When /z/ becomes /ʒ/
Continuing the theme of how sounds in English can change, today we focus on the sound /z/, mainly represented by the letter ‘z’ like in ‘zebra’, ‘zigzag’ and ‘maze’. Sometimes /z/ is represented by the letter ‘s’ in final position. Some examples are ‘is/was’, ‘has’, ‘he’s/she’s’ and ‘-s’ endings on nouns and verbs which end with a voiced consonant sound (there will be an article about this) but some examples of this for now are verbs like ‘run – runs’, ‘come, comes’ and nouns like ‘rib – ribs’, ‘bag – bags’. You can hear these below:
For those unfamiliar with the phonemic symbol /ʒ/, you can hear this sound below:
This sound is usually in words like measure, treasure, usually, fusion, Asian. You can hear these below:
Sometimes, in English, the /z/ sound can become a /ʒ/ sound. We can see this with the words below. There is also an audio so you can hear this happening.
- “Is she here?” – /ɪʒ ʃi hɪə/
- “Was she happy?” – /wʌʒ ʃi hɪə/
- “Has shown” – /hæʒ ʃəʊn/
- “She’s shy” – /ʃi:ʒ ʃaɪ/
- “The knife is sharp” – /ðə naɪʃ ɪʒ ʃɑ:p/
- “The knife was sharp” – /ðə naɪʃ wʌʒ ʃɑ:p/
- “The food is cheap“ /ðə fu:d ɪʒ ʧi:p/
- “The food was cheap“ /ðə fu:d wʌʒ ʧi:p/
- “This is ginger“ /ðɪs ɪʒ ʤɪnʤe/
- “That is jam“ /ðɪs ɪʒ ʤæm/
Based on the examples above, we can hear that when /z/ is followed by words beginning with a /ʃ/ (represented by the letters ‘sh’), /ʧ/ (represented by the letters ‘ch’) and /ʤ/ (represented by the letters ‘j’ and sometimes ‘g’) it sounds more like a /ʒ/ sound.
Why do speakers do this?
With this pronunciation feature, we can see that it is easier to move from the /ʒ/ sound to the /ʃ/ /ʧ/ /ʤ/ sounds as presented in the examples above. The reason for this is that your mouth position with /ʒ/ is closer to the /ʃ/ /ʧ/ /ʤ/ sound than with /z/. You can see this below.
As a result, instead of making the /z/ sound your tongue makes a /ʒ/ sound to prepare easier connection with the next words beginning with /ʃ/ /ʧ/ /ʤ/.
Why might this be useful for teaching?
The pronunciation feature above relates to connected speech. Connected speech allows speakers to move more easily from one word to the next. This in turn helps develop your students’ speaking fluency. So the next time you see a /z/ sound followed by a /ʃ/ /ʧ/ /ʤ/ in your textbook, consider modelling it with a /ʒ/ instead.
Was this article useful for you? Is there anything you would like to add or correct? If so, please leave your comments below. We look forward to reading them.
Also, do not forget to download a poster for your classroom as a nice reminder for you and your students.