[back to list of essays]

Two Automatic Alternations in English

These data point to /z/ as the basic form of the -z ~ -s ~ -Ez alternation (where E = schwa) of the regular English N plural suffix ­(e)s, since it is the variant that actually occurs in the environment in which the phonotactics of English do not force a choice among the alternants--that is, the environment in which any of the three could occur.1 Parallel conclusions can be reached concerning the alternants of the regular V simple past tense suffix.









/ s, sh, ch,
z, zh, j ___

faces, rushes, Natchez,3 Moses, beiges, judges



/ p, t, k,
f, th ___

kappas, betas, Ickes,
alphas, Eartha's

lapse, waltz, lax,
laughs, maths


/ b, d, g,
m, n, ng,
l, r,
v, dh
V ___

Bubba's, lambdas, omegas,
gammas, Donna's, Tonga's,
Paula's, Cora's
Eva's, ---
ideas, Pua's, boa's

---, ---, ---6
[glimpse],7 once, [lynx]
pulse, purse
---, ---
ace, rice, loose, face, price, chorus

Bob's, adze, L'eggs
times, sans, kings
Rawls, Mars
doves, wreathes
daze, rise, booze, prize, phase
(days, ryes, boos, pries)









/ t, d ___

wanted, needed



/ p, k
f, th
s, sh, ch ___

rapid, stupid; wicked, naked
aphid, method
lucid, acid ; ---; wretched
(blessëd, cursëd)

apt, act
shaft, ---
pest, washed, watched


/ b, g
m, n, ng,
l, r
v, dh
z, j
V ___

morbid, ragged
humid, learnëd
pallid, horrid
belovëd, wretched
advisëd, frigid
Druid, Aeneid, triad

---, ---
[preempt], want, [defunct]
fault, hurt
---, ---
---, ---
bright, oat, wait, site

rubbed, hugged
hummed, sand, winged
hurled, bird
loved, bathed
phased, judged
pride, ode, suede, side
(pried, owed, swayed, sighed)

[back to top] [back to list of essays]

  1. See Charles F. Hockett, A course in modern linguistics, Macmillan, 1957, pages 281-283. Hockett points out that "the discovery that an alternation is automatic, and the discovery of the base form, go hand in hand, each implied by the other." [back up]
  2. Note that each alternant is matched with its environment on the diagonal from lower-left to upper-right. [back up]
  3. Since our interest in this exercise is phonotactic, we attempt to give examples where possible that do not involve the alternant in question. [back up]
  4. X marks an environment in which the choice is forced, one in which the alternant of the column cannot occur according to the phonotactics of the language. [back up]
  5. In view of the fact that the choice is forced for only one alternant in this particular environment (only this one cell is excluded), it would be well to qualify our paraphrase of Hockett's observation, so that it would read "the environment in which the phonotactics of the language do not force the choice away from at least one alternant." [back up]
  6. Semi-systematic gaps such as these call for further qualification by adding the word "completely," so that it would read "the environment in which the phonotactics of the language do not completely force the choice away from at least one alternant." [back up]
  7. Examples in square brackets involve excrescent consonants-a.k.a. "intrusive." [back up]