To Voice, or Not to Voice: The Pronunciation of the Voiced Variant [z] of the Inflectional –s Endings by Speakers of American English in Three Speech Types

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Mink Sawasdeepon
Preena Kangkun

Abstract

This study investigates the pronunciation of the voiced variant [z] of the  inflectional –s endings in three speech types: spontaneous speech, memorized speech, and read speech. Almost six hundred tokens of the targeted variable (z) were collected from political news from two American News channels to see whether they were voiced in accordance with the morphophonemic descriptions of this inflectional ending in linguistic textbooks, or were they devoiced due to the phonetic environment and speech types. It was found that the voiced variant of the inflectional –s endings was not always voiced in actual speech. Both the phonological and sociolinguistic factors affected its realization. For the phonological context, the less sonorant the adjacent segment is, the more devoicing occurs. Furthermore, it is devoiced more often at the end of a larger prosodic domain. Speech types also affected the degree of voicing in that devoicing occurred the most in spontaneous speech (70.7%) more in memorized speech (64.6%), and occurred the least in read speech (51.3%). In other words, higher degree of attention to speech (in the Labovian sense) results in less devoicing of the voiced variant of the inflectional –s endings. Thus, when speakers are speaking more spontaneously, more devoicing takes place.

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