final devoicing in American English?

A. Vine avine at ENG.SUN.COM
Thu Feb 24 01:12:30 UTC 2000

Alice Faber wrote:
> Interesting though the 10 (+/- 3) commandments are, I've got a question
> pertaining to the more conventional core mission of this list.
> I'm teaching an undergraduate course that involves some phonetic
> transcription (Intro to Psycholinguistics, to students who haven't had an
> Intro to Linguistics) for the first time in a very long time. Something
> came up in class today that I haven't previously encountered. I was doing
> the standard presentation of regular English plurals, so that the students
> could discover the phonological conditioning of /-s/, /-z/, and /-Iz/
> variants. To my surprise, several of the students insisted that /z/ in
> _dogs_ is at least partially voiceless. They weren't getting tricked by the
> orthography. (Many of them were quite positive that _tree_ begins with an
> affricate, for instance, and they were making fairly subtle vowel quality
> distinctions.) Two of them, one from northern Georgia and one whose first
> language is Russian (though her English sounds virtually accent-free), had
> more conventional final devoicing, including regressive assimilation, so
> that _dogs_ ends /ks/. These are all Wesleyan University undergrads of
> normal college age.
> Is this something that's been going on for a while, with me blissfully
> oblivious, or is it (relatively) new?
> Alice Faber

Funny you should ask this.  When I was an undergraduate (this would have been
about 18 years ago), these very issues came up in an intro ling class.  One
student insisted that "tray" began with an affricate (and it did, the way she
pronounced it) and another pronounced "bugs" with a final /s/, not /z/.  The
"bugs" student was from California - I don't know where the other student was
from.  But they were both Asian-American, sounding as though they had been born
here.  I remember wondering if there was any Asian influence, by way of
community or some such, to cause the particular sound patterns.


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