In french phonology sources, one may find disagreement over how the french /s/ sound is produced: Some go for resting tip tongue behind lower teeth and the blade touches behind upper teeth, others say the tip tongue touches behind upper teeth. Can anyone describe the reason?

  • 2
    Americans make /r/s in two completely different ways (and some Americans use both of them). There's no reason that the French shouldn't make /s/s in two somewhat different ways. Neither sound is going to get mistaken for another consonant. Feb 28, 2020 at 1:19
  • Thank you for your comment. The issue is not about should or shouldn't. These two /s/s are different with regard to sibilancy and lisp.
    – Khosro
    Feb 28, 2020 at 13:55
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    You may think they sound different (and I'm sure you can tell them apart). The question is what native French speakers think. Many English speakers brought up in California cannot tell cot from caught, whereas to me the difference is perfectly clear. (And even if the French can tell them apart, which /s/ they use may simply give away what part of France they're from.) Feb 28, 2020 at 14:06

1 Answer 1


According to a review of the literature (see table 1.1) dating from 1991, the /s/ and /z/ phonemes are realised with:

a tip-down laminal tongue position.

The reports are evenly split between dental and alveolar for the place of articulation of /s/ and /z/, whereas /l/ is very much apical, and /t/, /d/, /n/ are reported as apical [and dental] by the majority of sources.

The study also reported that for laminal /s/ and /z/

tend to be articulated farther back in English than in French

  • In table 2.1 of your reference, it says that the /s/ and /z/ phonemes were apical in 32% of the French speakers tested, and laminal in 68% of the French speakers tested. I think table 2.1 answers the OP's question: both pronunciations are used in France. Mar 1, 2020 at 23:43
  • Thanks. A very useful working paper and comment advocate for being laminal.
    – Khosro
    Mar 2, 2020 at 11:20

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