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The alveolar fricatives /s/ and /z/
quickinfo

Features
A possible feature specification of  /s/ is -sonorant, -voice, -labial, +coronal, -velar, +continuant.

Phonotactic behaviour
As a voiceless fricative, /s/ can occur in onset clusters of one ( 1a), two ( 1b) or three consonants ( 1c). Furthermore, /s/ can occur in simple ( 2a) and complex ( 2b) codas. It can also occur in longer word-final consonant clusters, just like /t/ like in 2c. Also word-internally, /s/ can occur exceptionally in clusters which seem otherwise too long, like in 3.

Example 1

Onset
a. sap juice
b. snel quick
c. straat street
Example 2

Coda
a. tas bag
b. kers cherry
c. herfst autumn
Example 3

Word-medial
extra
e
/kstr/
a
extra

Features
A possible feature specification of  /z/ is -sonorant, +voice, -labial, +coronal, -velar, +continuant.

Phonotactic behaviour
/z/ can only occur in onset clusters of one ( 4) consonant. Other clusters seem avoided because of the voiced character of /z/ and possibly because of the OCP. Furthermore, /z/ can occur in simple ( 5a) and complex codas ( 5b) underlyingly, but neutralizes to [s] in that position because of final devoicing.

Example 4

Onset
zie
see
Example 5

Coda
a. lees read
b. vers fresh

/z/ clearly is the voiced counterpart of /s/. Voicing assimilation of the latter segment renders [z], such as in 6b, and inversely, final devoicing can turn /z/ into [s], such as in 6a:

Example 6

a. bos+bes bo /sb/ es bo [zb] es blueberry
b. stoep+zout stoe /pz/ out stoe [ps] out pavement salt
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[+] Articulatory information

Dutch /s/ is a voiceless and /z/ a voicedalveolarsibilantfricative. The approximation is between the tongue blade and the alveolar ridge, somewhat further back than English /s/. Tongue muscles may also be less tense, producing more diffuse spectral energy (Collins and Mees 2003: 190).

Alveolar
speech sounds produced at alveolar place of articulation, i.e. by a constriction between the corona of the tongue and the alveolar ridge. See the human speech organs.

Sibilant
fricative involving two constrictions; one is the narrow channel created between the tongue and the palate or alveolar ridge, the other is formed by the teeth, against which the airflow is directed.

Fricative
consonant involving turbulent airflow through a narrow channel produced by close approximation of the active and passive articulators. See the human speech organs.


Figure 1: The human speech organs

[click image to enlarge]

[+] Acoustic information

Alveolar
in obstruents, noise or noise bursts characterised by a centre of gravity above 5000 Hz. Second formant transitions into vowels come from around 1800 Hz, and both F2 and F3 stay flat or go in a downward direction.

Fricative
consonant involving aperiodic energy ( noise)

Dutch /s/ and /z/ are characterised by a noise peaks that are somewhat lower than for alveolarfricatives in other languages (such as English), which may have to do with a slightly more back or a less tense articulation.

[+] Examples

Table 1: Soundfiles, waveforms and spectrograms of the above sound files, with indications of the relevant acoustic parameters of Northern Standard Dutch /s/
wordgroup phonological context soundfile waveform/spectogram
(...) schiet het met spin de lucht in(...) shoot it with spin into the air word-initial
[click image to enlarge]
om zich te wassento wash yourself intervocalic
[click image to enlarge]
hij trok een viesgezichthe made aweird face word-final
[click image to enlarge]

Table 2: Soundfiles, waveforms and spectrograms of the above sound files, with indications of the relevant acoustic parameters of Southern Standard Dutch /s/
wordgroup phonological context soundfile waveform/spectogram
een enorme spinan enormous spider word-initial
[click image to enlarge]
dan kan ik dit kleed wassenthen I can wash this dress intervocalic
[click image to enlarge]
ik ben niet vies van werkenI am not dirty from work word-final
[click image to enlarge]

Table 3: Soundfiles, waveforms and spectrograms of the above sound files, with indications of the relevant acoustic parameters of Northern Standard Dutch /z/
wordgroup phonological context soundfile waveform/spectogram
Amerikanen zijn zotAmericans are crazy word-initial
[click image to enlarge]
ik kan niet lezenI can't read intervocalic
[click image to enlarge]

Table 4: Soundfiles, waveforms and spectrograms of the above sound files, with indications of the relevant acoustic parameters of Southern Standard Dutch /z/
wordgroup phonological context soundfile waveform/spectogram
ga weg, oude zotgo away, old fool word-initial
[click image to enlarge]
geen muziek lezennot read music intervocalic
[click image to enlarge]
[+] Variation: voicing of /z/

The voicing distinction between /s/ and /z/ is more stable than that in the /f/-/v/ and /x/-/ɣ/ pairs, where in Northern Standard Dutch there is often devoicing of the second member. Devoicing of /z/ and a concomitant disappearance of the distinction with /s/ occurs in a number of Dutch dialects, but is considered less acceptable in Standard Dutch than devoiced/v/ and /ɣ/(Gussenhoven 1981; Van de Velde et al. 1996: 92; Smakman 2006: 216).

In Belgian Standard Dutch, the contrast is robust, though voiceless realisations are increasing in more recent standard speech (Van de Velde et al. 1996:101).

References:
  • Collins, B. & Mees, I2003The Phonetics of English and DutchLeidenE.J. Brill
  • Gussenhoven, Carlos1981Measuring the acceptability of Dutch voiced fricativesProceedings IFN5NijmegenUniversity of Nijmegen96-126
  • Smakman, Dick2006Standard Dutch in the Netherlands: A Sociolinguistic and Phonetic DescriptionUtrechtLOT
  • Velde, Hans van de, Gerritsen, Marinel & Hout, Roeland van1996The devoicing of fricatives in Standard Dutch: A real-time study based on radio recordingsLanguage Variation and Change8149-175
  • Velde, Hans van de, Gerritsen, Marinel & Hout, Roeland van1996The devoicing of fricatives in Standard Dutch: A real-time study based on radio recordingsLanguage Variation and Change8149-175
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