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Why do some English speakers have different starting pronunciations of station and sun? Station is pronounced as e-station while sun simply as sun. Is the difference due to the fact that the second letter is a vowel in sun but not in station?

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But station and sun do both start with the same letter s sound. – Andrew Leach Jun 15 '12 at 8:37
Could you provide a more clear example? – egasimus Jun 15 '12 at 8:38
I would like to know where you get the impression that station starts with an "e-" sound when vocalized. I've never heard it that way; moreover, my dictionary's pronunciation guides don't show any vowel sound at the beginning of the word. – J.R. Jun 15 '12 at 8:44
@RTA - This is an excellent question; but it sounds like a regionalism to me. Are the people who insert a vowel at the start of "station" native speakers of English? If not, you could probably ignore the difference. – user16269 Jun 15 '12 at 9:01
RTA: It's not "hard to understand," but it's very puzzling. For one, I've never heard the first part of the word station pronounced any differently than the "s" in sun. For example, listen to the first few seconds of this video: where is the "e-"? Secondly, what do you mean by the "E-" sound? Is that the long "e" (as in "bee") or the short "e" (as in "pet")? Note: I wanted to get a clip of "we now pause for station identification," (which I've heard all my life) but I couldn't find one! – J.R. Jun 15 '12 at 10:04

3 Answers 3

up vote 14 down vote accepted

If you look up the official pronunciation of 'sun' and 'station' you get respectively

  • sun - /sʌn/
  • station - /ˈsteɪʃən/

with no notated difference. No standard or dialectal variety of English has any difference either.

But it is the case in many foreign languages that they do not allow the complicated consonant cluster of /s/ followed by a harder consonant, or some change is needed to the /s/. Then this gives a sound change when they try to speak English.

This is especially true of Spanish where there are many close cognate words or borrowings from the same source (Latin). For example:

school (En) - escuela (Sp)

This is a pattern for 's' followed by 't', 'p', or 'k'. There is a tendency for native Spanish speakers to naturally say the English word 'school' as 'ehs-kool', which is closer to their own native pronunciation.

In Japanese, because any consonant pair is forbidden, they tend to put a vowel -between- an English word that has two consonants 'suh- koo -luh' (and a vowel at the end.

So I suspect that the 'estation' pronunciation that you are hearing is from a non-native speaker of English that speaks a native lanaguage that treats 'st' differently than English. No native variety of English has a difference between 'sun' and 'station' for 's'.

The 't' in 'station' is a whole nother story.

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The Brazilians are also wont to insert epenthetic /i/ into spoken words, and they do so in places where a Portuguese or Spaniard would not feel any need to. For example, say they don’t like a dv cluster, so in goes an i (which now also triggers palatalization), and the word adverso may come out /adʒiˈvɛχsu/ for them. This somewhat reminds me of Japanese in this regard. – tchrist Jun 15 '12 at 13:25
I've heard a similar tendency from my Korean friends, who tend to add an extra vowel sound at end of words with complex blends (particularly when they ask me to go to "lunchie"). (That was the first thing I thought of when I read the O.P.'s question, but I couldn't put 2 and 2 together. Thanks for the explanation.) – J.R. Jun 15 '12 at 16:35
+1 for actually answering the question, instead of denying its thesis. – user16269 Jun 15 '12 at 22:54
@Mitch you have mentioned three letters 't','p','k' only these three, but i think many word like 'scam' which is followed by 'c' is also the similar case. – RTA Jun 18 '12 at 5:22
@RTA: in English, 'c' after 's' is either silent or the same sound as 'k', so you wouldn't consider that a new case. Those three, p, t, k, are the only 'unvoiced stops' in English. – Mitch Jun 18 '12 at 11:17

The only people who pronounce station (or scale or school) with a leading e sound before the s are those who cannot pronounce a “liquid s”; that is, native Spanish speakers.

Which is why they say estación ( and escala and escuela), at least when speaking Spanish.

Because of this, sometimes when native Spanish (or Portuguese) speakers speak English, they introduce an epenthetic e at the front of words beginning with an s that is followed by a consonant. They do this so they can split up the consonant cluster, placing the s at the end of a new first syllable, and the other consonant at the start of the next one.

They also do this when borrowing English words into Spanish. So English stress becomes Spanish estrés, just as English standard becomes Spanish estándar. Notice they drop the d at the end, because they can’t say an rd at the end. They can’t say most consonants at the end of a syllable, actually. That’s why when they say the borrowed word stop, this comes out sounding like estó, estod (IPA /esˈtoð/), or estoz (IPA /esˈtoθ/) — and sometimes even estof. Since they can’t have a final p either, they have to substitute in something that works for them.

It may be that native speakers of other languages also introduce an epenthetic s at the front of English station. However, this is not a standard pronunciation, and would mark you for a non-native speaker.

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Jinx! (same answer at same time) – Mitch Jun 15 '12 at 13:08
I was very confused when I first heard this question, but now I understand. Great answer. I'm ecstatic that you cleared the estatic. – J.R. Jun 15 '12 at 16:31
+1 for actually answering the question, instead of denying its thesis. – user16269 Jun 15 '12 at 22:54
+1 You might find it interesting that a lot of people in parts of India introduce an epenthetic i at the beginning of words like school, skin and space (ɪskuːl, ɪskɪn, ɪspeɪs). This happens although many native Indian languages have words starting with the s sound followed by a consonant sound (they pronounce the epenthetic i in their native languages as well). For me to understand this phenomenon, I suppose I will have to delve into the origins of native Indian languages. – Tragicomic Oct 4 at 4:52
@Tragicomic Quite likely it happened the same way as in Spanish (and Portuguese, Catalan, French, etc.—basically all the West Romance areas): the words started out having /sC/, and then at some point, the community of speakers collectively decided that that was too much of a bother to pronounce, so they started adding prop vowels. (I believe Turkish also tends to add /i-/, while Finnish does the opposite and drops as many consonants as needed; the Swedish loan words strand and president, for instance, become ranta and residentti, though the latter mostly presidentti nowadays.) – Janus Bahs Jacquet Oct 13 at 18:18

Station doesn't begin with an “e” sound, it starts with an “s” sound, just like sun.

Here's how the Oxford English Dictionary says they should be pronounced:


st - ay - sh - ə - n
IPA   Sounds like

  • st      st    as in stay, post (main stress)
  •      ay    as in bay
  • ʃ     sh    as in shop, dish
  • ə     ə    as in another (schwa)
  • n     n    as in nine


s - u - n

IPA    Sounds like

  • s      s    as in see
  • ʌ      u    as in butter, upset
  • n       n    as in nine

Although note the ˈ mark in /ˈsteɪʃən/ and not in /sʌn/. This symbol is placed before the stressed syllable.

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@JasperLoy I don’t know why either, but it was due to formatting concerns, I’ve tried to improve those just now. It may be that the downvoter was looking for more explanation. If so, I’ve given one possible explanation in my own answer. – tchrist Jun 15 '12 at 13:17
@tchrist: I did have some trouble with the formatting. It looks much better now, thanks! – Hugo Jun 15 '12 at 14:18

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