News and Houses
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.
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]
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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