British Accent Training: The ‘Z’ Sound
The ‘z’ sound occurs a surprising amount in RP. It’s on the end of words like ‘sounds’, ‘sings’, and ‘knives’ – even though all of them are written with the letter ‘s’.
This is an important thing to remember – it’s very easy to get fooled by the letters when you’re working in English. There are actually far more sounds than there are letters in English – around twice as many. For instance, though there are only 5 vowels – a, e, i, o, u – there are over 25 vowel sounds that can be brought out through combinations of letters.
So we can’t trust the letters to tell us which sound to make – and this is definitely true for the ‘z’ sound. But here’s a useful tip.
British Accent Training: Voiced and Voiceless Consonants
The ‘z’ sound is a ‘voiced’ sound. Try making it while placing a finger on your voicebox. Do you feel the vibration?
Now try a ‘s’ sound. That’s a ‘voiceless’ one. Place the finger on your voicebox again. You might feel less vibration, or zero vibration. On the ‘z’, the voicebox is working to create sound. On the ‘s’, you don’t use the voicebox at all.
So in the ‘z’, we use voice to create it. The ‘s’ is actually made in exactly the same place as the ‘z’, it just uses no voice. That’s the difference between ‘voiced’ and ‘voiceless’ consonants. Voiceless have no voice in them.
Here’s the tip: if the sound that comes before the written ‘s’ is a voiced sound, the written ‘s’ will turn into a ‘z’.
In ‘sounds’, the ‘d’ is a voiced consonant. That makes the written ‘s’ that follows into a voiced ‘z’ sound.
In ‘sings’, the ‘ng’ nasal is a voiced consonant, which carries on into the written s.
In ‘knives’, the ‘v’ is voiced, voicing the ‘s’. Makes sense, right?
Whereas, in ‘sights’, the voiceless ‘t’ makes the written ‘s’ voiceless too.
Hope you enjoyed this tip – get in touch to book your Skype lesson and your free phone consultation. See you soon!