Take the 2-minute tour ×
English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

Sometimes I hear native speakers pronounce the s at the beginning of a word as [ʃ]. For example, straight as [ʃtreɪt], or struggle as [ʃtrʌɡl]. It sounds like German words.

Is it a certain English dialect, a specific accent, or just an idiolect?

share|improve this question
    
In my experience, many Hiberno-English speakers use that to soften the intensity of a statement and introduce some humour into it. Examples: big shtyle; the hill is fair shteep!". I haven't heard it outside Ireland. –  Jubobs Apr 20 '13 at 10:56
    
@Jubobs what made me ask this question is to hear it from Britons and Americans from time to time. Not regularly, but not rarely too. Of course, I was not on the position to exactly identify the origin of the speaker, but they were native. Maybe that many that you referred to is spreading a kind of fashion?!? –  All Apr 20 '13 at 11:14
    
Also, the s in student is pronounced like sh by most English people (shchoodent, /ʃtʃʉːdənʔ/). –  David Apr 20 '13 at 11:40
4  
I've lived all my life in England and I can't recall anyone English saying "Shchoodent" (unless drunk). "S-choodent" , sometimes (with t turning into a ch but the S pronounced separately), "ss-tyoo-dent" sometimes - eg: youtube.com/watch?v=gV-kY9JuqDE . "Choozday" is probably more frequent than "T-yoozday" - in both cases, it's the plosive that has been affected, not the sibilant. –  Mark Bannister Apr 20 '13 at 12:25
    
Does pronouncing s as [ʃ] in the middle of words fall within the scope of your question? I've just remembered this instance by an American; note that he pronounces administration as adminishtration... –  Jubobs Apr 20 '13 at 12:52
show 2 more comments

2 Answers

up vote 6 down vote accepted

Palatal vowels (i), semivowels (y), and liquids (r) often influence the sound of preceding consonants, a process called palatalization. This is most obvious with dental consonants like t and s, which typically become tch and sh. For example, train often sounds like tchrain.

Palatalization is consistent for some English forms, like the shun sound of the -tion suffix. It is weaker or inconsistent for others, like the tr- and str- consonant clusters. Native speakers generally don't notice the variation unless you exaggerate it – train and tchrain are allophones. However, the subtle palatalization of straight could easily sound like shchrait to a non-native speaker.

share|improve this answer
add comment

You're absolutely right, there is a subtle sh sound. I've just tried it myself and I can detect different positions of my mouth and tongue as I say str words, compared to words beginning simply with s (excluding sugar and sure of course) and other s and consonant clusters. I have no knowledge as to whether this is more marked in different regions, but I guess that as a non-native speaker you have tuned into this subtle variation whereas a native speaker would hardly notice any difference. The r sound is more of a vowel sound than a consonant in English and my mouth seems to anticipate this as it says the str.

share|improve this answer
2  
+1: Here is a blog posting discussing the way words beginning with "tr" turn into "chr", so "train" becomes "chrain". I think a large number of English speakers do this to some degree. It isn't surprising that "straight" might become "shchraight" (which would sound like "shtraight"). –  Peter Shor Apr 20 '13 at 11:49
1  
+1 for pointing this out – I do this subtly and didn't even realize it. @PeterShor: Funny coincidence that I chose chrain as an example for my explanation of palatalization. –  Bradd Szonye Apr 20 '13 at 12:13
    
It's also worth noting that American /r/ in /tr/ is rounded as well as palatalized, like many speakers' /ʃ/. That increases the resemblance. –  John Lawler Apr 20 '13 at 17:12
add comment

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.