American English Phonetics

Another American English Faculty Project

Lenis /v,ð,z,ʒ/ are more weakly articulated than fortis /f,θ,s,ʃ/.

Full voicing is the rule in the onset (including ambisyllabic position), as in ever, leather, easy, leisure,



as well as in these, zone, violent, bizarre, revile.



By contrast, they will be devoiced when they occur in the coda before voicelessness, though they remain weakly articulated. This is the case in Chinese tea [z̥tʰ], beige coat [ʒ̥kʰ], love Susie [v̥s], Look at your shoes! [z̥], Tom Lehrer Live! [v̥].

Chinese tea

beige coat

Final devoicing may be complete. As a result, pairs like raise and race differ mainly in the duration and quality of the diphthong, which is longer and more truly diphthongal before /z/ in the first word. The final [z] in raise is voiceless but weakly articulated and considerably shorter than the equally voiceless but strongly articulated [s] in race.



By contrast, pairs like Sue and zoo differ exclusively in the voicing of the initial fricative.



The non-sibilants /v,ð/ are frequently realized as voiced approximants, i.e. with a weak contact of the articulators which does not give rise to friction. This is particularly common in the onset, i.e. before vowels, as in very, never, there, other.

Advice for Dutch learners:

Dutch learners should concentrate on pronouncing fully voiced /v,ð,z,ʒ/ in initial and medial positions and pronouncing brief and weakly articulated devoiced in final positions, i.e. before silence or voiceless sounds. Here are some pairs to practice the contrast between /f,s,ʃ/ and /v,z,ʒ/ in initial and medial positions.

/f – v/                feel – veal; fine – vine; rifle – rival; leafing – leaving



/s – z/               sip – zip; C – Z; looser – loser; hussy – fuzzy



/ʃ – ʒ/                pressure – pleasure; mission – vision; position – decision; pollution – confusion