News and Houses

By Maeve Maddox

Lately I’ve noticed that several announcers on NPR (National Public Radio)–both national and local announcers–have taken to pronouncing the word news as [noos].

U.S. and British speakers usually differ in the way they pronounce the vowel in news. Most U.S. speakers say [nooz]. British pronunciation is [nyooz]. The pronunciation [noos] is a new one on me.

Long before I heard [noos], I began to notice a shift in the way some U.S. speakers pronounce the words house and houses, pronouncing the [z] of the plural as [s]. I first noticed it in the speech of Chicago speakers, but now I hear it in the national media.

House is pronounced differently according to whether it is a noun or a verb.

“Let’s paint the house pink.” (noun)
Used as a noun, house is pronounced [hous]. The plural of house is houses [hou-ziz].

“Relief services must house all the homeless storm survivors.” (verb)
As a verb, house is pronounced [houz].

House has an -ing form that can be used as either a noun or a verb:
“Local hotels are providing temporary housing for the survivors.” (verbal noun)
“FEMA is housing the survivors in mobile homes.” (present participle)

The pronunciation of housing is [hou-zing]

Several rules govern the pronunciation of the letter s in English. I’ll mention only the ones that apply to news and houses.

houses
If the last consonant sound of the word is a sibilant sound like [s] or [z]), the final sound is pronounced like an extra syllable: [houz-iz]

news
If the last letter of the word ends in a vowel sound (e.g. bees, flies), the s is pronounced [z].

Don’t let the consonant letter w in news fool you. English has many more vowel sounds than it has vowel letters. The w in news belongs to the vowel digraph ew, the vowel sound heard in news.

Such handy rules for the pronunciation of s at the end of words do not exist for s in a medial position. Those you must learn on a word-by-word basis. When in doubt, consult a dictionary.

Interesting side note: One of the announcers on my local NPR station pronounces noon as [njun] instead of [noon]. She says that a program is on “from 11 a.m. to [njun].” I’m waiting for another announcer to do it. I think this kind of thing may be catching.

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18 Responses to “News and Houses”

  • Danny

    Methinks a daily blog about writing should steer clear of pronunciation.

  • Virginia

    I agree with Danny. Why not a vigorous attack on ‘snuck’ instead?

  • richard saltus

    An anchor on the Boston local NPR station has a slight unidentifiable accent and pronounces “news” as “nyooz.” That’s a new one on me!

  • sandra miller

    If current news readers are taking up reading the ”noos” what will they do when the word ”noose” pops in a nooz story. LOL
    Personally, I dislike the pronunciation of
    nuclear as “nooklear”
    mobile as ”mohbull”
    And, then, there is the ubiquitous spelling of storey as ”story” in U.S. stories.
    Crime shows on television have adopted a phrase which defies description ”What do you got?”
    Please!

  • thebluebird11

    @Danny: On the contrary (IMHO). I think there should be more guidance on pronunciation, especially when, as in the past, lists of foreign expressions in French or Latin have been posted. Don’t forget that DWT serves people all over the globe, and they need all the help they can get with pronunciation!

    I do take issue, however, with how things are spelled out to explain pronunciation; specifically in this case regarding the word HOUSE. I think it would be better spelled out for pronunciation purposes as “hows” or “howss.” The OU diphthong is too variable in pronunciation to make good use of it for this purpose (though, through, enough, cough, etc).

    @Maeve: Not sure about the “njun” thing. Is she pronouncing it really as a J sound? Did you mean “nyoon”? Also, is she originally from the US or some other primarily English-speaking area, or is she ESL? Some ESL speakers have trouble pronouncing some sounds in English (as English speakers have trouble with some foreign sounds), no surprise there, and one thing that makes me wonder about this njun thing is how Latin/Spanish-speaking people kind of mispronounce certain English words that begin with W. For example, in the course of my work I often hear the word “wound,” as in an injury. I long tried to figure out why Latin/Spanish-speaking people pronounce it to sound like “gound” (goond). I decided it is because they form their lips into the W position, but vocalize the sound from their throats instead of just using their lips to modify the sound. I can’t describe it any better, I’m not a linguist. So it is possible that this news announcer (the njun lady) is carrying forward some remnant from her native language.

  • Maeve Maddox

    bluebird,
    You’re right. [nyoon] conveys the sound I mean better. Ditto with [ow]. Point taken.

    No, the announcer is not an ESL learner. She is local. I think it may be her first announcing job and that she is trying very hard to sound NPRish.

    Danny,
    I’ll be responding to your comment in a post. Thanks.

  • Roberta B.

    I think this might be a regional thing. I’m not a linguist, either, just fascinated with word origin and pronunciation. I never thought too hard about these two words until reading today’s post. I don’t listen much to NPR which I believe generally tends to be based in the eastern US. However, I think in this part of the country (California) we do pronounce them as heard by the two NPR announcers referenced above – like “nooz” and “houses” with an “s” sound. I’m sure I do, as well as my family,and we’re all native American English speakers. Also, I’m older than 50 years. So, it wouldn’t be a new thing (“housing” still retains the “z” sound), but it might be a newer trend in broadcasting.

    I heard somewhere recently that accent coaches advise speakers to shorten the vowel sounds to reduce a regional accent for a more universal American sound. This western or California sound has influenced a lot audio-visual media since the move from the hub of the entertainment industry from NY to LA during the mid-20th century. Other parts of the country, especially in the south, are known for extending vowels sounds, including the pronunciation of some singular vowels sounds almost as a diphthong.

    However, I must say the pronunciation of noon as “nyoon” is a new one on me! I’d agree with “bluebird” and surmise that the first language of the speaker was not American English.
    @theblubird11 – Your observation of the “g” and “w” reversal in Spanish-speaking people is interesting. I know that in addition to having an “h” sound (as in the name Geraldo, Harold in English), Gs also have a “w” sound or are silent usually when followed by other vowels – e.g., agua (water) pronounced awah, or guapo (handsome) pronounced wahpo. However, I can’t recall a “w” pronounced as a “g” as you referenced above. That might be because there aren’t too many Ws in the Spanish language other than for foreign words.

  • thebluebird11

    @Roberta: I don’t think that Spanish speakers are reversing G and W. I think they are mispronouncing the W sound by adding a vocalization that doesn’t belong there. They are obviously capable of producing a W sound; as you said, they do pronounce agua as awah, etc. They don’t turn G sounds into W sounds. I am thinking here how it seems Oriental people actually reverse L and R sounds. They are capable of pronouncing both sounds, and I am under the impression (someone please correct me if I’m wrong) that both sounds appear in their native tongues. However, the same person might say “river” for liver, but say “liver” for river!
    AFA Spanish speakers saying “awah” and “wahpo,” I don’t know if that is acceptable pronunciation or sloppy/lazy/dialectical pronunciation. There is a huge difference between true Spanish (i.e. Castilian Spanish) pronunciation, and I don’t think they say awah and wahpo. Around here (SoFla), we have a mix of Hispanic people: Mostly Cubans, but plenty from other places. So when I was married to a man whose dad’s family was from Puerto Rico, last name Crespo, I mostly heard it pronounced as “Creh-po.” So irritating!! (And BTW my ex speaks no Spanish whatsoever LOL).

  • Rosalie

    “Noos”? I thought it was my imagination! I listen to NPR, and every time I heard someone say, “NPR News,” I would mimic, “NPR Noos.” But I thought, since the difference is so subtle, that I was imagining it. Someone else, presumably with a keen ear, is also hearing it!

    I notice a lot of pronunciations on NPR that I question, but I chalk it up to regional variations. I usually look them up in my Random House dictionary, but, whoever wins, I have to convince myself that language is what people make it, not the dictionary.

  • Tony Moore

    i’ve also noticed that several radio and TV news readers consistently pronounce words that begin with “un” as “on.” Here are some examples:

    * Unlikely = “onlikely”
    * Unreal = “onreal”
    * Unsafe = “onsafe”
    * Unload = “onload”

  • Roberta B.

    @thebluebird11 – Just checked some pronunciation sites. They call it a “soft G,” and it seems to be more regional (as opposed to sloppy or lazy). Check out: http://www.studyspanish.com/pronunciation/letter_g.htm Items #4 and #9.
    Also, there is a distinction between a “true” a language, an “official” or conventional language or dialect, and one determined to be most useful in specific circumstances for teaching foreign speakers.
    And you’re keen to recognize the swallowed “s” – a surefire way to detect a Cuban accent along with the rapidity of their speech!
    One more thing: as a correction to my previous post – Geraldo translates to Gerald which is different from Harold.

  • Nancy Romness

    I agree with others that whether a speaker pronounces an S soft or hard in particular words varies regionally.

    A friend by the name of Leslie dislikes hearing her name pronounced “LEZ-lee” instead of “LESS-lee.”

    I pronounce the state Texas as “TEX-uhss,” while I often hear “TEX-uhz.”

    The soft S seems to be prevalent in the upper Midwest. I believe that Scandinavian immigrants a century or two ago might be the influence. There is no hard S sound in Norwegian, for example.

    “Noos” for the word NEWS sounds like something Garrison Keillor would say. However, the NPR prevalence of “noos” might be a trendy thing rather than a regionalism.

    I feel sorry for ESL students having to put up with all the shifts in English pronunciation.

  • venqax

    @ Danny: Methinks ne. I trow it is unhappy that so many wit not how to properly pronounce their own language.
    Bad pronunciation is every bit as serious a problem in sore need of redress as is poor grammar, incorrect punctuation, and faulty word choice. Even more so precisely because it is routinely ignored by language forums. People will get heated about when to use which vs that; when a semi-colon must be used in lieu of a comma; the subtleties of the ablative and the accusative cases; or if a clause is restrictive, nonrestrictive, or just plain irresponsible.
    But those same people are evidently not interested in batting an ear when someone says aloud he is expecially happy about nucular power in Febyooary. The same people will wail like banshees when a speaker uses a who where a whom belonged, or– Heaven forefend–, mislays a lie. But when a president references the Marine Corpse, a congresswoman accuses a colleague of using a hyperbowl to make a point, or a college professor says two things are incomPARable, they don’t even squeak.

    Much language is still spoken, not just written, and there are rules about pronunciation which are every bit as valid as those applying to grammar, spelling, and punctuation. Even though this site focuses on writing, speech is a much appreciated topic because one would hope, at least, that a few of the people who don’t want to look like idiots with bad writing, don’t want to sound like them either. Thank you Maeve, both for the observation and for citing one of the RULES of STANDARD English regarding how plurals are pronounced.

  • thebluebird11

    @venqax (how do you pronounce that?): Hear, hear!

  • venqax

    @bluebird: I guess the rules of English would dictate VEN-KAKS. Since Q is always followed by U in English, one would have to conclude that it is not an English word. Having nothing else for a guide,and knowing that every context it lives in is English, the most closely related languages treat Qs, with or without Us, as Ks. E.g. Iraq and and cinq from French, Qvist in Danish and Norwegian. Now of course if it is from some completely exotic, even non-human for all we know, all bets are off. Maybe it’s said, GOOFUS, because in Mysterian VE makes a GOO sound, N makes an F sound, the QA digraph makes an US sound and X is silent. Or, wait, that’s Irish…:)

  • thebluebird11

    @Goofus/venqax: Now that is…some explanation…Irish, or Celtic? (and why is it pronounced Keltic and not Seltic?) LOL Anyway I do not have time to learn a new language now, not even esperanto, which I desperately want to master someday…bucket list…

  • venqax

    I like to pick on Irish because its spelling conventions seem completely unrelated to any Germanic or Romance languages, or even Slavic languages that use the Latin alphabet. Whenever you see an Irish name, it seems its written Bhghourooughmmh and pronounced “Susan”. Somewhere on here I think I wrote one of my typically longwinded polemics about the Seltic vs Keltic issue. Short version, I’m an Ser.

    I can’t suffer NPR for a variety of reasons, and the fact that their pronunuciations are often cited as affected and self-conscious is unsurprising to me given who they are. I think the take-away is that NPR announcers should not be considered exemplars of good speech any more than pop-stars are. The days when news-folk were well-educated and intellectually inclined, let alone well-spoken if they ever existed, are gone at least since Tom Brgokaw’s speech impediment. I mean, come on, you hire someone whose chief purpose is to talk and he can’t?

    It’s interesting that this nooss/housses blight has been tied to a Midwestern influence. It is Chicagoan to hiss the Ss in newss and da Bearss. At the same time I have noticed in radio-speak a recent trend toward dropping the first R in forward. “Foe-word” is creeping up more and more often. I think that is a MW thing, too, but it might be East Coast as well. It is certainly not SAE.

  • Brian Pearce

    Other trends at NPR and across broadcasting:
    1. Dropping of pronouns. Not just “he”, “she”, etc., but also relative pronouns.
    2. Unpronounced “s” at the end of words (as in French- often but not alway….).
    3. Dropping “and” and “or” between nouns.
    4. Avoiding prepositions at the beginning of sentences.
    5. Using “in terms of” to avoid standard subject-verb syntax.
    6. Ending sentences with “as well” repeatedly, to my ear just as a garnish and without regard to its meaning.
    7. Replacing future and past tenses with the present tense or, a la David Muir and his ilk, converting long strings of verbs into “ing” participles.
    8. Using emphatic words as default syntax for padding and supposed pop, rather than save for emphasis (every single, absolutely, actually, this particular)
    9. Adopting all trendy vocabulary without discretion, especially any conversion of a noun to a verb (to gift, impact, craft, reference) and ready adoption of online word to radio (space, conversation).
    10. Dropping of other short words generally (not just prepositions, pronouns as mentioned above). Examples include “to” in infinitives, “as”, “one” as an adjective (always replaced with emphatic “a single” no matter how prosaic the context).
    11. Discomfort with plain, short English expressions about time, and substitution with longer words or phrases. “Today” becomes “this day”, “before” becomes “ahead of,” “after” becomes “following” or “in the wake of”, “last week” becomes “this past week.”

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