I am a native U.K. speaker with a strong Midlands dialect, and I am very aware of other dialects and regional accents from around the world of English speakers, and I really enjoy this.

I am a data scientist, with a strong interest in natural language processing, and I have a problem with the phonetic representation of the word oranges. NOTE: Not singular orange, I am specifically referencing the plural word oranges.

So here is my problem, illustrated with references from different online resources:

  1. youtube pronunciation video | How to Pronounce Oranges
  2. forvo pronunciation audio files | How to Pronounce Oranges
  3. youdao dictionary definition | [ɔrɪndʒs]
  4. baidu dictionary | 英 ['ɒrɪndʒs] 美 ['ɒrɪndʒs]
  5. phonetic link | /'ɒrɪndʒɪz/
  6. phonetic link | ˈɑrɪndʒəz
  7. CMU pronouncing dict, ARPABET | AO R AH N JH AH Z .

I live in China, and Chinese internet resources such as 3. and 4., show that is followed straight away by s, meanwhile, other websites such as 5. and 6., show at least some phonetic "e sounding phoneme" in between and s.

From a native speaker perspective, I feel that 5., 6. and 7. are correct in the final stages of the word in order to make it plural, while 3. and 4. are incorrect. So as a native speaker, with almost 30 years of experience with the language, tend to believe my instincts in a lot of circumstances.

Now when I try to persuade colleagues that resources 3. and 4. are not correct, I fail straight away because these corporations tend to be treated as the truth. As such they do not believe me, emulate the phoneme suggestions of 3. and 4. and proceed to say the word from what I see as incorrect, which brings up more problems in the app we are building, described further below.

I know my mouth can produce the sound /s/ straight after /dʒ/, so my first theory that it is just a natural reflex of the mouth to add a slight vowel sound in between /s/ and /dʒ/, thus not needing to actually include this vowel phoneme in the phonetic representation of the word, was disproved.

My second thought that as a native speaker, have I learned this addition of a vowel from the natural evolution of language? Was it many many years ago pronounced without a final vowel sound? As such, the phonetic representation of oranges has now changed?

So with different resources providing different information, is there a more definitive way or better solution as to better accurately describe how the word is said, or in part, said by the vast majority? And I'm really not talking about accent based, like U.S.A vs UK banana, but more like the word oranges, that so far to me, is not regionally bound for the addition of a vowel near the end to make it plural.

We have a phonetic analysis tool in our app, where the user can say some words and it will try to determine whether these phonemes have been uttered, but with these different definitions and expected phonemes present in the word, this becomes even more difficult because right now I am unclear as the what phonemes should be expected to be uttered for that word, if an additional vowel is picked up, should that be treated as the correct ending, or not?

This post was fairly difficult to write, as phonetics are very much an audio-based thing, so if anything was unclear, please let me know and I'll try to re-word it better.

  • 5
    The Youdao and Baidu dictionary entries are incorrect according to the standard conventions for transcribing English phonetically. Note that they not only lack the vowel before the suffixed consonant, they also transcribe the consonant as [s] instead of as z. – sumelic Nov 8 '18 at 7:08
  • Could you point me in the right direction for these standard conventions for transcribing English? And the s/z was noted, thank you! – jupiar Nov 8 '18 at 7:39
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    I actually made a poor word choice with "standard"; I should have said "typical conventions". There isn't a true "standard" in this area, so it's hard to judge what your colleagues would accept as sufficiently authoritative sources. The Oxford Reference Guide to English Morphology (2013) says "The allomorph /ɪz/ follows base-final sibilant consonants (/s, z, ʃ, ʒ, ʧ, ʤ/)" (§ – sumelic Nov 8 '18 at 7:50
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    @PLL summed it up nicely in that how do you convince people that a source they regard as authoritative can be wrong on a specific point?, sometimes they feel that anglophone sources are too vague, or complex because also explained in English, so default back to the Chinese source. – jupiar Nov 9 '18 at 1:45
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    @Acccumulation, the audio file sounds correct to me, maybe artificially generated but still sufficient to hear the final vowel, but the phonetics do not match. Now to me as a native speaker, I feel I can hear this, but I would guess for most English learners, it's not so obvious, so the using the combination of both, they would then lean towards agreeing with the written phonetics. I say this because when I started learning Chinese, I would default to the pinyin alot to know how to say the word when studying alone. Note; they pronounce it similar, but with practically no vowel sound. – jupiar Nov 9 '18 at 1:50

A non-negotiable phonological rule of all standard Englishes inserts a vowel (either /ə/ or /ɪ/, depending on the variety of English) between base-final sibilant consonants and the plural morpheme /z/. The /z/ morpheme remains voiced in this position after a vowel.

The sibilant consonants in English are /s, z, ʃ, ʒ, tʃ, dʒ/

Therefore for the following words:

  • bus /bʌs/
  • quiz /kwɪz/
  • rush /rʌʃ/
  • beige /beɪʒ/
  • hutch /hutʃ/
  • judge /dʒʌdʒ/

We see the following plurals:

  • buses /bʌsɪz/
  • quizzes /kwɪzɪz/
  • rushes /rʌʃɪz/
  • beiges /beɪʒɪz/
  • hutches /hutʃɪz/
  • judges /dʒʌdʒɪz/

And the word oranges is therefore /'ɒrɪndʒɪz/ in so-called Standard British or /'ɔːrɪndʒəz/ in General American. In General American there may be some variation in the initial vowel or in terms of whether speakers use /ɪ/ or /ə/ in the final syllable. However, there is NO exception to the insertion of a final vowel before the plural morpheme in either British or American standard Englishes.

Notice that both the youdau and baidu entries are completely and utterly incorrect giving an /s/ variant of the plural morpheme after a voiced consonant. This is a phonological impossibility in English.

For a beginner-level introduction to English plurals, the Original Poster's colleagues could be directed here: Rachel's English.

Why are some internet dictionaries unreliable? Well, they are not published by reputable publishers or based on research.

  • 2
    This is a very informative answer and provided me with the information I was seeking, thank you! – jupiar Nov 8 '18 at 11:42
  • @jupiar Thankyou. (You might want to wait before selecting an answer though. You mght get a better one!) – Araucaria Nov 8 '18 at 11:43
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    Often Asian bilingual materials are obviously compiled with less input from native English speakers than the Asian language and have strange-sounding English examples; that's at least in part what I'd blame for some erroneous phonetic transcription. e.g., 4.bp.blogspot.com/_q_ANsJvo3Ho/Sjxn4xn6uQI/AAAAAAAAAAw/… – Casey Nov 8 '18 at 16:19
  • @Casey, I too have found this out over the years after living in numerous different countries where English is non-native, but it is hard for many people or small businesses to be able/afford to consult with native speakers, it would be great if there was a platform/app for easy access linking English consulting with the populations of native English speakers, I think a lot of people would help out, just for the case of helping out... – jupiar Nov 9 '18 at 2:00
  • I would have had both a double s in busses and double z in quizzes, but Google ngrams only seems to support me on the latter: goo.gl/yVDoFA – nohat Nov 9 '18 at 2:47

One of the questions you ask is:

Was it many many years ago pronounced without a final vowel sound? As such, the phonetic representation of oranges has now changed?

Actually, it was the other way around.

In Old English, many nouns were pluralized by adding /as/, for example, stan (stone) became stanas.

In Middle English, this rule started being applied to nearly all nouns (a few kept their old plurals, like mouse/mice), but we also started dropping the vowel except after /s/, /ʃ/, /tʃ/, /z/, /ʒ/, and /dʒ/, so stone pluralizes as stones.

  • That was a very interesting read, thanks for that information! – jupiar Nov 8 '18 at 11:51

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