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The question: Why is "Je" sometimes written as "Ze" (and other words with similar sounds)

The context: Recently, I have been reading a graphic novel aimed at kids in which a kitten gets lost and is talking to himself trying to make his way home.

However, instead of saying "je", he says "ze". For example: "Ze veux rentrer à la maison"

And instead of "manger", he says "manzer". For example: "Z'ai bien manzé"

I could not find anything on the internet about this and was wondering if this was some sort of dialect or something else.

  • 3
    He was lisping. – jlliagre Dec 25 '18 at 15:13
  • 1
    He's missing a teeth to pronounce the word properly. – nafhgood Dec 28 '18 at 19:48
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That comes from a speech habit of the very young in France; it's called "zézayer" or colloquially "zozoter"; it consists in replacing the sounds "je" by the sound "ze". More precisely, "it's the defect in pronounciation that consists in substituting the sound "s" to the sound of "ch" and the sound "z" to the sound of "j".

People look down on this speech habit and really tolerate it only in the case of young children as they almost always grow out of it as they get older. Otherwise, it's considered to be a speech defect. A fact to keep in mind is that very few children have this problem.

Some medical information on this subject is found in the article on dyslalia ("dyslalie" in French) in wikipedia.

  • 3
    Perhaps not many children retain the problem long, but I imagine it's a common stage to pass through. The same sounds are hard to acquire in English and are first replaced by the alveolar fricative. For example, while acquiring the sound, I pronounced G.I. Joe "Dzi I. Dzoe" :) – Luke Sawczak Dec 25 '18 at 15:10
  • @LukeSawczak If the problem subsists after age 4 it is considered as a handicap and a matter that calls for re-education (Wikipédia). It's possible that more children than I would think are affected by this sort of lisp: I can find no statistics; personally I wasn't subject to it, my problem was the French nasals ("an" went regularly "a", particularly in "maman"). – LPH Dec 25 '18 at 17:59
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    of course, these are not the pronounced sounds in reality: in fact French children who « zozotent » or « zézaient » pronounce their s as the th in thick, but the letter z used in books (or comics, called « BD » for « bandes dessinées ») is much more practical than using the English th which of course does not exist in French. – 5915961T Jan 4 at 1:29
  • @5915961T After reflection, this precision of yours appears to me as a revelation : it is really the sound of English "th" as in "that", or as in "thanks"; the voiced dental fricative (/ð/) as in "that", "with", "father" would be used for the sound of "je", and the voiceless dental fricative (/ɵ/) would be used for the sound of "se" (Je sais pas : /ðə ɵe pa/). – LPH Jan 4 at 8:37
  • @LPH – almost! voiced dental fricative (/ð/) for the sound of "ze" as in « oiseau d'Asie », voiceless dental fricative (/θ/) for the sound of "se" as in « boisseau de maïs » – 5915961T Jan 4 at 10:58
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As jlliagre wrote, it is a sort of transcription of children lisping.

Children then pronounce in fact the z sound of « oiseau d'Asie » as the English [ð] in “this”, and the s sound of « boisseau de maïs » as the English [θ] in “thick”. But as it is practically impossible to transcript these English sounds in French, the letter z is used as in your example of a « BD » (« bande dessinée » for: comic).

Now you can draw the conclusion that uttering English sounds in French makes you considered as slightly handicapped in France: as Blaise Pascal wrote, « Vérité en deçà des Pyrénées, erreur au-delà »! ;–))

(I just edited https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dyslalie#Susseyement)

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