Chapter 125: Palato-alveolar sibilants

Feature information for this chapter can be found in feature 125.

The palato-alevolar (“hushing”) sibilants [ʃ] and [ʒ] are much less common in the world’s languages than the (dental or) alveolar sibilants [s] and [z], so it is not surprising that there is interesting variation in their occurrence across APiCS. Here we consider both [ʃ] and [ʒ] and ask to what extent they occur in our languages.

Both [ʃ] and [ʒ] exist as major allophones17
[ʃ] and [ʒ] exist in a limited way20
Only [ʃ] exists25
Neither [ʃ] nor [ʒ] exists14

The 17 languages where both [ʃ] and [ʒ] exist as major allophones are almost all languages with a European (English, Portuguese or French) lexifier.

In another 20 languages, both [ʃ] and [ʒ] exist, but at least one of them is either a minor allophone or occurs only in loanwords. For example, in Principense [ʃ] and [s] do not contrast, but [ʃ] is an allophone of /s/ that occurs before [i]. In Zamboanga Chabacano, [ʃ] occurs in words such as informasyón (alternating with [sj]). In Lingala, [ʃ] occurs only in loanwords and placenames such as Kinshása. In Bislama, the pronunciation of [ʃ] in words such as [ʃus] ‘shoes’ “indexes higher education, or greater exposure to English or French” (Meyerhoff 2013).

There are 25 languages where only [ʃ] exists (as a major or minor allophone or only in loanwords), but the converse language type, with only a [ʒ] sound and no [ʃ], is not attested. This is in line with the general tendency for fricatives to be voiceless. Examples of such languages are Bislama, Gullah, Korlai and Tayo.

Finally, 14 languages lack [ʃ] and [ʒ] entirely. This type is found particularly among the Asian and Pacific languages, as well as in the Indian Ocean and only in a few Caribbean languages. In French-based languages such as Seychelles Creole, French [ʃ] and [ʒ] are reflected by [s] and [z]:

syen dog French chien
sov souri bat French chauve souris
zarden garden French jardin
zenn young French jeune

(Parkvall 2000: 43-45) notes that [ʃ] and [ʒ] are lacking in many West African languages, so he regards substrate influence on the Atlantic creoles as quite likely. In the Indian Ocean, Malagasy influence may play a role.