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I caught myself pronouncing the "c" in "grocery" as an "sh" sound. Is this commonplace/accepted, or is it perhaps geographic? Does this occur with "c" in other words?

As background, I was raised in Cincinnati, OH and now live in western New England.

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    It's not only acceptable, it's normal. Although the sibilant is not actually /ʃ/ (which is grooved and rounded), but an ungrooved (and unrounded) allophone [ç], like the German Ich-Laut, the final consonant in ich. Apr 8 '15 at 13:47
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    I've not heard it with anything but a nice clear "s" sound in my region (US Midwest). If I heard "groshery", I'd assume that person was impaired or had loose-fitting dentures in all honesty. Apr 8 '15 at 13:52
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    Some people in my neck of the woods (southeastern Pennsylvania) say "shtreet".
    – TRomano
    Apr 8 '15 at 14:27
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    I'm from Indiana, and I've always said "groshery." I'll have to start paying attention, because I feel like everyone I know says it that way as well. Apr 8 '15 at 14:36
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    @John I have never, in my entire life, heard anyone pronounce grocery (or indeed any other English word except possibly Reich by one or two very posh speakers) with a [ç] sound. Most English-speakers I have known find it extremely difficult to produce that sound at all. The movement from [ç] to the typical AmE /r/ is also much greater than that from the typical AmE /ʃ/ to /r/, so it makes little sense as an assimilation. In my mouth, they're both rounded and grooved (/r/ less so)—but more importantly, they're both laminal, whereas [ç] is dorsal. Apr 14 '15 at 22:40
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This will be a fairly common pronunciation. It is caused by the influence of the /r/ which follows afterwards. In the word /ˈɡroʊsəri/ there's a schwa between the /s/ and the /r/ - in bold in the transcription. This weak vowel can be omitted altogether. When this happens our mouths will be preparing for the forthcoming /r/ before we actually make the /s/. Our tongue has to be slightly retracted to make the /r/, and so when we make the /s/ it is further back from it's normal position. It moves towards a post-alveolar position giving it a /ʃ/-like quality. [/ʃ/, of course, is an unvoiced postalveolar ficative].

The more likely you are to use a schwa sound between the /s/ and the /r/, the less likely this will be to happen.

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I can tell you it's one of the versions mentioned (the last one)

gro·cery
noun
\ˈgrōs-rē, ˈgrō-sə-rē; ˈgrōsh-rē\

by the Merriam-Webster Dictionary

I also have heard it this way in Canada.


It's also mentioned here in Wikitionary:

(General American)
IPAA(key): /ˈɡɹoʊsəɹi/, /ˈɡɹoʊsɹi/, /ˈɡɹoʊʃɹi/

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Both--GROCERY and GROSHERY--are correct. There is always another way of pronouncing the same word.

Lexico gives the transcription /ˈɡrəʊs(ə)ri/ (GROCERY) for "grocery". Is there anything in the transcription that draws attention?

In "casual" speech, unstressed schwas are usually chewed off; /ˈɡrəʊs(ə)ri/ → /ˈɡrəʊsri/ -- I removed the schwa.

Now there's another thing that catches my eye. Does it catch your eye too? I suppose not.

It is the /sr/. The consonant /s/ is called an alveolar sibilant; it's produced at the alveolar ridge--the bony ridge behind the top teeth--and is characterised by a hissing sound. The /r/, on the other hand, is a post-alveolar approximant.

In casual speech, we make the sounds that are next to each other more similar to each other (aka assimilation, which is a very common process). The /s/ is originally an alveolar sound, but when it's followed by a post-alveolar sound, we tend to make it similar to the post-alveolar sound. Assimilation can be described by this example: this shoes - how do you pronounce this phrase? In casual speech, it is nearly always [ðɪʃʃuːz] rather than [ðɪuːz]. The /s/ changes its place of articulation because of the following /ʃ/ to make it easier.

When the /r/ comes right after the /s/, the /s/ becomes more like the /r/. In other words, the /s/ changes its place of articulation--which is alveolar--to post-alveolar (back of the alveolar ridge). In post-alveolar region, we have another sibilant /ʃ/ (the SH sound), so the /s/ changes its place of articulation from alveolar to post-alveolar and becomes /ʃ/. That's why you pronounce it [ˈgrəʊʃɹi] (GROSHERY) in fast speech.

The word "issue" used to be pronounced [ˈɪsjuː] - IS-YOU in Britain (most Brits still pronounce it that way!), but due to the same phenomenon, people pronounce it [ˈɪʃuː] - ISHOO.

It is surprising that this assimilation only happens in "grocery" and not other similar words like "nursery", "serene", "sorcery" etc. Maybe it will happen in those words one day.

Hope that helps!

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    Actually, I think that "incorrect" is necessary when teaching pronunciation. For example, pronouncing GROCERY as GRAW-SER-AY would be incorrect; which essentially sums up my argument. While it is true that a word can be pronounced "incorrectly", this particular word has several "correct", and widespread pronunciations that are under-represented in many dictionaries. We must be cautious of using online dictionaries as a form of proof, as it does not always reflect modern-day usage and/or shifts that are spreading across regions. Dec 7 '20 at 11:39
  • @Beds - very hard to avoid saying 'grocery', since everyone needs to eat. Dec 7 '20 at 11:54
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    You make some general statements which are not necessarily true of all speakers. Some people might not pronounce unstressed schwas, but some do pronounce them (or at any rate in some circumstances). Some might assimilate /sr/ to /ʃr/, but some might not do that in all circumstances. Who would do likewise in, say, "misery", "nursery", "serene" or "sorcery"?
    – Rosie F
    Dec 7 '20 at 13:00
  • @RosieF: Another answer which is almost the same as this one. You might want to leave your comment on that one too Dec 7 '20 at 13:54
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    Why do you say "unfortunately"?
    – Hot Licks
    Dec 7 '20 at 14:25
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I have always pronounced this word as GROSHERY, and after much research, I have found that this pronunciation is both prevalent and widespread.

I consistently check YouGlish.com before offering my own pronunciation of a word to my ESL-students as a "standard" one. I have found this to be extremely useful as there are so many variations, and I consider it due diligence on my part. In many cases, I find that what online dictionaries depict does not reflect the true usage (using the thousands and sometimes hundreds of thousands of videos available on YouGlish as a reference). I would argue that before anyone belittle a particular pronunciation of a word, they check this site and verify that they are not being obstinate. Languages are fluid and ever-changing. If you consider yourself a true linguist or language-lover, you must be open-minded to such shifts and changes.

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    Hello, Andrea. Dictionaries in the main do try to reflect actual usage rather than prescriptivist/dated views. They also have reputable usage panels and editorial boards. Earlier answers and Professor Lawler's (as always, informed) comment support the acceptability of the version with [ç]. // With Google Ngrams say, it has been found that incorrectly interpreting data is worryingly easy. Have you any links to appraisals of the fidelity and ease of interpretation of YouGlish data? Dec 7 '20 at 12:01
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Sat., Ap. 16, 2016 3:51 p.m. PDT

American English pronunciation of “grocery(ies):

In well-spoken American English, the words “grocery” and “groceries” are pronounced in two ways:

Gro-sir-re (in three syllables)

Gros-re (in two syllables).

You can hear those pronunciations over the internet in audio pronunciation websites.

Most of these give a three-syllable pronunciation of "grocery" and "groceries".

I am a native Los Angeles resident. I pronounce “grocery” and “groceries” in the two-syllable way, gros-re(s).

This is MY opinion. There is NO “sha” in the words “grocery” and “groceries”. The “c” is pronounced as a soft “c” with an “s” sound.

This is MY opinion. The pronunciation “groshary” is incorrect. I think that mis-pronunciation implies the individual has a speech impediment (a lisp or a stutter), has loose or missing teeth, is just learning to speak English, or is pronouncing those words in a patois or slang. It is not the main-stream educated American English oral form of the word. 3:51 p.m. PDT

Note that I am not trying a case in an American court in which proof by admissible evidence is required.
I do not find in American or British pronunciation guides the "sha" sound, except for one. The words "grocery" and "groceries" come from the French word "gross" and ultimately from classic and medieval Latin.

Here are links to various websites giving audio and/or phonetically spelled versions of grocery and groceries:

http://dictionary.cambridge.org/us/pronunciation/english/grocery

http://www.macmillandictionary.com/us/pronunciation/american/grocery_2

This Boalt Hall lawyer rests her case.

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  • "Loose teeth"! It doesn't imply any of these things, actually. You haven't presented any direct evidence that "The pronunciation “groshary” is incorrect." You referred to audio pronunciation websites, but gave no specific examples. On Forvo, there are several pronunciations of "grocery" with /ʃ/ (the "sh" sound).
    – herisson
    Apr 16 '16 at 23:05
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    -1: You can argue that the pronunciation groshry may be incorrect, but it is definitely not due to speech impediment. Surveys show that over 100 million people in the U.S. pronounce grocery with an "sh" sound. See this map. Apr 17 '16 at 18:36
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    The link in my previous comment has expired, so use this one. Dec 7 '20 at 12:22

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