/s/ – apical or laminal

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I’ve been asked about the pronunciation of /s/ in initial strings of /str/.

I know that it is common to pronounce it with a post-alveolar, apical articulation in Glasgow and London (David Abercrombie was talking about its occurrence in Glasgow at least forty years ago, and I have heard it from many Londoners myself). I’m now being asked how prevalent it is in English as a whole, and as none of my pronouncing dictionaries mention it (why should they?), and John Wells’ Accents of English doesn’t either (unless I’m just not seeing it), I’m hoping that someone can throw more light on it. It’s not a variant I use myself, but that might also be a feature of my age.

Presumably, those who have the apical allophone use it also in their pronunciation of words such as syringe, when said in a single syllable: /srɪndʒ/.

2 Comments

  1. As far as I’m aware, this is individual, some laminal, some apical, unless there’s a contrast as in Russian. Then the laminal is the palatal, and the apical is the non-palatal (see for example Fant’s “Acoustic Theory of Speech Production” (1960). The vocal tract opens gradually behind the laminal constriction, and you get strong high frequency turbulence (hissing) up to 8kHz and beyond. Conversely, the apical constriction opens out abruptly and there’s little turbulence above about 5kHz. So all you need to do is record a number of people from the radio and check their /s/ on spectrograms. Use a decent microphone that will accept more than 10kHz.

  2. Sorry. The microphone advice looks odd. I was thinking about interviewing those Londoners. Recording from the radio is easier, use a suitable audio cable.

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