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Someone signing himself just Hammer writes as follows.
I have a question about the pronunciation of /s/.
Most of the books on phonetics describe that "the tip and blade of the tongue are very close to the alveolar ridge" (Better English Pronunciation, J.D. O'Connor). However, I found it is hard for me to articulate a decent /s/. (Maybe it's because I'm a little buck-toothed?) Instead, I found the "alternative method" is much easier, that is, place the tip of the tongue behind the bottom teeth.
I would like to thank you very much if you could tell me:
1) Do you think the "bottom teeth" method is correct?
2) Do you regard the "bottom teeth" method as "having an accent"?
3) I find that some native English speakers also adopt the "bottom teeth" method. If that is true, could you please tell me what percentage of people actually saying hat way. I do like your Preference Poll method.
4) What are the pros and cons of these 2 methods, and why?
I would describe (my) English s as being articulated by the BLADE of the tongue rather than by the tip. The side rims of the tongue are in close contact with the upper teeth or the adjacent gums and roof of the mouth, so that there is no lateral escape. The soft palate is up, so that there is no nasal escape. The important point is that the tongue adopts a posture involving a narrow mid-sagittal GROOVE between the tongue and the alveolar ridge (‘mid-sagittal’ = running along the centre of the tongue, from back to front). All the escaping air is channelled along this groove. The effect is to cause turbulence in the airstream, with the auditory consequence of producing the noise of friction as it passes along the groove and strikes the upper teeth. The palatogram you see (taken from the current edition of Cruttenden/ Gimson's Pronunciation of English) shows the groove clearly, as white spots of non-contact.
Since the tip and blade are contiguous, with no sharply defined border between them, it is trivially true for all kinds of s that “the tip and blade are very close to the alveolar ridge”.
It is also necessary that the lower jaw is quite close to the upper jaw. (If you lower the jaw and try to produce s with it in that position you’ll find that you can’t — not a normal s, anyway.)
There are minor differences in anatomy between different speakers. What matters is not this or that exact anatomical positioning of the tongue so much as the creating of the appropriate sound effect — friction at the appropriate range of frequencies (3.6–8kHz).
Experimenting with the position of the tongue TIP in (my own) s, I find it doesn’t seem to matter much, because it is not the active articulator. It merely has to keep out of the way.
Bladon and Nolan, in their 1977 article ‘A video-fluorographic investigation of tip and blade alveolars in English’ (JPhon 1: 185-193), found that most speakers articulate s with the blade (‘laminal’) rather than with the tip (‘apical’).
In many other languages s is apical. Does it matter if you use a ‘foreign’ s in English? As long as you keep s clearly distinct from θ in one direction and from ʃ in the other, I suspect that subtle distinctions in the quality of s are not very important for EFL.
To answer Hammer’s questions in order:
1. It is irrelevant where the tongue tip is in relation to the bottom teeth. I think you are really asking about laminal s vs apical s, i.e. which part of the tongue articulates with the alveolar ridge.
2. No — see 1.
3. I don’t know (but see Bladon and Nolan). I don’t think people responding to a questionnaire would be able to report accurately on what they do in this regard, so I wouldn’t ask them.
4. I hope what I have said above answers the question you are worried about.