"sr" cluster

Kookland

Member
Scotland, English
Why is it that English strongly disfavors the consonant cluster "sr" while strongly allowing the consonant cluster "sl" in "slap", "sleep" etc.? "Sri" is often pronounced "shree" by people rather than "sree".
 
  • timpeac

    Senior Member
    English (England)
    Why is it that English strongly disfavors the consonant cluster "sr" while strongly allowing the consonant cluster "sl" in "slap", "sleep" etc.? "Sri" is often pronounced "shree" by people rather than "sree".​
    A linguistic answer would be because /sr/ doens't enter into the phonological inventory of English, which is smoke and mirrors for saying "just because!";).

    Joking apart - I'm not sure how you can intellectualise such a question. We are perfectly capable as human beings of pronouncing [sr] so I suppose the reason it doesn't exist in English is based on historical reasons and the make-up of the languages that came to make up English. There is a mind-boggling large number of sounds that a human being can produce and are distinctive enough to be audibly different, but you don't find them all in any one language. I suppose this is because we tend to be conservative, or lazy if you like, by nature - so why have 500 meaningful sounds if 50 will give you all the clarity in speech you need? You are right, though, to think that it is because "sr" doesn't exist in native words people tend to say "shri" for foreign words that contain that combination.
     

    Kookland

    Member
    Scotland, English
    A linguistic answer would be because /sr/ doens't enter into the phonological inventory of English, which is smoke and mirrors for saying "just because!".

    /s/ appears to be the consonant that allows the most clusters in English, though for some reason /sr/ is not one of them. I think your response is probably right.
     

    dwipper

    Senior Member
    U.S. English
    I've been sitting here for the last ten minutes trying to find any logical reason this is the case, but I haven't figured it out yet. The reason we change it to and 'sh' is fairly clear--it's closer to the retroflex 'r' than 's' is. However, I can't for the life of me figure out why we would struggle with 'sr.'

    One thing that I just noticed that might be related is the 'r' in 'thr.' When I pronounce 'three,' for example, it isn't the usual /ɻ/, but instead either /ɾ/ or /ɹ/. I wonder if we struggle going from the forward fricatives to mid-back approximates.
     

    timpeac

    Senior Member
    English (England)
    I've been sitting here for the last ten minutes trying to find any logical reason this is the case, but I haven't figured it out yet. The reason we change it to and 'sh' is fairly clear--it's closer to the retroflex 'r' than 's' is. However, I can't for the life of me figure out why we would struggle with 'sr.'
    I think it's because we're not used to it. I'm sure any English speaker could say [sr] if they tried but because we have no words where we do it our brains just aren't wired to do it automatically and so we go for our nearest native equivalent (bearing in mind that most people aren't thinking this deeply about it, they are just saying where they are going on holiday or whatever. Moreover, we are used to foreign words not necessarily being pronounced as the might look to us anyway and so if we hear a few people saying "shri" then we probably wouldn't question it).
     

    foxfirebrand

    Senior Member
    Southern AE greatly modified by a 1st-generation Scottish-American mother, and growing up abroad.
    High-octane hot sauce is a staple in my household, and the brand we use happens to be Sri Racha-- nobody including the youngest kids has ever had a problem pronouncing it.

    We also say Sri Lanka, but I was under the impression that the authentic pronunciation involved the /sh/ sound.

    What about the /sr/ combination in other positions in a word? It doesn't seem anyone has problems pronouncing "misread," for example, or "disrupt."
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    timpeac

    Senior Member
    English (England)
    What about the /sr/ combination in other positions in a word? It doesn't seem anyone has problems pronouncing "misread," for example, or "disrupt."
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    Good point. This goes to show there is nothing physical that implies we should avoid [sr] and so we must just avoid it through "instinct" at the start of the word because our brains tell us that "words just don't start with [sr]" (well they don't as far as they are concerned since they are schooled in English). There are other examples of sounds that just exist inside a word and not at the start in English such as the unaspirated /p/ in "spin" (if you take a recording of someone saying "spin" and chop off the "s" it sounds phonologically closest to a /b/ although it is a fortis /p/ without the aspiration it would have at the start of a word).

    By the way, I thought the proper pronunciation was [sri] (I do say "shri" though). I think I think that because it always sounds like people are making an effort when they say [sri] lanka so I've assumed it's because they know it's right like that - perhaps they are mistaken.
     

    Kookland

    Member
    Scotland, English
    Good point. This goes to show there is nothing physical that implies we should avoid [sr] and so we must
    However, in "misread" and "disrupt" the "s" and the "r" are in different syllables whereas in "Sri" both the "s" and the "r" are in the same syllable.
     

    dwipper

    Senior Member
    U.S. English
    However, in "misread" and "disrupt" the "s" and the "r" are in different syllables whereas in "Sri" both the "s" and the "r" are in the same syllable.

    You beat me to it. Are there any phonotactics experts around? I think that fricatives are higher on the sonority hierarchy than approximants, which means that it should be a natural phonation. It must just be that it doesn't occur much in English.
     

    timpeac

    Senior Member
    English (England)
    You beat me to it. Are there any phonotactics experts around? I think that fricatives are higher on the sonority hierarchy than approximants, which means that it should be a natural phonation. It must just be that it doesn't occur much in English.
    Yes - I think so. And when people's control breaks down, when they're drunk for example, you do hear them say "mishread" etc.
     

    . 1

    Banned
    Australian Australia
    Why is it that English strongly disfavors the consonant cluster "sr" while strongly allowing the consonant cluster "sl" in "slap", "sleep" etc.? "Sri" is often pronounced "shree" by people rather than "sree".​
    I can find no English words beginning with sri.
    Do you have any examples of such words?

    .,,
     

    ireney

    Senior Member
    Greek Greece Mod of Greek, CC and CD
    Why does Greek disfavour "sh" although we're perfectly capable of saying it? Why does the english language have against the greek gamma and delta sounds (modern Greek pronunciation) while English native speakers are quite able to pronounce both?

    Who knows? Linguists I suppose.
     

    foxfirebrand

    Senior Member
    Southern AE greatly modified by a 1st-generation Scottish-American mother, and growing up abroad.
    I can find no English words beginning with sri.
    Do you have any examples of such words?

    .,,
    Well, since we've brought intoxicated linguistics into the discussion, I am sure I've heard the phrase "srickly speaking" in an argument or two.
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