TWTS: For the "zh" sound, it's a consonant struggle | Michigan Radio

TWTS: For the "zh" sound, it's a consonant struggle

Jun 23, 2019

Consonant sounds like "sh" and "th" and "ch" have a reasonably secure place in our language. You’ll find them at the beginning, middle and end of many English words.

These consonants will likely never know the struggle that plagues the "zh” sound.

It's not all dark clouds for "zh." When it comes to the middle of words, this consonant sound is doing okay. You’ll find it in words like "measure," "treasure," and "leisure," all of which are borrowed from French. 

Finding a word in English that starts with the "zh" sound is where the struggle begins. There's only one – it’s the word you’d use to refer to categories of art, literature or films.

The word in question is "genre." Be honest though, do you pronounce "genre" with a “zh” or a “j” sound at the beginning?

If it’s the latter, that's okay. When words are borrowed into English, it’s completely natural for the phonology to come to conform to English patterns. Since English speakers are very comfortable with the sound at the beginning of words like “jump” and “giant,” it’s not surprising that “genre” is getting the “j” treatment.

Now, can you think of a word that ends with the “zh” sound? Hint: it’s a place to keep your car. 

"Garage" is another word where the “zh” sound is struggling to hold on against the “j” sound. Instead of "zh," many of us pronounce “garage” with a “j” sound at the end, similar to “courage” and “average.” Again though, it’s fine to say it this way. It’s just another borrowed word that’s falling into English phonetic patterns.

Not that any of that makes the struggle any less real for “zh.” Its place at the beginning and end of English words may very well be a lost cause.