pronunciation: /s/ vs. /z/ [bison, prison]

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alpq

New Member
Spanish - Spain
I don't really know why the word bison is pronounced with /s/ and the word prison is pronounced with /z/ when they both have similar context, and as far as I know, "s" between vowels is pronounced /z/.

Thanks :)
 
  • Florentia52

    Modwoman in the attic
    English - United States
    Welcome to the forum, alpq!

    English is a confusing language, particularly in terms of spelling and pronunciation. An "s" between two vowels may be pronounced as /z/ or as /s/, depending on the word. The former is more common, but not the rule. For example: casement, basement, mason, basin.
     

    Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    Welcome to the forums, alpq:).

    No, I don't know either. English spelling tends to be historically-based, so the reason is probably something to do with the history of the word.

    =======

    Cross-posted....
     
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    alpq

    New Member
    Spanish - Spain
    Thanks for your welcome and for the reply!

    And you know why klutz sounds /s/ and loose too? I'm not able to get a convincing answer for this anywhere...
     

    JulianStuart

    Senior Member
    English (UK then US)
    Same answer as above:D English has incorporated many words from other languages and there is no national authority to enforce a particular spelling or pronunciation. That's why it seems, to someone frrom a country where you can pronounce a word correctly just by looking at it, to be a "mess" - it IS a mess :(
    Choose has a z sound but loose has an s sound and lose has a z sound but an ooh vowel while choze (chose) is a z sound with an oh vowel :(
     
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    wind-sky-wind

    Senior Member
    Japanese
    As George Bernard Shaw said "fish" could be spelled as "ghoti," English is not phonetic unlike Spanish or German.
    In fact, -s in "close" sounds /s/ in the sense of "near," and /z/ in the sense of "to shut."

    There's no reason "lose" sounds /z/ but "loose" sounds /s/.
    Anyway, -se can sound both /s/ and /z," while -ce just sounds /s/.
     

    Wordsmyth

    Senior Member
    Native language: English (BrE)
    [...] And you know why klutz sounds /s/ and loose too? I'm not able to get a convincing answer for this anywhere...
    Welcome to WRF, alpq.

    As Loob said, the historical origins of a word may well influence the pronunciation. "Loose" comes from Old Norse "lauss"; "klutz" is from Yiddish "klots". The spelling of "klutz" reflects the German word "klotz", which nonetheless has an /s/ sound. In fact it's virtually impossible to pronounce <tz> with a /z/ sound; if you force it, the t becomes a d; (similarly, it's virtually impossible to pronounce <ds> with an /s/ sound without the d becoming a t).

    The historical approach may or may not work for prison/bison: "prison" comes from Old French, so the /z/ sound is normal. But "bison" is also attributed by some sources to Old French, so you might expect a /z/ sound there too. Other sources give "bison" as coming (directly?) from Latin, which might justify the /s/ sound — but we're into the realms of speculation there.
    [...] while choze is a z sound with an oh vowel :(
    "Choze"?!:p

    Ws:)
     

    natkretep

    Moderato con anima (English Only)
    English (Singapore/UK), basic Chinese
    I think it is to do with the fact that prison is a relatively common word and bison a relatively uncommon word. Prison maintained the /z/ from French. Bison has been strongly anglicised, and the long English vowel (as in guise or prize) is normal for the first syllable as is the /s/. (The OED does actually give /ˈbɪzən/ as a possible pronunciation.)
     

    Wordsmyth

    Senior Member
    Native language: English (BrE)
    [...] the long English vowel (as in guise or prize) is normal for the first syllable as is the /s/. [...]
    I quite agree, Nat, that someone seeing bison for the first time would instinctively go for the 'long' i. But are you suggesting that the intervocal <s>, following a 'long' vowel, is more normally pronounced as /s/ than as /z/? There are a lot where that's true, but there are also plenty where it's not: rising, visor, posing, hosing, rosary, laser, nasal, nosy, reason, Susan, etc, etc ... enough that I wouldn't say the /s/ sound is the norm.

    Ws:)
     

    natkretep

    Moderato con anima (English Only)
    English (Singapore/UK), basic Chinese
    Yes, loads of cases of ordinary English words with <s> between vowels pronounced /z/ although we also have words like mason and basin. I'm supposing that if you're looking at the word and don't know it's from French, then there's a greater likelihood to go for /s/, particularly for AmE. After all, bisons are more common in North America. We know this preference for /s/ in eraser and Teresa where /z/ in the norm in BrE.
     

    Mahantongo

    Senior Member
    English (U.S.)
    I don't really know why the word bison is pronounced with /s/ and the word prison is pronounced with /z/ when they both have similar context,
    They don't have a similar context; they entered English at different times, and a jail is very little like the animal my fellow speakers of AE commonly call a buffalo.

    and as far as I know, "s" between vowels is pronounced /z/.
    No, not always. What about "mason", or "basin", or "cosigner"?

    I think you are looking for a rule where no rule exists. As with most English words, you should not expect the pronunciation to follow the orthography.
     
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