Some Texans speak with slurring "s" sounds, sometimes making a soft rasp or even a "sh" sound? example "Shtudent" instead of "student". Is this traditional or a new affectation?

  • How long does it have to be in existence to be 'traditional'? Dec 6 '19 at 15:59
  • Not just Texans. Here's some Sir Sean Connery (Sorry about the commentary, but listen to him, not her.)
    – Andrew Leach
    Dec 6 '19 at 16:02
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    Which Texans? Amarillo? Dallas? East Texas? South Texas? El Paso? Austin?
    – shoover
    Dec 6 '19 at 16:10
  • I thought Connery had a "speech defect" Dec 6 '19 at 17:03
  • It's common in Britain, especially in the north I think, to use "sh" before a glide-U sound. We all do it with "sure" and "sugar", but they often do it with words like "stupid". Dec 7 '19 at 2:02

This phenomenon is called s-backing, s-retraction, or s-palatalisation, because the speaker is moving their tongue further back in their mouth. As Ben Yagoda points out in Lingua Franca, and as noted in another EL&U Stack Exchange question, American speakers commonly employ an /sh/ sound when saying a word like "grocery." Other common shifts include using /sh/ at the start of the word (as Sean Connery does) or, specifically, using /sh/ in the combination "str-" (e.g. strength).

The phenomenon is more widespread than Texas, and has occurred at a greater rate in the last 70 or so years. Linguists Olivier Glain and Jean Monnet (2014) connect s-backing (or, as they call it, palatalisation) to post-World War II changes including the decline of Received Pronunciation in the UK and a similar democratization of accent in the US. They find an increasing level of palatalisation among Scottish and American speakers. In the specific context of Philadelphia, Duna Gylfadottir (2015) found that the /s/ sound in "str-" has turned to /sh/ more frequently over time.

The research is ongoing; a 2019 paper by Jane Suart-Smith et al. find that the specific shift in "str-" words occurs in corpuses representing the American Midwest, South, and Canada, but not in the American West. In any case, so far results suggest that the phenomenon is broader than Texas.

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    --->>> some <<----- Americans (might) say that Dec 6 '19 at 17:03
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    I mean, obviously some Americans say that. (I'm an American and I don't notice s-backing in my speech.) I qualified my claims appropriately. "American speakers commonly employ ..." "an increasing level of palatalisation," "occurs in corpuses." Dec 6 '19 at 18:05
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    that is not how I read '"American speakers commonly employ an /sh/ sound when saying a word like "grocery."' Dec 6 '19 at 23:13

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