Solving American Pronunciation of S: Voicing the S
Interference from Famous Chess Player’s Accent
A very interesting number one-ranked famous chess player, Magnus Carlsen was recently talking to Charlie Rose, one of my favorite interviewers. Magnus was consistently pronouncing the letter “s” without voicing in all contexts. This caused a problem for the following reason. Depending on the surrounding speech sounds, the letter “s” is either pronounced with voicing or without voicing. When an American expects to hear the S sound pronounced with voicing and it is not, the American’s ears alert the brain. The alert says something like “Focus all your attention on what is different about the way this person is speaking. Don’t worry about what they’re saying. Figure out how they’re saying it.”
Tip for Pronouncing Voiced S
If you speak English as your second or other language, here is a straightforward tip for you to pronounce the letter S. When the S is voiced, it sounds like the American sound represented by the letter Z. Yes, this does mean that you will pronounce the letter S as a Z even when the word is spelled with an S, not a Z. Voice the S when the preceding sounds are voiced. Voiced sounds are: vowels and diphthongs, b, d g, m, n, r, y, and v. For example, the S at the end of the following words is pronounced as Z.
- Limbs-Limz (note that the “b” is not pronounced)
- Eyes-Eyez (the “e” is silent)
- Moves-Movez (the “e” is silent)
- Lives-Livez (the “e” is silent; this is also considered a heteronym)
Summary of Voiced S
When the S is voiced, it sounds like the American sound represented by the letter Z. Pronounce the letter S as a Z even when the word is spelled with an S, not a Z. The reason that Magnus Carlsen’s speech causes a distraction to the native English speaker’s ear is because Magnus pron0unces the S as it is spelled. Voiced sounds are: vowels and diphthongs, b, d g, m, n, r, y, and v. If you have ever wondered how to sound more American, perhaps your /s/ pronunciation is one area in which you can improve. When you implement American accent techniques, your listeners focus on WHAT you’re saying and not on HOW you’re saying it. The letter “s” presents one common pronunciation challenge that is easy to identify and change for speakers of English as a second or other language. Happy S voicing!