Fricative voicing in *houses*

Damien Hall halldj at BABEL.LING.UPENN.EDU
Tue May 9 15:19:25 UTC 2006

Michael Becker of MIT asked the following question, and I replied (on another
list I am on);  my reply is below his question.  I said I would cross-post the
question here.  As usual, if anyone can help Michael, would you please reply
both to him and to this list?  Thanks!

Damien Hall
University of Pennsylvania

> ---------- Forwarded message ----------
> Date: Mon, 8 May 2006 09:21:29 -0400
> From: Michael Becker <michael at>
> Subject: fricatives
> Do you know anything about the socio distribution of the plural of "house",
> i.e who says "hawsiz" and who says "hawziz" (vowel quality doesn't matter to
> me)? Any other s-final nouns that do this? And has anybody looked at these
> cases systematically?
> ----------------------------------------------
> Michael Becker
> Department of Linguistics
> UMass, Amherst


My reply:

Dear Michael, dear list,

I haven't looked at this systematically, so I don't know literature about anyone
who might have;  so (the first part of) what follows is strictly anecdotal, but
maybe it will point you in a good direction when you're looking for literature.

It has been my impression since arriving here in the States (nearly three years
ago) that "hausiz" ~ "hauziz" is one of the components of the difference
between  GenAmE (if that exists) and BrE.  Maybe this is a better way around to
put it:  I am not aware of any speaker of Standard Southern BrE (my dialect) who
says "hausiz" with a /s/.  There are clearly Americans who say it with a /z/, as
I do, but I couldn't say where the difference lay.

Introspecting about it just now, it seems to me that in my own idiolect *house*
> /hauzIz/ may in fact be a lexical exception.  For me, the plural of *mouse*
'computer peripheral' is *mouses* /mausIz/.  Clearly, other nouns ending in
/-Vs/ in the singular don't voice the /s/ in the plural: *face* > /feisIz/ not
*/feiziz/, etc.  Unfortunately, and equally obviously, the two non-20th-C
English words on the exact template of *house* (*louse* and *mouse* 'quadruped
mammal; vermin*, unless I am missing any) are removed from the equation by
having irregular plurals.

Another direction you might look in is the more general voicing (or not) of /s/
or /z/ intervocalically.  Or maybe I am thinking of another possible lexical
exception:  President Bush (at least;  and if you can take his English as an
authority) says *citizen* /sItIs at n/ (where /@/ = schwa).  I had never heard that
fricative pronounced voiceless before I came to the States.  The *OED* lists
only /sItIz at n/ as a pronunciation, but notes that it is not certain where the
fricative in the word came from etymologically, since the history of the
English word seems to be

Latin reconstructed (non-attested) *civita:ta:num
> Old French citeain, citehain, citeen, citein, citien, citain > citeyen,
> Anglo-French citesein, citezein, sithezein
> Middle Eng citesein, etc.

Merriam-Webster notes the pronunciation of the word as

/sIt at z@n/ also /-s at n/

so presumably Pres. Bush isn't the only one to use that pronunciation;  which is
useful, since that might mean it's a more general phenomenon that's actually
worth investigating!

The *OED* notes the suggestion that the /z/ in *citizen* may have arisen by
analogy with the one in *denizen*, where it *is* etymological.

The American Dialect Society -

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