Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Pronunciation of –s suffix

This notice, seen in Ikea cafés in Singapore, encourages customers to clear their trays after eating.  As can be seen, in Singapore English pronunciation, trace and trays are homophones (different words pronounced identically): both are /treɪs/. 

By contrast, in other varieties of English, e.g. British, trace would be /treɪs/ and trays, /treɪz/.  The suffix –s, as a possessive (e.g. Chuck’s), plural (e.g. Chucks) or third-person singular present tense (e.g. chucks) marker, is realized as /s/ after voiceless sounds and as /z/ after voiced ones (vowels and voiced consonants).  This rule applies to trays, whose singular form, tray /treɪ/, ends in a vowel (voiced) sound, but not to trace /treɪs/, where the /s/ is not a suffix but part of the root.


The romantic query letter and the happy-ever-after said...

Hello Ludwig,
You have my gratitude. It means a lot to me that a grammar expert believes my writing is worthy of praise.
I learn something new every time I visit your blog. Thanks for sharing.
All my very best,

EeHui said...

I noticed it when I went there with my friends last semester!

Increased awareness all thanks to your lecture. Muhahahahhaa.

The Grammar Terrorist said...

That's great -- so what we teach in NIE *is* relevant to everyday life!

CLARK said...

Also the vowel in trays is longer than in trace.

The Grammar Terrorist said...

Yes, I think this is partly due to the fact that 'trace' ends in a voiceless [s] so the voicing that's perceived with the vowels ends earlier.

But there're newer studies which suggest that the [z] at the end of 'trays' is really [s], but it's perceived as [z] because the voicing continues for longer. In other words, 'trays' and 'trace' are pronounced alike, but the voicing for 'trays' carries on for longer.