Fricative voicing in *houses*

Dennis R. Preston preston at MSU.EDU
Tue May 9 20:21:37 UTC 2006

I think Wilson's observation on the voiceless form of house plural
(hou/s/es) probably reflects a north-south distinction. Both
pronunciations are there in the north; the voiceless form is rare in
the south. I'm also not aware of any studies of the distirbution of
the voiceless form in areas where it exists.

On the other hand, Wilson is playing pretty fast and loose with the
labels BE and WE when he suggests that "I'm through verb+ing" is BE.
For me, the "through" is not only native (I'm a WE speaker) but also
carries a "sick-and-tired" connotation.

A: Are you done working?
B: Done hell, I'm through!


>Among speakers of American Black English, the plural of the noun, "house,"
>is "hou[z]es." Likewise, the verb, "(to) house," is "hou[z]e." I personally
>did not become aware of the validity of the pronunciation of the plural as
>"hou[s]es" till perhaps ten years ago. Before then, if ever I noticed that
>anyone pronounced "houses" as "hou[s]es," either it didn't register or I
>assumed that the speaker was working-class or lower, therefore not a speaker
>of standard American White English whose pronunciation I needed to be able
>to emulate in formal settings.
>FWIW, I had the same problem with BE "through" vs. WE "done," as in BE, "I'm
>_through_ VERBing," vs. WE, "I'm _done_ VERBing."
>On 5/9/06, Laurence Horn <laurence.horn at> wrote:
>>---------------------- Information from the mail header
>>Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
>>Poster:       Laurence Horn <laurence.horn at YALE.EDU>
>>Subject:      Re: Fricative voicing in *houses*
>>>Michael Becker of MIT asked the following question, and I replied (on
>>>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
>>>both to him and to this list?  Thanks!
>>>Damien Hall
>>>University of Pennsylvania
>>Nothing on the isogloss for hou[s]es vs. hou[z]es--I'm pretty
>>restricted to the latter group, except of course for the former
>>pronounciation for "house's".  But something that always struck me
>>was the speakers who distinguish "hou[s]ewife" from "hou[z]ewives",
>>as a kind of assimilation at a distance.  The latter innovation has
>>always struck me as a phonological analogue of its morphological
>>counterpart in "sleptwalked".
>>>   > ---------- 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
>>>>   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
>>>>   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
>>>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
>>>'computer peripheral' is *mouses* /mausIz/.  Clearly, other nouns ending
>>>/-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*
>>>mammal; vermin*, unless I am missing any) are removed from the equation
>>>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
>>>exception:  President Bush (at least;  and if you can take his English as
>>>authority) says *citizen* /sItIs at n/ (where /@/ = schwa).  I had
>>>never heard that
>>>fricative pronounced voiceless before I came to the States.  The *OED*
>>>only /sItIz at n/ as a pronunciation, but notes that it is not certain where
>>>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 >
>>>>   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
>>>worth investigating!
>>>The *OED* notes the suggestion that the /z/ in *citizen* may have arisen
>>>analogy with the one in *denizen*, where it *is* etymological.
>>>The American Dialect Society -
>>The American Dialect Society -
>The American Dialect Society -

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Dennis R. Preston
University Distinguished Professor
Department of English
15-C Morrill Hall
Michigan State University
East Lansing, MI 48824-1036
Phone: (517) 353-4736
Fax: (517) 353-3755
preston at

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