November 19, 2019

Stop-Affrication, or Stop, In The Name of Affricates!

I have spoken about glide affrication before - the process that makes "y" sound like "j" and "w" sound like "v." But did you know there's also affrication of stops in English? It makes "t" sound like "ts" and "d" sound like "dz." It can also make "k" sound like "khhh" and "p" like "pf".

What causes stop affrication? Well, it's a natural result of 'lengthening' a stop. A stop, by definition, is when a bunch of air builds up behind part of your mouth and is then suddenly released, causing a 'pop' sound. How can you lengthen this release of air? You can't, but you can continue pushing air from the lungs through, which causes a friction - hence affriccation. You can think of it like a stop combined with a fricative that's formed at the same part of the mouth.

Wells's Accents of English associates this sort of affrication with Cockney English speakers. But I've found examples of it across different dialectal regions. Like S-retraction, it seems to be a change that has developed multiple times in different places.

From New York City - musicians as distinct as Latin pop singer Ricky Martin and j-pop singer Utada Hikaru have d-affrication. Utada's example is especially song. (I recommend headphones to be able to hear the frication more clearly compared to the music.)

Her lips are dzevil red
The dzaily things

Billy Joel also has t-affrication at the end of a word:

If that's what it's all abouts, mama if that's movin' up, then I'm movin' outs... mmm I'm movin' outs.

Over in California, Disney Channel child actress Emily Osment (from Hannah Montana) has some dramatic d-affrication:

Dzoesn't matter what you say, I'm knockin' you dzown, dzown, dzown

And in Texas, fellow Disney Channel alum and singer Demi Lovato has some d-affrication, though not consistently:

Are you kidding me? I'm so not a dziva

In the Midwest, the lead singer of the rock band Fallout Boy, Patrick Stump, frequently uses affrication in his music. Sometimes it's from lengthening the consonant. Compare the 'k' in 'mistakhhh' to the simply released 'k' in 'take':

And just one mistakhh is all it will take

Stump also seems to display a curious case of p-affrication where 'proof' sounds like 'pfroof' (at least, the official lyrics are 'proof'). This has led multiple fans and lyrics sites to mistakenly hear the lyric as "frozen fruit."

And here's the frozen pfroof

Some of these examples seem to result from attempting to 'extend' a stop consonant (Stump's "mistakkhe"). Some might result due to being near a front vowel, like Demi Lovato's "dziva." This sort of affrication before front vowels also happens in Canadian French:

La fondation de Celine Dzion

A similar thing happens in Russian. In Russian, oral stops that are palatalized (pronounced with the tongue raised, as if prepared for a 'yuh' [j] sound) also have some frication (source.

Affrication can progress even further to become lenition, so that the 'stop' component disappears completely. In Liverpool English, this can result in 'khh' simple sounding like a sharp 'hhh' [x]. The following clip was originally found via Dialect Blog and shows the [x] appearing in Liverpool footballer Steven Gerrard's speech.

Every player is loohing (looking) forward

I have [dz] as an allophone of /d/ in my speech. I especially have it at the beginning of a syllable, not at the end. Do you have any stop-affrication? What about stop-lenition? Are there any other examples you are familiar with, cross-dialectally or cross-linguistically?


  1. I can't watch the Ricky Martin video, I didn't bother with Céline Dion because I know the Canadian French affrication already, and I didn't hear Demi Lovato's the first time because it's not assibilation: the fricative is [ç] or thereabouts.

    But the other cases of d-assibilation just floor me. They're strikingly unambiguous, and I've never come across the phenomenon of unconditional d-affrication before, except when reading about one oasis in Algeria where */t d/ have become /ts dz/ across the board (and new /t d/ from other sources exist as well).

    In Liverp[ɸ]ool, on the other hand, they're simply replicating the High German consonant shift: all aspirates become affricates – /p t k/ come out as [pɸ ts kx~xkx~xː]. /t/ as [ts] is very widespread in England nowadays, there are even Conservative MPs who talk like that. This is also known from completely different languages: Burushaski reportedly has free variation [pʰ~pf~f] and [qʰ~qχ~χ] (while /kʰ/ is apparently going nowhere; neither are /tʰ/ and /ʈʰ/, but that may be because /tsʰ/, /tɕʰ/ and /ʈʂʰ/ plus their unaspirated conterparts are already in the system). d-affrication does not occur in such shifts.

    1. I'll make sure to add audio clips soon! It's been on my to-do list, but it takes quite a bit of time to extract and process audio (1 hour to process 12 clips the most recent time I did it!) and I haven't had the opportunity to do so. Also haven't been able to respond for same reason (though I don't need a whole hour to respond :) ).

  2. *facepalm* Tocharian.

    Tocharian completely lost the voice and aspiration distinctions of Proto-Indo-European, ending up with a simple plosive system of p t k. Yet, *d did not participate in the collapse (at least not all the time); instead, it stayed distinct as ts despite the absence of identifiable conditioning factors like front vowels.

    This has mystified generations of researchers. Well, apparently it's a thing that's known to happen...!