Date of Award

Spring 2012

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)




Applied Linguistics

Committee Director

Janet Bing

Committee Member

Joanne Scheibman

Committee Member

Felicia Toreno

Call Number for Print

Special Collections LD4331.L56 R385 2012


The International Phonetic Association (IPA) as well as textbooks on phonology and teaching English as a second language (ESL) or foreign language (EFL) characterize the /s/ as an "alveolar fricative," meaning that the tongue approaches the alveolar ridge to produce the sound. Japanese phonology texts characterize the Japanese /s/ as alveolar as well. This tongue position has become integral to teaching the sound to English-speaking children who have speech impediments and for teaching the sibilants to speakers of other languages, including first-language speakers of Japanese who often struggle with the English /s/ despite the fact that the sound occurs in their own language. A recent study suggests that many first-language English speakers use an acceptable alternative mandibular articulation of the /s/, with the apex of the tongue touching their lower incisors. At article by an EFL teacher in Japan posited that Japanese speakers may pronounce the Is/ with this acceptable alternative in their own language. To date, no research has examined the articulation of the Japanese /s/ with technology that can show whether the Japanese do, in fact, pronounce the /s/ with their tongues in the alveolar position or with the acceptable alternative placement used by to pronounce the English /s/.

This study used ultrasound to produce visual images of the tongue movement of 20 Japanese first-language speakers pronouncing words containing /s/ in their own language in word-initial and word-medial positions. Results determined that 85 percent of the participants used an alternative articulation with the tongue at the lower incisors. Implications for instruction are discussed.


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