10

I've been watching Peep Show and I just discovered on the internet that the guy I thought was named "Superhands" is actually called "Super Hans".

Is it normal to confuse these two due to similarities in pronunciation? The 'd' is not silent in 'hands', is it? Or can they be phonetically equivalent in certain dialects?

7
  • 5
    In my American English, Californian pronunciation, superhands and super hans sound virtually identical. The d is not silent, exactly; we're just too lazy to enunciate it and too impatient to hear it. – Tinfoil Hat Apr 14 at 2:52
  • 11
    There should be no confusion if you pronounce Hans like the Germans do. – user3840170 Apr 14 at 13:28
  • 1
    They are phonetically identical in British English, unless you go to great pains to emphasise the difference. – Strawberry Apr 14 at 15:17
  • 1
    @user3840170 I instinctively do, so had the same thought. But I'm English; I think I've met one American Hans ("Hanz"), quite a few Germans with that name and no one British. (Now I wonder what the plural of Hans would be - Hansen?) – Chris H Apr 14 at 15:21
  • I almost gave my daughter the wrong name because I heard the character she's named after as 'Ashley' rather than 'Aisling' – Pete Kirkham Apr 14 at 16:08
14

In certain dialects of English, superhands and Super Hans may sound identical because of two reasons:

1. Insertion of [d] in Hans

Hans may be pronounced with an epenthetic/intrusive [d] because of a phenomenon called epenthesis. Epenthesis is the pronunciation of an unhistorical sound within a word. Consonants and vowels are usually inserted into words for the ease of pronunciation. Epenthesis happens for a variety of different reasons, but the one with which we're concerned here is:

Transition between a nasal and a fricative: when there's a fricative after a nasal in the same syllable, Anglophones are likely to insert an epenthetic stop between them. The reason is because the air comes out through the nose while articulating a nasal and as the nasal changes to an oral fricative, the airflow must be switched from nasal to oral and should be stopped before articulating an oral consonant, so there is a brief period in which both the nasal and oral airflow are stopped, this is a brief oral stop, homorganic (same place of articulation) with the nasal. [Adopted from English After RP by Geoff Lindsey]

Lindsey goes on to say that the plosive is more likely if the fricative is voiceless, ‘when the articulatory system has an additional voicing change to handle’. He also says that ‘it’s less likely if the fricative is at the beginning of a stressed syllable, e.g. in'sane’ (no epenthetic stop)

Some examples of epenthetic stops are:

  • length is almost always pronounced lengkth, with an epenthetic k between the nasal [ŋ] and the oral fricative [θ]
  • warmth and hamster are often pronounced warmpth and hampster, respectively (with an epenthetic p)
  • thunder used to be þunor, the d is epenthetic. (Historical epenthesis)
  • prince and prints are pronounced identically in certain dialects

Moving on to the original question, in Hans, the nasal and the fricative are in the same syllable, meaning it's a prime candidate for epenthesis. It's possible though that most speakers might insert a non-underlying/epenthetic stop between the /n/ and the /z/, making it sound more like hands. So it's one of the reasons Hans and hands sound similar.

2. Deletion of the underlying /d/ in hands

Another reason is the deletion of the underlying /d/ in hands. In some dialects, it's increasingly common to elide (delete) the /d/ when it occurs between two other voiced sounds. The d in ‘hands’ is flanked by two voiced sounds (/n/ and /z/), therefore most speakers are likely to remove the underlying /d/, making it sound like hans [hænz]. This process is generally called elision.

Conclusions

Hands may sound like Hans because of elision or vice versa because of epenthesis. It depends on who's pronouncing them:

  • some dialects have what's called the PRINCE-PRINTS merger; they might insert an epenthetic stop in Hans
  • some dialects might elide the underlying d from hands
  • there are many other dialects that clearly distinguish between pairs such as prince-prints, Hans-hands, mince-mints etc
12
  • 2
    There are so many variants and variables in spoken language that is virtually impossible to pin down a single correct answer. As your conclusions show the sound in hands vs hans may and may not coincide according to different contexts .. frustrating, isn’t it? – user 66974 Apr 14 at 7:00
  • 1
    @user66974: you're right, but I believe my answer addresses some of the OP's questions. – Decapitated Soul Apr 14 at 7:02
  • 5
    IMO, it also happens in sense which can be heard as "cents". Just recently, I was talking to my American friend (through voice) and it surprised me when he said "cents of humor". I asked him what he said he said cents of humor (Again: on voice). Then I asked him to send it through text and he wrote "sense of humor", only then did I understand he meant "sense". – Sphinx Apr 14 at 8:36
  • 1
    I would argue a third reason: the two different possible pronunciations of Hans: one that rhymes with "cans" and one that rhymes with (the last syllable of) "nuance." In my experience, the British are more likely to use the former, but Germans and Americans the latter. – trlkly Apr 14 at 22:25
  • 1
    @trlkly and Eiríkr: My answer only holds true when Hans is pronounced /hænz/ – Decapitated Soul Apr 14 at 23:19
0

Is it normal to confuse these two due to similarities in pronunciation?

For most speakers, those words are completely different words and never get confused.

The 'd' is not silent in 'hands', is it?

No, it is not silent. In "handsome", it is silent but not in "hands".

Or can they be phonetically equivalent in certain dialects?

Maybe there are dialects that confuse them but speakers of most dialects do distinguish between them.

Also note that "Hans" can be pronounced with a broad A (like the A in "bar").

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.