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Palatalization Across Word Boundaries

When the sounds /t d s / occur before yod (orthographic y or u), they undergo a phonetic change called palatalization, by which is meant a replacement of the dental stop or dental fricative by a palatal consonant, viz. (respectively) /č  dʒ š ž/. Hence, within a word the combination /t/ + /u/, as in mature, is typically pronounced with a [č]; /d/ + /u/, as in adulation, with a [dʒ]; /s/ + /u/, as in usual, with a [ž] (note the intervocalic laxing of s) . This intra-word palatalization can be suspended in hyper-careful pronunciation, which for some speakers is in fact the norm, as in [mətʋr] instead of [məčʋr].

Palatalization generally does not occur across word boundaries, however, with some exceptions. Thus the interjection gotcha, which is a contraction of got you, used to indicate understanding or to signal the fact of having caught or defeated another, is an orthographic rendering of the process of palatalization of [t] before [y].

Similarly, many speakers pronounce the combination this year (in allegro tempo) with a [š] for /s/. In this latter phrase the functional upshot of the phonetic change does not remain at the level of sound. In semiotic terms, it is a change that promotes textual cohesion, since it as an index of the bound character of the two words. The word boundary separating this from year is elided in the process of creating a compound.


2 Responses to “Palatalization Across Word Boundaries”

  • Guy Sivey says:

    Hello Michael,
    I was researching a trend I find interesting, when I came across your paper, “A CASE OF DISTANT ASSIMILATION: /str/ -> /ftr/”, which discusses the tendency for some speakers to say “shtreet” instead of the more traditional “street”, and other similar examples of str->shtr. My experience of it is in the UK and Australia where I have found working class, as well as well educated, but generally younger speakers use it. Yet your paper talks about the phenomenon as if it were restricted to North America. I am intrigued by this tendency and wonder what the social driver is which cause people to adopt it. I am familiar with the increasing use of Afro-Caribbean pronunciation in British working class youth, but this is easier to understand. Where does the “sht” thing come from, do you think?
    Guy Sivey

    • My answer to the question “Where does it come from?” pertaining to this change in English is the same as it was in my article in American Speech: the special nature of the sound /r/ in English. My article (which appeared in American Speech)was limited to American English but there is also reference to Jamaican English in a footnote. You might want to take a look at a rebuttal to my article that appeared a year or two later in American Speech as well by a linguist from New Zealand.

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