Date: Fri, 18 Nov 1994 09:26:56 -0800


Subject: new (?) s/sh variation in English before /tr/

I published this on LINGUIST-L a few months ago, and my wife, Marilyn Silva,

suggested this morning that I post it here! Eureka -- of course! This is the

group that would be noticing such things. So here we go.


Is it just me -- is it just that I haven't really been paying attention to

actual American English phonetics for the past 25 years since my UCLA

linguistics training, or could it actually be that there has been some weird

pronunciation shift going on in the United States around certain [st]

clusters during the past two or three years? I am constantly hearing the

following substitutions of esh for [s] and esh+t for [st], both on tv and on the

streets, in the following kinds of words, where 'S' stands for "esh";

notice that there is *usually* an 'r' nearby, usually after but sometimes

before, and then a few cases where no 'r' is involved at all:

adminiStration, Structure, conStruction, obStruction, deStroy

Street, Strictly, , Strike, underStand, induStry, realiStic,

reStaurant, chemiStry

Straight (Bryant Gumble)

ekStra (Pam Moore, Bay Area newscaster)

reStrain (Lt. Worf, Star Trek: Next Generation)

bookStore, Strong(er), Stripe, moonStruck (Jay Leno)

weirder: deScribe, reSpect, anniverSary, State

I also note with interest that certain other clusters do/might not

alternate in the same way: ?juSt; ?linguiStics; ?intereSt; ?subStitution;

?cluSter; ?conStantly. However, it may just be that I have not yet heard

these pronunciations.

So this alternation seems to occur initially and medially but *perhaps*

not finally, and is likely to occur as assimilation to a nearby retroflex --

except that's obviously not the only environment it occurs in. Thus far I

have not been able to see/hear any obvious dialectal/regional similarities

among those who have this alternant pronunciation, but I have the sense

that it is Southern, even though the Boston Jay Leno does it. Holly Hunter,

who is (?) from the South, does this all the time, as does Christian Slater,

who is quite prolific at this (one of my students sees him as a chief

promulgator of this quirk ("She's doing Christian Slater"), supposedly tied to the tongue-numbing effects of a certain intoxicant, and therefore to

'cool-ness' or whatever the current term is). If so, perhaps we should be

talking here about (Drug-) Altered States of Language.

Has anyone else noticed this? Listen for it if you haven't heard it yet. Does

anyone have any idea how old this alternation is? Why is/should such a

shift be happening (silly question)?


I received back a number of responses which I summarized (and would be glad

to post here if anyone wants them). Meanwhile, I hear it increasingly now that

I'm so attuned to it. Prescriptivists would say it's *substandard*, and others

would say it's *lower-class*.

Anyone else tracking this phenomenon?

-- Moonhawk (%- )

"The fool on the hill sees the sun going down and

the eyes in his head see the world spinning round"

-- McCartney/Lennon