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Why doesn't orthography distinguish between /s/ and /z/ in English plurals?

asked 2017-06-17 15:21:41 -0500

Rebecca_allen gravatar image

I know the -s plural ending came into Old English via Old Norse - most of the Germanic plurals were simplified down to the -s suffix. Yet, many modern English plurals (and third person singular verb endings) are pronounced as -s or -z (as in catS and dogZ and also /Iz/) depending on whether the last sound of the root is voiced or voiceless. Yet this isn't reflected at all in the orthography. Any ideas why? Historically, was the Old Norse Plural voiceless? Did Old Norse tend to devoice word endings? Has the voicing of the plurals evolved over time? I was trying to find something on this and couldn't. I am not a historical linguist, but rather an applied one and I was teaching my students about plural pronunciations and this came to mind. Curiosity kills the cat here....any thoughts? Thanks :)

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answered 2017-06-25 01:09:42 -0500

English used to distinguish between voiced and unvoiced th as in todays "thin" and "then". Why doesn't standard modern English spelling (orthography) continue to do so? There are other such examples including where /z/ is sounded instead of /s/ when a singular noun ends in a sibilant sound, a unvoiced non-sibilant consonant, a vowel or a voiced non-sibilant. The answer is a simple one: the phonetics of modern spoken English is just not reflected in the use of its Roman-based alphabet. The historical conventions of spelling generally ignore the demands of the actual stream of speech. In other words, the answer is found in the actual acoustics of phonetics, not in the systemic patterns of phonemics or phonology as it relates to English.

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Asked: 2017-06-17 15:21:15 -0500

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Last updated: Jun 17 '17