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Specializations => Phonetics and Phonology => Topic started by: Bärenhunger on April 21, 2019, 10:39:05 AM

Title: apicals
Post by: Bärenhunger on April 21, 2019, 10:39:05 AM

Does anybody know the difference between the French apical ["s"] sound, which is (according to the Dictionnaire de linguistique et des sciences du langage from Larousse) realized with the anterior part of the tongue, and the apico-dental ["s"] in Spanish? As a native French speaker who studied some Spanish, I can't tell the difference, even if I try to pronounce the ["s"] positioning my tongue either ways.

Thanks a lot!


Title: Re: apicals
Post by: Daniel on April 21, 2019, 08:30:35 PM
Short answer: pull the body of your tongue back a bit so that only the tip of the tongue is stretched out near your teeth (think of your tongue as sort of balancing on its tip), and then from that position try to say "s".


To clarify, I don't think there is a difference between a "French apical S" and a Spanish apical S, except that as the image you scanned says, that is not the normal pronunciation in French. So the question instead should just be how to pronounce a Spanish apical [s̺], which you can look up online. It's a subtle distinction that is difficult for a non-native speaker (me included). I also don't think that it's ubiquitous for Spanish, but most common in Spain (also mentioned here:

To pronounce [s̺] you will hold your tongue a little differently. It's a bit like "th" (but farther back) rather than a typical English or French "s". When I pronounce [s] in English, I close my jaw fairly tightly, with my tongue somewhat relaxed, behind my teeth, and my lips flat. Compare this to "sh" where my lips are a little raised instead, similar to the position they're in for "th" also. For apical [s̺], my lips would raise a bit, and my tongue would actually go back a little bit, creating a sort of flat space between the roof of my mouth and the front end (not just tip) of my tongue for the air to slide along for frication, especially because the back/middle of my tongue has been raised a bit to create a longer channel than with basic [s]. At least that's my impression for apical [s̺], which is not a native or even particularly natural sound for me. So you may want to check more descriptions online, but that's a good start.

For an animated illustration of how this works, see this very helpful website: (it's having some odd technical issues at the moment so you'll need to log in with the guest username and password they give you). Go to Spanish > modo > fricativas > [s] and [s̺].

The clear distinction there is that the whole tongue is pushed forward near the teeth to pronounce [s], while for the apical [s̺], only the tip of the tongue is forward, creating a channel of frication along/above the body of the tongue, rather than just behind the teeth. (So whether this sound is "forward" or "back" depends on your perspective. To me it feels a bit back or restrained, because my tongue is held back and I feel the frication farther back in my mouth, but in terms of the tongue, it's the tip, so it's "fronted" on the tongue in a sense, which is what the typical terminology means.)
Title: Re: apicals
Post by: Bärenhunger on April 22, 2019, 05:33:32 AM
The website Speech of Language is very useful and your explanations also helped a lot: I think I understood the difference :)

Thanks again!