Monday, November 17, 2008

Final -z/-s in Upper Midwestern English

Twice in recent weeks, I've had discussions about regional English with people, one from Minnesota and the other from Wisconsin, who sounded like they had some of the 'final devoicing' that we've talked about before on this blog. That is, they pronounced (impressionistically, at least) the last bit in words like sees, rooms, chairs, boys with an -s sound, not a -z sound. Millions of Americans do it variably, in many contexts, but it's identified with this region.*

In both cases, these people clearly were getting most of what I was talking about very easily, but both had great trouble understanding this point. I'm well aware of the problem of orthography here — we spell such words with -s but say -z — and tried to be clear about that. In the second case, though, the speaker appeared to have real trouble hearing the difference when I said chairs twice, once each way. If so, that would be a big step beyond a variable process, a classic change in progress, etc.

So, Wisconsin Englishes specialists who read this blog, is it possible that we've got English monolingual speakers out there with real phonological devoicing?

Image from here.

*Including, yes, Sarah Palin.


Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

I'd be surprised, but who the hell knows given how little we know about English in the region. Simple perception testing would show it, with the right population.