Wondering why d͡z is not considered two consonants. Same with p͡f, t͡s, etc.

  • 2
    Depends on the language and how it's been analysed. Why do you think it should be otherwise?
    – curiousdannii
    Sep 7, 2018 at 4:44
  • I think it should be two consonants, d followed by z.
    – Lance
    Sep 8, 2018 at 0:31
  • 2
    Why do you think that? The more you help us understand your thinking the better the answers you'll get.
    – curiousdannii
    Sep 8, 2018 at 0:54
  • 1
    I think that because the consonant I learned as a kid is always shown as a single letter (you never see these "digraphs" so to speak, and always contrasted with a vowel, which is always a single letter). So I assumed consonants would be a single sound rather than two (or perhaps maybe there are even 3 or 4 sound combinations now). Draconis' explanation clears things up.
    – Lance
    Sep 8, 2018 at 0:57

4 Answers 4


It really comes down to, what keeps the theory simple while still explaining all the data?

In (Kenyan) Swahili, for example, there are affricates /t͡ʃ/ and /d͡ʒ/. We could just as easily call them clusters /tʃ/ and /dʒ/. But is there any advantage to having them be individual? We never find a /ʒ/ on its own, and there are places in the syllable structure where you can either have a single consonant or one of these affricates.

The theory becomes much simpler if you treat the affricates as single consonants instead of pairs: in this case you don't have to explain why /ʒ/ can never stand on its own, or why the specific pairs /tʃ/ and /dʒ/ can be in positions that normally only allow a single consonant.

(In fact, I prefer to call those sounds /c/ and /ɟ/, palatal plosives, because it makes some of the symmetry nicer. But as always, the naming comes down to whatever is most useful and clear: /c/ doesn't tell you its most common pronunciation, while /t͡ʃ/ does.)

  • This makes sense, but it kind of gets rid of the simplicity the idea that a consonant is a single sound. At least that's what I remember learning when I was a kid. It's a balance I guess. Thank you.
    – Lance
    Sep 8, 2018 at 0:33
  • @LancePollard Ah, but how do you define "a single sound"? If you look at spectrograms you'll see there's no clear distinction between the end of one sound and the start of the next. And in languages with affricates, they're generally considered single "units": do you consider the "ch" in English to be one sound or two?
    – Draconis
    Sep 8, 2018 at 15:29
  • @LancePollard Czech c = t͡s definitely sounds like a single sound to me. We do also have the sequence "ts" in words like "dětský" [ɟɛt.skiː] (the t and s belong to different syllables) and that is very different when carefully pronounced. Sep 9, 2018 at 18:33
  • Yeah good points :) I consider ch to be 1 sound, but I haven't 100% landed on that yet.
    – Lance
    Sep 9, 2018 at 21:09
  • Actually now that I think about it, t-sh sounds better.
    – Lance
    Sep 9, 2018 at 21:20

This is basically the meaning of the tie-marker. If you write [d͡z], you are explicitly claiming that it is a single consonant (commonly known as an affricate); if you write [dz], you're not saying that explicitly, so you might be saying that it is a cluster (or, you're just not bothering with the diacritic). There are a few cases where there is a contrast in the language, such as Polish trzy "three" with a cluster and czy "whether" with an affricate. Since such contrasts are rare, it is rarely necessary to use the diacritic.


There is no clear boundary between an affricate and a sequence of a stop and fricative of the same place of articulation. So the distinction most often comes down to the purpose of the analysis.

For instance, English /ts, dz, tr, dr, tθ, dð, pf, bv/ are phonetically realized like affricates in many environments, but these combinations are usually not considered distinct phonemes because their distribution is restricted to one or two of word-initial, word-medial, and word-final positions. /tʃ/ and /dʒ/, however, can appear in any of the three and appear to be morphologically inseparable, unless in the middle of a compound (e.g. lightship). For a more thorough reasoning, see Cruttenden (2014: 186–8).

But if you're making a phonetic (as opposed to phonological) observation, it is well within reason to treat affricated realizations of English /ts, dz, tr, dr, tθ, dð, pf, bv/ as affricates and transcribe them with tie bars.

Ladefoged & Maddieson (1996: 90) said:

Affricates are an intermediate category between simple stops and a sequence of a stop and a fricative. It is not always easy to say how much frication should be regarded as an automatic property of a release; some places of articulation seem to be often accompanied by considerable frication ... At the other extreme, a combination of a stop and fricative that both happen to have the same place of articulation do not necessarily form an affricate. Phonological considerations must play a part in any decision as to whether a stop and a following homorganic fricative is to be regarded as an affricate which is a single unit, or as two segments (or two timing slots), forming a sequence of a stop and a fricative.

  • Where do you find /tθ dð pf bv/ in English?
    – Draconis
    Sep 9, 2018 at 18:46
  • @Draconis eighth, breadth, width, helpful, cupful, obvious, obviate... Admittedly, /dð/ is virtually never found word-internally, but can nonetheless be heard in behind the etc.
    – Nardog
    Sep 10, 2018 at 0:06

Because you need to make the difference between the phonology and the phonetic. The affricates represent one phonological unity despite they have two different articulatory sequences.

  • But how do you decide if its one or two phonological units?
    – curiousdannii
    Sep 8, 2018 at 0:20
  • The main technique that you can use is to obtain a minimal pair like cheap/leap, if there are such constrasts in any language so you can state that 'ch' is one phonological unity, but it is not necessarily a phoneme. In order to know if 'ch' is a phoneme you have to make sure that you can find 'ch' in any position (morphological and syllabic). I observe that a lot of persons are troubled by the IPA symbol. The 't' in 'ts' is not in reality a [t]. The occlusive sound in [ts] occurs in the alveolar level, whereas the place of articulation of [t] is generally dental.
    – amegnun
    Sep 8, 2018 at 8:48

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