Saturday, February 26, 2011


If someone were to ask you how it is you talk about more than one of the same kind of thing at a time in English, you might tell him a number of things. Most of us would say, "Add an S." A linguist might say, "If the object in question's lexical reference ends in a vowel, add a voiced alveolar fricative. Unless, of course, that reference should end with a non-approximant consonant, in which case you will have to precede the voiced alveolar fricative with a mid-center vowel, excepting of course cases in which the non-approximant consonant is also any manner of unvoiced fricative or plosive, in which case you will have to drop the voicing of your alveolar fricative." One of these will be easier to understand, and one of these will be more accurate.

You probably weren't expecting them to both be the former.

Yes, it's true. You might think the linguist is onto something here, what with all his fancy-talk and such. Truth is, his explanation is a rough approximation of a single convention disguised as fact, and is the reason you shouldn't trust some o' them academic types. What he says is essentially, "Make a 'z' sound unless it ends roughly, in which case make the '一' sound in '한글' and then the 'z'. You might also make a 'normal s' sound now and again." That might be true for him, but I find myself often preceding my voiced alveolar fricatives with a vowel more to the tune of a near-close near-front unrounded (which is the 'i' in 'which'). But that's just me. I know lots of people whose method of pluralizing nouns in English is different entirely, at least when it comes to linguistic jargon. If you are transliterating things into the IPA (International Phonetic Alphabet) at a university, and they are looking for one answer, do not give that school your money.

The first response, on the other hand, is quite nice. In just three words, they have effectively communicated all the many ways people in English pluralize non-exceptional nouns, by referring to what a linguist, as fate would have it, would call an "allomorph". Essentially, it means that we understand S's to make a variety of sounds, all of which will demand some manner of space in between themselves and certain other consonants, and which will manifest itself in natural and appropriate ways when someone speaks. Here's an example:

  • Beats
  • Beads

Note the difference in the pronunciation of the letter S in each word? The preceding consonants in each case are articulated in the same spot, but the difference is that 'traditional t' sounds are unvoiced and 'traditional d' sounds are. Your following 's' will voice itself or unvoice itself accordingly. Try screwing around with different combinations, see how it works for yourself. Learning neat little nothings like this is what will really put you on your way to realizing a second language.

More to follow!


  1. I've purchased your WriteKana and WriteKanji Android applications and recommend them to everyone. Please make these applications tablet friendly so that they can work on Android 3.2 in either portrait or landscape orientation no matter what the position or rotation of the tablet is. Also, for WriteKana, please move the "2" and "3" of the stroke order for the katakana "u" so the "2" is next to the small vertical line and the "3" is next to the horizontal line.

  2. Hello, is it possible to see more screenshots from writechinese for android?? I'm looking for an aplication that teaches the characters but then you can do a drill, so the program gives the translation and you need to write the character.

  3. It’s hard to sort the good from the bad sometimes, but I think you’ve nailed it. You write very well which is amazing. I really impressed by your post. thank you for share Linguistics