Today is the first day of UCL’s Summer Course in English Phonetics 2015! It’s my first year as Director of this internationally renowned two-week course, and a privilege for me to belong to a UCL line that stretches right back to Daniel Jones, the father of English Phonetics. This year we have nearly a hundred enrolled participants from around 20 countries.
I’m joined by a wonderful team of tutors and lecturers, so I’m going to post a short daily piece on a feature of English Phonetics inspired by the names of our teaching staff.
Today, let’s look at /dʒ/, the most popular initial consonant among these names. It appears in Jane Setter, Professor at Reading University, who with me will be giving our first lectures this morning. We find it also in Joanna Przedlacka (my Associate Director), Josette Lesser, John Harris – and in John Wells, who’s graciously helping out as a guest tutor on Wednesday. Differently spelled, of course, it also appears in Geoff Lindsey.
/dʒ/ is a tricky sound for speakers of many languages. It’s a postalveolar sound, sometimes called palato-alveolar. This means that the tongue is further back than for /s/ and /z/, but like those sounds /dʒ/ has sibilance – or strident noise caused by grooving the tongue and shooting a jet of air at the back of the teeth. (This is why silbilants don’t sound right if you lose your teeth.)
Different tutors will have their own favourite ways of helping non-natives to make this sound; I find it helps to try and get the sound ‘shhh’ [ʃːːː] right first – it’s also postalveolar and has the lip rounding typical of these sounds. Just search for ‘shhh’ in Google Images and see what you get!
/dʒ/ is also voiced/lenis and an affricate. This means that, unlike /ʃ/, it has to begin with a full stoppage of the air coming from the lungs – which, after all, is why the IPA symbol /dʒ/ begins with a d.