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De-voicing of plosives

Consider how the voiced bilabial plosive /b/ is articulated in the word ball /bɔl/. You will probably need to say it aloud to both hear and feel the effect. Now try saying aloud the word nib /nɪb/, again focusing on the phoneme /b/. Do they sound the same? For most speakers, the /b/ at the beginning of the word ball /bɔl/ is fully voiced – it is a strong sound. However, the /b/ at the end of the word nib /nɪb/ is typically less forceful – it is not fully voiced. This phonetic realization is referred to as being de-voiced and this de-voiced allophone of /b/ is represented symbolically as [b̥]. We can say, therefore, that /b/ has at least two allophones, [b] and [b̥].

Of course, only voiced consonants can be de-voiced and the remaining two voiced plosives /d, g/ are similarly de-voiced in word-final position, e.g.

bed /bɛd/ [bɛd̥]
bag /bæg/ [bæɡ̊]

De-voicing of fricatives

The voiced fricatives /v/, /ð/ and /z/ are also similarly voiced in word-final position, e.g.

have /hæv/ [hæv̥]
seethe /sið/ [siːð̥]
haze /heɪz/ [heɪːz̥]

As we have seen, the voiced post-alveolar fricative /ʒ/ typically occurs intervocalically in English. Exceptionally, when it does occur word-finally in loan words it may also be subject to de-voicing, e.g.

beige /beɪʒ/ [beɪːʒ̊]
garage / gærɒʒ/ [gærɒːʒ̊]

There are, however, only a handful of words where /ʒ/ occurs in word-final position and so the frequency of occurrence for de-voicing of the post-alveolar fricative is extremely low.

De-voicing of affricates

As we know, there is only one voiced affricate in English, the voiced post-alveolar affricate /ʤ/. As with plosives and fricatives, this affricate is also de-voiced in word-final position, e.g.

badge /bæʤ/ [bæʤ̊]

De-voicing of approximants

Of the four approximants, only the liquids /r/ and /l/ show any appreciable de-voicing in particular contexts. There is a de-voiced allophone of the phoneme /r/ which occurs after the voiceless consonants /p, t, k, f, θ, ʃ/. It is represented symbolically as [ɹ̥] and occurs in words such as the following.

pray /preɪ/ [pʰɹ̥eɪː]
tray /treɪ/ [tʰr̥eɪː]
cry /kraɪ/ [kʰɹ̥aɪː]
free /fri/ [fɹ̥iː]
three /θri/ [θɹ̥iː]
shrew /ʃru/ [ʃɹ̥uː]

The fully voiced allophone is represented symbolically as [ɹ] and this occurs elsewhere, e.g.

run /rʌn/ [ɹʌn]
carry /kærɪ/ [kʰæɹɪ]

Thus, the phoneme /r/ has at least two allophones: [ɹ] and [ɹ̥].

The lateral /l/ is de-voiced when it immediately follows either the voiceless bilabial plosive /p/ or the voiceless velar plosive /k/. For example:

play /pleɪ/ [pʰl̥eɪː]
clay /kleɪ/ [kʰl̥eɪː]

The fully voiced allophone [l], however, occurs before vowels, e.g.

lay /leɪ/ [leɪː]
early /ɜlɪ/ [ɜːlɪ]

Consequently, the phoneme /l/ has at least two allophones: [l] and [l̥].

Table 6. De-voiced allophones

Table 6. De-voiced allophones.

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