/s/ becoming /ʃ/

/s/ → /ʃ/

The fricative alveolar  /s/ becomes a fricative post-alveolar /ʃ/ in two different cases:

1. When followed by a post-alveolar /ʃ/.

2. When followed by a palatal /j/, which is another case of coalescence.



/s/ (followed by /ʃ/ or /j/) becomes /ʃ/

sound_loud_speaker Since she’s going to ask you, why not make a clean breast of it?

sound_loud_speaker In case you want to come with us, there’s still room in the car.


When the second phoneme is a /j/, that /j/ sound can be retained or not, depending on the degree of the assimilation.

sound_loud_speaker In case you want…  /s/ + /j/ → /ʃ/ |ɪn ˈkeɪ ʃu ˈwɒnt|

sound_loud_speaker In case you want… /s/ + /j/ → /ʃ j/ |ɪn ˈkeɪʃ ju ˈwɒnt|


And here’s an interesting array of naturally occurring examples:

sound_loud_speaker Maybe wearing a nice shirt and tie and a nice pairs of cufflinks, you know, is important to you impress your clients (from Cambridge Proficiency Test).

sound_loud_speaker Once you can find something of yourself in that character, or once you feel that that character represents something about you (Howard Jacobson, OpenLearn).

sound_loud_speaker Certainly a certain type of playwright does take great pleasure in going to an office and listening to what the buzzwords are in offices this year, because that changes from year to year, management speak, the kind of words that politicians are using this year, the kind of  words that school kids are using this year (Mark Ravenhill, OpenLearn).


Now notice the difference between keeping the /j/ sound or not that I mentioned before:

sound_loud_speaker Once you can find something of yourself in that character. /s/ + /j/ → /ʃ/. The sound /j/ is not heard (or barely heard).

sound_loud_speaker is important to you impress your clients. /s/ + /j/ → /ʃ/. The sound /j/ is still clearly heard.

So, both are correct. It’s a subtle, interesting nuance, and you can choose to do it whichever way you like.


And finally, listen to this recording in which Melvyn Bragg assimilates /s/ and /j/ within a single word:

sound_loud_speaker Is it possible for us to look back and assume that Gatsby’s world was normal? What do you think about the setting that Fitzgerald gives him (Melvyn Bragg, BBC4)? /əˈsjuːm/ →  əˈʃuːm/


This is the type of work I do with my students in my one-to-one classes. I make them practise these processes with exercises until they improve their comprehension of native speakers and are capable of speaking like that themselves. If you are interested in my classes, you can contact me here.


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