for your learned ("learnèd", that is!) agreement. After posting #16 I thought also of "lose" (vb. - /z/) and "loose" (vb. & adj. - /s/), cognate from PIE *leu- (Gk λύειν), differentiated of course both in orthography and pronunciation, but in writing it is, irrationally, the doubled -oo- that indicates the difference.

    Σ

    Edit: and another oddity: "mousy" (/s/) but "lousy" (/z/); whereas "house" (vb)/"house" (noun) corresponds with "use" (vb)/"use" (noun) in its differentiation.
     
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    Nino83

    Senior Member
    Italian
    Hi, Scholiast, Bernd.
    You're speaking of intervocalic /s/ within a single word, while it seems to me that testing was asking why the final written /s/ in some monosyllabic words is pronounced /s/ and in other ones it is pronounced /z/.
     

    Scholiast

    Senior Member
    Ciao Nino83
    Hi, Scholiast, Bernd.
    You're speaking of intervocalic /s/ within a single words, while it seems to me that testing was asking why the final /s/ in some monosyllabic words is pronounced /s/ and in other ones it is pronounced /z/.
    Take out (2) from the list...
    (1) In some English dialects (Highland Scots, some Welsh and Irish accents) one hears "as", "is" and "has" with an unvoiced /s/. And in emphatic contexts ("He has to do this"), even RP speakers will sometimes pronounce "has" this way too.

    (2) Some words, mediated from Latin by Norman French ("cousin" > consanguineus, "cause" > causa), have an intervocalic voiced /z/ presumably because the French did already (and with the last example, so does Italian, cosa). :cross:

    (3) There are other monosyllabic written forms which show equal inconsistency: "hose", "pose" "rose", (with /z/), but "dose", "close" [adj.] (with /s/), "rouse" (/z/) but "louse" and "mouse" (/s/), "ease" (/z/) but "lease" (/s/) and these examples could surely be multiplied.

    (4) Then there are words such as "use", which are homographic, but whose function (in this instance, noun or verb) is determined by whether /z/ or /s/ is pronounced.
    ...and the point stands. Cf. also my later #18.

    Σ
     

    berndf

    Moderator
    German (Germany)
    Hi, Scholiast, Bernd.
    You're speaking of intervocalic /s/ within a single word, while it seems to me that testing was asking why the final written /s/ in some monosyllabic words is pronounced /s/ and in other ones it is pronounced /z/.
    Final voiced fricatives are non-native in English. The standard explanation for their existence is a lost vowel, usually indicated in writing by a mute <e>. We are concentrating on "exceptions", i.e. on cases where this general heuristic fails.
     

    gburtonio

    Senior Member
    UK, English
    (1) In some English dialects (Highland Scots, some Welsh and Irish accents) one hears "as", "is" and "has" with an unvoiced /s/. And in emphatic contexts ("He has to do this"), even RP speakers will sometimes pronounce "has" this way too.
    I'm not convinced this is significant. I (RP speaker) pronounce 'has' with a final /s/ before 'to do this', but I do this in any context, not just an emphatic one. It seems to me to be a case of assimilation – the fortis plosive /t/ in 'to' influencing the final /z/ in 'has', so that it becomes /s/ . Conversely, I don't think an RP speaker would pronounce 'has' with /s/ in the emphatic phrases 'He has been there before' or 'It has started to rain' – it would remain /z/. Also, in the short answer form 'Yes, he has' (e.g. in response to the question 'Has he been there before') would always be with /z/.
     

    Scholiast

    Senior Member
    Greetings
    ...I (RP speaker) pronounce 'has' with a final /s/ before 'to do this', but I do this in any context, not just an emphatic one. It seems to me to be a case of assimilation – the fortis plosive /t/ in 'to' influencing the final /z/ in 'has', so that it becomes /s/ . Conversely, I don't think an RP speaker would pronounce 'has' with /s/ in the emphatic phrases 'He has been there before' or 'It has started to rain' – it would remain /z/. Also, in the short answer form 'Yes, he has' (e.g. in response to the question 'Has he been there before') would always be with /z/.
    Granted. I was premature. "He has been there..." (emphatic) elicits /z/, even before most unvoiced consonants. "He has posted the letter".
    Perhaps "He has to..." is then just another of the innumerable "exceptions" which prove that there is no satisfactory rule.
    Σ

    Edit: But "It's started to rain" would always be "It'/s/ started to rain", would it not?
     
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    Sobakus

    Senior Member
    This doesn't explain why it is both of and off and not *ov and off and why us is unvoiced and is voiced.
    Erm, the difference between NE of and off is in the voicing – the second one in all likeliness had double /f/ at the time of the split, which remained voiceless in lenis position. The reason for all the cases of voiced in verbs/voiceless in nouns and adjectives (Scholiasts's #3,4) is no secret – verbal endings had caused the voicing, while the spelling is unetymological and simply indicates vowel length. Lease comes from French laisser, so, again, the double consonant didn't voice. Neither mouse nor louse had an ending since PGmc. – the reason for the current spelling is unclear. For us, one explanation I can come up with is the Norse oss – and seeing as ON pronouns were outright borrowed into English, this seems quite plausible. Another possibility is pronouns being more often stressed than prepositions – but I can't say if they are and by how much without statistics.
     
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    berndf

    Moderator
    German (Germany)
    Erm, the difference between NE of and off is in the voicing
    The question was: Why isn't of systematically voiced (as one would expect, if you explanation were sufficient) and not only in assimilations (i.e. in the sequence of the). It is undisputed that off is always unvoiced because the f was originally long.
    Lease comes from French laisser, so, again, the double consonant didn't voice.
    That is obviously irrelevant. Lease follows the same paradigm as many other pairs: s is voiced in the verb but not in the noun. (see below)
    Neither mouse nor louse had an ending since PGmc.
    Exactly. Therefore one would expect the singular to be unvoiced and the plural to be voiced (as it is in German). But why is it exactly the other way round in English?
     
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    Scholiast

    Senior Member
    Greetings all round
    Lease follows the same paradigm as many other pairs: s is voiced in the verb but not in the noun.
    Sorry, berndf, not this time: both noun and verb "lease" have an unvoiced /s/.

    And as a footnote to my posts ## 18 and 23, in emphatic contexts, the v in "they have to" may be unvoiced as well.

    Σ
     

    Sobakus

    Senior Member
    The question was: Why isn't of systematically voiced (as one would expect, if you explanation were sufficient) and not only in assimilations (i.e. in the sequence of the). It is undisputed that off is always unvoiced because the f was originally long.
    Of is systematically voiced in English, berndf. The only context where it's fully devoiced I can think of is before another [f] and possibly [θ] and in some accents – it stays partially voiced before voiceless stops in careful speech. Likewise, off is never voiced. Both facts are fundamental for their distinction.
    Exactly. Therefore one would expect the singular to be unvoiced and the plural to be voiced (as it is in German). But why is it exactly the other way round in English?
    It's not. It's /s/ in both singular and plural of both words. The plural is unvoiced because the vowel in it had been lost well before the split.

    If you aren't willing to take my word for it, check any dictionary.
     
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