Thursday, October 7, 2010





/s/ and /z/ sounds can be taken as two problematic sounds that Sri Lankans have when they get familiar with Standard English. If we take these sounds separately it is clearly evident the fact that these two sounds have different value.
 According to Charles Kenneth Thomas’ description in his book on the phonetics of American English he describes the sound /s/ as “a voiceless alveolar fricative which requires a delicate adjustment of the speech mechanism.”[pg55] Next he scientifically explains what exactly happens when pronouncing the /s/ sound. “First the sides of the tongue must be raised enough to force the air through a narrow groove along the mid line of the tongue. Then the air must be directed against the cutting edges of the lower teeth the velar valve must be closed, and the jaw must be high enough to bring the teeth together or almost together. The tip of the tongue must not come in contact with either the upper teeth or the upper gums.”[pg55]
And also he defines the sound /z/ as “a voiced alveolar fricative formed with substantially the same tongue position as /s/ but with the vocal bands vibrating and with slightly less breath force” [pg57]
The sound /s/ “occurs in initial position in the words like sit /sit/, same /se:m/. Medial position in the words like essay /ese: /. Final position in the words like chess /t∫  es/, bus /bΛs/, hiss /his/. In word initial cluster snake /sne:k/, smoke /smo:k/, slow /slo:/. And also it occur in the words final cluster tents /tents/, lips /lips/, texts /teksts/”.[Gimson 185]  
“/s/ occurs with variety of spellings, for example s in the words like see, ss in pass, sc in scent, sch in schism, c in race and z in waltz. The letter x represents /ks/ in box. The letter s, on the other hand represents a variety of other sounds as in sure, rose and measure. It is silent in a few words, such as island.” [Thomas 56]
The sound /z/ “occurs in initial position in the words like zoo /zu:/, zest /zest/. Medial position in the words like absorb /  bz  b/, president /pr  zid  nt/. Final position in the words like is /i:z/, was /w  z/. Word final cluster ribs /ribz/, films /filmz/.” [Gimson 186]
“It also occurs with variety of spelling, z in the words like zone, zz in the words like dizzy, s gives the /z/ sound in the words like rose and ss in the words like dissolve. Sometimes x represents the sound z in the words like exist.” [Thomas 57]

To identify the differentiation between these two sounds there have some rules.

Daniel Jones introduces some rules in his outline of English phonetics to identify the differentiation of these two sounds. According to him “The s denoting the plural nouns or third person singular of verbs is pronounced s when the preceding sound is a voiceless consonant. E.g. cats kæts, takes  teiks, laughs la:fs”[pg 187]
And also he pointed out the fact that “Final s is preceded by one of the letters a, i, o, u or y is pronounced s. (when not mute) e.g. gas gæ:s, atlas   ætl  s, this   ðis, basis be:sis, chaos kei  s. us   Λs or   s, genius d i:nj  s, precious pre∫ s, Gladys glædis. The only exceptions are the influenced forms of nouns and verbs (e.g. plays pleiz, was w  z or w  z,)and the single words his hiz (weak form iz) as    æ:z (weak form   z) whereas wε  ræz. [pg 187]  
And also when the morpheme /-s/ is affixed to a sibilant consonant then the morpheme /-s/ is pronounced /ez/ in Sri Lankan English and /iz/ in Standard English. For example the words like buses / bΛs  z/, matches / mæt∫  z/ , boxes /b  ks  z/
Sometimes when the morpheme /-s/ is affixed to a voiced consonant or a vowel it is pronounced /z/. The words like cars /ka:z/, pianos /piano:z/, buys /baiz/.
In the stems where the letter c is used it is often pronounced /s/ and never /z/. The words like peace /pi:s/, face /fe:s/, mice /mais/
/se/ is sometimes pronounced /s/ in word final position. For example the words like noose /nu:s/, loose (N) /lu:s/
/s/ is pronounced /z/ between voiced sounds. The words like cosmetic /k  zm  tik/, president /pr  zid  nt/.
/se/ is sometimes pronounced /z/ in word final position. The words like phrase /fre:z/, nose /no:z/ [Lecture notes]

Problems that Sri Lankans have regarding to these two sounds.

When considering the problems of differentiation that Sri Lankans have on the sound /s/ and /z/, the most evident problem is that Sri Lankans are not familiar with the sound /z/. Sinhala and Tamil speakers have only /s/ sound. So most of the time when there should use the sound /z/ they use the sound /s/. According to H.A Passé “there is no “voice correlation” for /s/ in Sinhalese and Tamils. The function of English z has.”[pg302] To show this he has given some examples comparing Received Pronunciation and Ceylon pronunciation.
RP:                                  CP
Zoo        /zu/                  /su:/
Noise    /n  iz/               /n  is/
Senses  /sensiz/           /sens  s/ [pg302]
Another important problem that Sri Lankans have is when /s/ occurs in word initial cluster they have some difficulty of pronouncing it. For example the words like school, sprite, snake, skirt, stamp etc they use the pronunciations like /isku:l/, /isprait/, /isne:k/, /isk t/, /istæ:mp/. This is also a common problem that can be seen in Ceylon pronunciation. And sometimes people go to overcorrect their pronunciation to avoid of this mispronunciation and end up with mispronouncing the word again. T.Kandiah gives some examples for this: “sees /zi:z/, kisses /kiz:  z/, mixed /migz/, dressed /drezd/”.[pg160 ]
And  H.A Passé also shows another factor in the same problem, “ In effort to use /z/ correctly these speakers sometimes fall into the error of substituting /z/ for English /s/, as in peace pronouncing peas and peace alike as /pi:z/ [302]
And also most of the time they follow the spelling of the word and compare the pronunciation, words with similar pronunciation, because there is no rule that can be followed to identify this differentiation.  According to H.A Passé “there is no rule governing the distribution of the sounds /s/ and /z/, to where /s/ occurs in the spelling. The pronunciation has to be learnt from other speakers or from a dictionary for each word individually” [pg303]
We have number of reasons for this situation. Main reason is that Sri Lankans are not having a symbol for sound /z/. Therefore they are not familiar with /z/ sound. Though there are people who are aware of the correct pronunciation they don’t use it because the society is not ready to accept such different pronunciation.  This happens due to the education system that Sri Lankans have. Though English is Sri Lankans’ second language and though they learn English from the primary education, there is not a proper way of teaching English pronunciation. Sometimes students when they cannot remember the pronunciation use to write down the English pronunciation by using Sinhala or Tamil words. Then they don’t see any differentiation in English pronunciation. But after the primary and secondary education, in the university level if they study English as a subject then they get a chance to learn proper pronunciation. But at that time it is difficult to change the way of pronouncing that once practiced from the childhood. Another important factor is that most of English teachers in the country are not aware of proper pronunciation. So the pronunciation of students depends on the teachers who teach English as a subject.
It is not easy to avoid a situation like this. When we learn another language there should need a proper system to teach it. English is the second language of Sri Lanka. So when learn the language it is important to give the priority to its pronunciation. The most important thing that can be done is to give a good training to the English teachers especially to the primary teachers. And it is important to teach phonetics from the childhood. Listening is also an important factor. It is because people easily get familiar with what they hear. So it is important to do listening activities for children. There should have proper books in the country to identify the differentiation of Ceylon pronunciation with standard pronunciation. Sue F. Miller gives out some examples in his book Targeting Pronunciation as follows to identify the two different sounds /s/ and /z/.
 A [voiceless final constituents]                                         B [voiced final constituent]               
       Bus   -  I can see the bus.                                             1. Buzz –  I can hear the buzz.
       Price -  what is the price?                                            2. Prize –  I won the prize.
       Peace – let’s hope for peace.                                       3. Peas  –  They are   eating peas                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       [pg122]

H. Prator and B.W Robinett gave out a fine solution in Manual of American English Pronunciation, to avoid the problems that occur when pronouncing the words with /s/ in initial cluster. “A particularly difficult consonant cluster is one which begins with an initial s followed by another consonant (/st-/ stop)or by a consonant plus an /r/ or /l/ (/str-/ string, /spl-/ splash). Students whose mother tongue does not permit such sequences are tempted to precede these clusters with a vowel sound: state is pronounced as /esteyt/, spirit as /espirit/, scrap as /eskræp/. This type of mispronunciation can usually be avoided by concentrating on the /s/- sound and consciously lengthening it: /s—teyt/, /s—pirit/, /s—kræp/.” [pg151]  So the same way can be used in Sri Lankan Pronunciation. And by having this type of solutions we can avoid most of pronunciation problems that we have.


<!Grimson A.C, An Introduction to the pronunciation of English, The English Language book society and Edward Arnold (publishers) Ltd, London. (1970)
<!ones, Daniel. An outline of English Phonetics (9th ed), W. Heffer & Sons Ltd, Cambridge. (1969)
<!Kandiah. T, The teaching of Problems in Ceylon, Volume xv (pg160)
<!Thomas, Kenneth. An Introduction to “The Phonetics of American English”,(2nd ed), The Roland Press Company, New York. (1950)
<!Miller S.F, Targeting Pronunciation, Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, New York. (2000)
<!Passé H.A, The English Language of Ceylon, chapter 6, Unpublished Dissertation, University of London, (1948) (pg 223-360)
<!Prator C.H, Robinett B.W, Manual of American English Pronunciation (3rd ed) Holt, Rinehart and Winston, Inc. United States, (1951)

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