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Very Often [sh] is Spelled <t>

1. Although we usually think of <sh> as the way [sh] is spelled, actually [sh] is most often spelled <t>. You can see and hear [sh] spelled <t> in the middle of the word nation.

In some of the following words [sh] is spelled <t>; in some it is spelled differently. Underline the letters that are spelling [sh] in each word:

&\text{educa\underline{{t}}ional} && \text{presiden\underline{{t}}ial} && \text{prescrip\underline{{t}}ion} && \text{accommoda\underline{{t}}ion}\\&\text{impa\underline{{t}}ience} && \text{ini\underline{{t}}ial} && \text{repeti\underline{{t}}ion} && \text{frac\underline{{t}}ion}\\&\text{indica\underline{{t}}ion} && \text{posse\underline{{ss}}ion} && \text{inven\underline{{t}}ions} && \text{dimen\underline{{s}}ion}\\&\text{expre\underline{{ss}}ion} && \text{quota\underline{{t}}ion} && \text{exclama\underline{{t}}ion} && \text{affec\underline{{t}}ionately}\\&\text{mi\underline{{ss}}ionaries} && \text{exten\underline{{s}}ion} && \text{subtrac\underline{{t}}ion} && \text{dele\underline{{t}}ion}

2. Sort the words into these two groups:

Words in which [sh]
is spelled <t> is not spelled <t>
educational inventions expression
impatience exclamation missionaries
indication subtraction possession
presidential accommodation extension
initial fraction dimension
quotation affectionately
prescription deletion

3. The <t> spelling of [sh] is very common, but it only occurs in a certain place in a word. Here are a number of words that contain <t>. Sometimes the <t> spells [sh]; sometimes it does not. In the column labeled ‘<t> spells’ write out the sound that <t> spells in each word, as we have done with judgement and partial:

Words <t> spells Words <t> spells Words <t> spells
judgement [t] mustache [t] association [sh]
partial [sh] conventional [sh] technical [t]
affection [sh] initial [sh] proportion [sh]
traffic [t] onchalant [t] examination [sh]
nation [sh] extension [t] reception [sh]
impatience [sh] incorrect [t] deletion [sh]
educated [t] education [sh] appreciation [sh]

4. Sort the words from Item 3 into this matrix:

Words in which <t> . ..
spells [sh] does not spell [sh]
Words with the <t> at the front or the end






Words with the <t> in the middle
















5. In the words in his matrix does the letter <t> ever spell the sound [sh] at the front or the at the end of a word? No

6. Whenever <t> spells [sh], where is it in the word? In the middle

7. The letter <t> never spells [sh] at the beginning or end of a word. It only spells [sh] somewhere in the middle. In fact, <t> only spells [sh] right at the boundary between the stem and a suffix, always.

Teaching Notes.

1. If <sh> is the “English” spelling of [sh] and <ch> is the “French” spelling, <t> is the “Latin” spelling, since nearly all, or all, of the words with [sh] = <t> come from Latin.

2. The <t> spelling of [sh], and the other spellings examined in this and the next lesson, are all due to a process called palatalization. The palate is the roof of the mouth. A sound is said to be palatalized when the place where it is pronounced in the mouth is pushed back so that it is pronounced against the palate.

For instance, the sound [t], which <t> normally spells, is pronounced by pressing the tongue against the back of the upper teeth or against the dental, or alveolar, ridge from which the teeth grow. If you move your tongue back so that it presses against your palate and try to pronounce [t], you make a sound that is like [t] followed by a [sh], [tsh], which is actually the [ch] sound. So the palatalized pronunciation of [t] is [tsh], or [ch]. Over the centuries the [tsh] simplified to [sh], giving us the sound we are looking at in these lessons.

Thus, the <t> spelling of [sh] is due to the movement of the sound back in the mouth, to the palate, followed by a simplification of [tsh] to [sh]. The basic trigger is the unstressed <\mathrm{i}> following the <t>: When that unstressed <\mathrm{i}> is followed by another unstressed vowel, it simplifies to a [y]-like glide, and the sequence [ty] pulls the tongue back onto the palate. That movement back to the palate leads ultimately to the [sh] sound.

You may have noticed that in many of the words in which <t> spells [sh], the <t> is followed by the suffix -ion, as in affection and deletion. Notice that -ion starts with an <\mathrm{i}> that is followed by another vowel, <o>, and that both the <\mathrm{i}> and the <o> are unstressed. So -ion provides a perfect setting for palatalization and for <t> to spell [sh]. And -ion is a very common suffix in modern English.

AES provides more details on the palatalized spellings of [sh] (pp. 409-12), and most books on English phonetics and phonology discuss palatalization in considerable detail.

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Date Created:

Feb 23, 2012

Last Modified:

Apr 29, 2014
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