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I am trying to understand the difference in pronunciation between the sound /ʃ/ (shell, cash, sure) and /ʒ/ (treasure, pleasure, leisure).

I am able to tell these sounds apart when listening; however, I can't quite wrap my mind about how they are produced in the mouth. In fact, I produce both sounds in apparently the same way - letting air pass between the tongue and the right cheek, with no movement.

Are they actually produced in the same way, and told apart using context, or is there some difference in how they are pronounced?

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    What @Peter said. I think that voiced/unvoiced distinction is General Reference. – FumbleFingers Oct 30 '14 at 18:02
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    The latter are closer to 'z' as the former are to 's' -- assure, azure vs. ashore. HTH. – Kris Oct 30 '14 at 18:05
  • This is why so many Americans (never asked Brits) have trouble saying je. It's even worse with tu. However, it's not really English. – anongoodnurse Oct 30 '14 at 18:07
  • @ medica -. I don't think we Brits have a problem with the French 'je', and I am surprised that Americans do. /ʒ/ is rare at the beginning of a word; I can think offhand only of 'gigolo' and 'genre', and both of these are frequently pronounced with initial /dʒ/. Indeed, the Longman Pronunciation Dictionary and the Cambridge English Pronouncing Dictionary both give /dʒ/ as the more common first sound of 'gigolo'. However, /ʒ/ is not uncommon in the middle of a word, for example, 'casual', 'measure', 'vision', 'closure', so we have no problem in producing the sound – tunny Oct 30 '14 at 19:23
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They're told apart by the same way that /f/ and /v/, or /s/ and /z/, are. You use your vocal cords for /v/, /z/, and /ʒ/, but not for /f/, /s/, /ʃ/. Aside from that, they're identical.

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    Just for completeness: /ʃ/ is called the voiceless palato-alveolar sibilant, and /ʒ/ the voiced palato-alveolar sibilant. They differ only in their voicing as Peter said. – Dan Sheppard Oct 30 '14 at 18:49

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