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I'm watching episode 4, season 4 of Friends titled 'The One With The Embryos'. In this scene, Ross is testing Chandler and Joey against Monica and Rachel to see which team knows each other better. At some point, Ross asks them this question (0:20-0.24 in the video):

What is the name of Chandler's father's Las Vegas, all-male burlesque?

Ross pronounces it as \ (ˌ)bər-ˈles \ with the 'k' sound dropped. Consulting Merriam Webster and ODO, they do not drop the 'k' sound' and there is almost stress on the 'k' sound in the second syllable: -lesque.

\ (ˌ)bər-ˈlesk \ (MW)

/bəːˈlɛsk/ (ODO)

My question is, should the 'k' sound be pronounced in words suffixed with -esque or should it be dropped? For example, the word grotesque, should it be dropped similar to how Ross pronounces it \ grō-ˈtes \ or should the 'k' sound be pronounced \ grō-ˈtesk \?

Personally, the 'k' sound is the last sound my tongue naturally falls onto when I pronounce both burlesque and grotesque:

\ (ˌ)bər-ˈlesk \
\ grō-ˈtesk \


Are there forms of American dialect where the dropping of the 'k' sound is a normal occurrence in words with -esque suffixed at the end?

From my research, I've found a similar occurrence with the 'k' sound being dropped in asked and instead pronounced as 'ast'. This is mentioned in this podcast: Dropping the /k/ in 'asked' (HIMYM). In the link, the speaker of the podcast provides audio samples from the TV sitcom: How I Met Your Mother. Please share your thoughts on this.

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    Not in Kansas City. – Hot Licks Jul 13 '18 at 19:59
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    You probably just are not attuned to hearing it. It’s not aspirated and may not even be released. – tchrist Jul 15 '18 at 18:28
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This answer mostly agrees with the previous ones, but hopefully adding some more context.

My initial thought was, as in the linked podcast, that I never heard of "dropping the k" but after listening to that sound clip I got a better understanding.

Proper English

As has been agreed, and your research showed, the -esque is formally pronounced -esk in both cases. Since the words are of foreign (French) origin, they could inspire a foreign pronunciation, but also in French the -esk is there. (One may think that French always drops the end of the word, and indeed the final 'e' is there to be dropped instead of the 'k'.) Being less used words and spelled a bit odd, there may of course also be reader mistakes or a chance that a person just learned one of the words wrong.

Wordly matters

Languages evolve and linguistics have come up with all sorts of "patterns" to explain how. Phonetics takes interest in the actual pronunciation. I'll mix a bit of those references with intuition to give a possible explaining to your question.

In general, language tends to strive for efficiency. "Food" or "eat" are short words while "culinary experience" is a more cumbersome phrase that has a less basal meaning. The same principle goes for linguistic evolution of a language and phonetic simplification individually applied.

Simplifications

There is a process called Lentition that applies both to languages over time and to individual pronunciation. The basis is that e.g. 'k' is softened to 'g', from there perhaps to a slight 'j' or 'e' or 'r' and eventually dropped entirely. Omission is linguistically named Elision, occurring also for other reasons. I described that as a process over time, but it is probably more so that individual pronunciation takes as much simplification as is "allowed" and the language follows when enough accepts it.

Vowel placement

Construct this experiment: Assume that "to think" in past tense was "thinked". That would be "easily" pronounced with -kt. Now try "thou-kt" and you will probably agree that "thou-gt" has a better flow to it. The more open vowel automatically places the following consonant further back and it becomes softer (as for 'k->g'). Moving the 'g' even further back will softening it into 'gh' (aspiration). Maybe you feel that it's almost gone? Then you have "thought". It's not an accurate description of how the actual word evolved, but showing how phonetic context may affect consonants.

Now try "thinks" and "things", that needs to be clearly different, being different words. Say "He things that..." and I doubt anybody would react, it obviously follows the pattern of softening that we (mostly unknowingly) are used to and accepts as fair use. This is a particularly clever example, because even though you only softened the 'k->g' the 'ng' becomes another sound in context and that sound is already present in /ˈthiŋk/. If analysing a recording, non-linguists would probably argue between "dropped k" or "slight k still there" depending on how you do the transition to 's'. (Also try "I have so many thinks on my mind" and you may generate more surprise, not only because it sounds like a failed aphorism, but because Fortification is not a common simplification.)

Consonant placement

As mentioned, the context is not only vowels, but also consonants. In the podcast they mention having more trouble with "asked" than "asks.". 's' has a high air flow (aspiration) while 'k' and 't' are normally stopping the flow (using the back of the tongue). A double stop -kt is naturally more difficult, but since 'x' is quite frequent in English, the -ks is also a more familiar sound. Standing by the principle of "simplifying the commonly used" indicates that you probably don't say '/k/+/s/' but softening the 'x' with perspiration into 'khs' or 'ghs'.

asks and asked

When this follows another 's', it's clearly less efficient to move the tongue a lot, so you may "emulate" the 'k' "tongue stop of flow" by stopping it in the throat or diaphragmatically instead. I'm not familiar with this being used commonly, instead I would assume there to be a very soft 'gh' lazily in there. I could envision it to happen, and as Mitch says, turn into skipping the stop and towards "an extended /s/". Perhaps pushing more, instead of stopping, to stress two separate s.

In a similar manner, one could try to emulate "k+t" with "t+t". It would probably be accepted, but a "gh+dh" is possibly more efficient (as for "talked"?). With -st being another familiar sound, that seems to be a good choice and (as such) accepted already.

burlesque

I wasn't able to find the video of the actual example. There is no intrinsic reason to drop the ending 'k' from "burlesque", but softening to 'g' is probably not uncommon. If there is something following that makes the 'k' inefficient, as in "burlesques" or "burlesque statue", it may be reduced as mentioned above.

Worldly matters

The phonetic background shows that it is a relaxation from "proper" speech. It would not be the norm in town hall meetings, classic theatres or older radio broadcast, where it was important to speak clearly. When times changed and media is open to anyone (or should I say that clarity and message is less valued than air time itself?), more voices will be heard and the setting is usually more casual and relaxed. Over time this helps "simplification" win ground.

Faster speech is probably more prone to simplification. I don't know any dialect where it is norm. In some sociolects it may be norm to appear relaxed or "lazy" and simplify, in others the simplification may be to appear rushed. Musical style will affect lyrics.

Recordings

When studying audio recordings, it should be noted that the processed speech may have sounded different "live". Filters and noise cancelling can reduce consonants and promote the tonal components, or the details are masked by noise. You may also loose the visual keys that aid hearing.

  • hi, I found another copy of the recording on youtube youtube.com/watch?v=oENQjvY96dM @ the same time (0:23-24); but after reading your answer and listening to it again now; I think you are right, I think the "k" sound hasn't been dropped but delayed. Let me know what you think. – aesking Jun 15 at 10:17
  • But I think the hard consonant vowel "K" has been softened like you said almost to the point of being omitted, because, relying on the video clip, the "k" is negated to a softer sound not the harsh "K" as in the words "cat" or "kick". I'm more used to pronouncing it with the emphasised harsh K as in the dictionaries rather than the softened "k", though this may have to do with language evolution and phonetics. – aesking Jun 15 at 10:25
  • Thanks for the new link @aesking and sorry for my delayed reply! After a close listen with head-phones, I'd agree that the k is not dropped entirely. It's not overly hard, but I wouldn't say it's very softened either, more shortened if so. It is also delayed, the 'e' and 's' are made longer to emphasize and heighten the drama. – JAG 13 hours ago
  • As for the "recordings" section, I note that there is a camera clip during the end of the word. This way you loose the visual key and mentally move on to the next actor. Perhaps there is a cut in audio as well. In addition her response is after a loud stomp, which takes attention from the 'k'. It is very likely that also technically, the stomp forces the audio volume to go down slightly in preparation. That's my vote for today. – JAG 13 hours ago
  • To sum up, you should keep pronouncing the 'k'. (But each 'k' has room for adjustments. I think you can agree that "kick" has a harder k first and the second k may still be not as soft as the "cat". ) – JAG 13 hours ago
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After listening to the video, I've come to the conclusion that Ross indeed does NOT drop the k noise, it is merely pronounced rapidly.

All words ending with esque are pronounced esk; esque is a suffix derived from Italian meaning resembling/lie something.

To my knowledge, no mainstream dialect drops the "k".

More on http://www.dictionary.com/browse/-esque

  • Hi @ConfusedSoul, I've updated my question. I've also noticed people have the tendency to drop the k sound in live conversations and spontaneous speech when the conversation is "rapid" and also in other sitcoms such as HIMYM. But I'm not sure if it only applies to rapid utterances, such as in "No questions asked" (No questions 'ast'). – aesking Jul 13 '18 at 19:36
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    @aesking Your main question is about nouns ending in '-esque', and this answers it. But any /-sk/ is a bigger thing. Lots of people regularly say /æks/ for 'ask' and /æst/ for 'asked' (especially in AAE). Also, people usually drop the 'k' altogether in plurals of '-sk'. eg 'casks' = /cas s/, 'whisks' = /wis s/. Only in the most articulate of speech (newscasters or actors) will they pronounce the 'k'. (similarly for p and t: 'wasps' = /was s/ and 'casts'= /kæs s/. I'm using '/s s/ to show an 's' that is pronounced longer than usual, no actually interruption implied. – Mitch Jul 13 '18 at 19:59
  • Thank you, @Mitch for your insightful comment. Yes I'm aware that my question was specific to the dropping of the k sound in the suffix -esque, but my comment was in response to "To my knowledge, no mainstream dialect drops the k"--I wasn't sure if this was being said generally or for the suffix -esque. Could you perhaps turn this into an answer? – aesking Jul 13 '18 at 20:12
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    Incidentally, did you "drop the k" in "lie something" on purpose? :-)Is "alike" a better form? – JAG Jun 12 at 4:47
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    I did not notice that I had dropped the k. Well spotted coincidence; that is absolutely hilarious – Confused Soul Jun 12 at 18:38
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First, to simply answer the title question, yes, 'burlesque' and 'grotesque' rhyme, and the 'k' is not dropped.

But there is a lot around this.

  • all words ending in '-esque' are pronounced /-esk/. burlesque, grotesque, kafkaesque, picturesque, romanesque, statuesque all have the same ending /-esk/. The ending is very productive, so there are many words with the ending.

  • In standard English, the 'k' is not dropped. Among world languages, /sk/ is not the hardest consonant cluster, but it's still a cluster which tends towards tongue acrobatics. At the beginning of words, Spanish tends to prepend it with an 'e', and Japanese puts a vowel in between, and French drops the 's' altogether. At the ends of words French can deal just fine (most of those -esque words are French), Spanish can have them together but only with another vowel afterwards (so not really at the end; thanks to @tchrist for pointing this out), and it's still a very alien cluster no matter what for Japanese to attempt. The words you're hearing in the wild may very well drop the /k/, but in English, unvoiced stops (like /k/) at the end of words are not 'released' (no puff of air afterwards) at least in AmE, and so aren't as distinct. That may account for not hearing it. But it'd be pronounced very consistently given that the context is mostly the same.

  • In general though, /-sk/ has a lot more possible vowels before it. Lots of people regularly say /æks/ for 'ask' and /æst/ for 'asked' (especially in AAE). This is a common phenomenon called metathesis, changing the order of sounds)

  • As to dropping, people usually drop the 'k' altogether in plurals of '-sk'. eg 'casks' = /cas s/, 'whisks' = /wis s/. Only in the most articulate of speech (newscasters or actors) will they pronounce the 'k'. (similarly for p and t: 'wasps' = /was s/ and 'casts'= /kæs s/). I'm using '/s s/ to show an 's' that is pronounced with the tiniest of interruptions, if any, more like an extended /s/.

  • No, no Spanish word ends with /sk/, nor can it. That's simply not possible in the language’s phonology. You have una paella de mariscos but never of "marisk"; they just cannot say that. Words "can’t" end in stops in Spanish. Even something like Madrid famously has a fricative at the end. – tchrist Jul 15 '18 at 17:55
  • I will however note that Catalan allows a tautosyllabic /sk/ cluster. So where Spanish has San Francisco for Saint Francis, Catalan has Sant Francesc. Different rules. Now try saying He’s asking basking Basques bask sunnily three times fast. :) I mention this because like Catalan, Basque also allows consonant clusters in the coda forbidden by Spanish: for example, the Basque city of Zarautz is simply Zarauz in Spanish, because they “can’t” say the other one — and have the good sense to make sure their spelling always represents their actual pronunciation. – tchrist Jul 15 '18 at 18:14
  • @tchrist edited – Mitch Jul 15 '18 at 21:37
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    @Mitch Is "people usually drop" also in AAE context? I also note "/s s/" definition here is slightly different from your previous comment. Can you edit to align and reduce any future reader's confusion? I've never heard (of) "dropping k" being other than an omission. "/æks/" seems to be the only example of metathesis, but doesn't explain why to drop k. Did you have other references? – JAG Jun 12 at 5:41
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    @Mitch 3) metathesis is about rearranging, not dropping, so I wanted to know if you had another explanation. But I see the answer is a year back, so I understand if you have nothing at hand. ;-) I based my answer on another hypothesis. – JAG Jun 12 at 19:06

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