Chapter 126: The voiced sibilant [z]

Feature information for this chapter can be found in feature 126.

Like other voiced fricatives (cf. Chapters 124-125), the voiced dental/alveolar fricative sibilant [z] occurs less widely than its voiceless counterpart [s]. In fact, [s] is one of the few segment types that occurs in all 76 languages.

The voiced sibilant [z] is a separate phoneme in English, Dutch (though to a limited extent), French, and Portuguese, but it does not occur as a phoneme in Spanish (only as an allophone in front of nasals, such as mismo ‘self’).

[z] exists as a major allophone47
[z] exists as a minor allophone7
[z] exists only in loanwords6
[z] does not exist16

The APiCS languages that lack [z] are mostly the Asian languages with a strong influence of Austronesian languages. But of course, in the Chabacano varieties the absence of [z] is also due to its absence in the Spanish lexifier. Batavia Creole, Tok Pisin and Tayo are likely to have lost the [z] of their (Portuguese, English and French) lexifiers due to the influence of Austronesian. Normally the [z] in lexifier-derived words is replaced by [s], but in Batavia Creole it is replaced by [ʤ], e.g. medja ‘table’ < Portuguese mesa.

The Malay varieties and Pidgin Hawaiian have Austronesian lexifiers lacking [z]. In addition, [z] is missing in the northern pidgins Chinuk Wawa and Eskimo Pidgin.

In the languages of the Atlantic region, [z] is mostly present, even in the Spanish-based Papiamentu and Media Lengua. In the French-based languages, it occurs very prominently in word-initial position in words such as Seychelles Creole zannimo ‘animal’, Guyanais zwazo ‘bird’, Michif zitwel ‘star’, zaanfaan ‘child’. This derives from the French plural form, where vowel-initial words have the article [lez] or [dez], whose last consonant is interpreted as a root consonant (les animaux ‘animals’, les oiseaux ‘birds’, les étoiles ‘stars’, les enfants ‘children’).

[z] is missing in (Early and modern) Sranan and in Berbice Dutch, as well as in Pichi, and it only occurs as a minor allophone in Nengee (where it is found mostly in ideophones and tends to be replaced by [s]). Words from English and Dutch with [z] tend to undergo devoicing in the Guianas, which Parkvall (2000:31-2) attributes to Akan influence.

In Angolar, [z] occurs only in front of [i], but this is because it has shifted to [ð] in all other positions (see Chapter 127).