I just learned for the first time from a WIRED video about movie accents (at 4:30) that American English has multiple possible places of articulation for the "S" sound. I was able to find terms for these articulations used by speech therapists; if your tongue blade points to the alveolar ridge, you are a "tipper"; if it points down below your bottom teeth, you are a "dipper". Apparently an articulation in the middle also occurs in some speakers, but I did not see any specific terminology for this.

The standard "S" used in IPA is specified as a voiceless alveolar fricative, which I presume is what a tipper pronounces. What are the proper phonetic terms for the two other common "S" pronunciations?

1 Answer 1


The technical terms in articulatory phonetics for "tipper" and "dipper" are apical and laminal.

They are both voiceless alveolar fricatives (IPA: [s]), but since "alveolar" only describes the passive place of articulation, voiceless alveolar fricatives can take many forms, as the Wikipedia article you linked to discusses in detail. Whenever the distinction is desired, they are called "apico-alveolar" and "lamino-alveolar" (or simply "apical alveolar" and "laminal alveolar") instead of just "alveolar". The apical and laminal [s] can be narrowly transcribed in IPA as [s̺] and [s̻], respectively.

According to Ladefoged & Maddieson (1996: 146), "there is considerable disagreement among authorities as to which is the most common articulation", and "the apical-laminal distinction [is] not of particular importance in the characterization of the general, cross-speaker, properties of English s".

  • I think 'dipper' refers to the dental area (down below your bottom teeth). It is the passive articulation which is evoked.
    – amegnunsen
    Commented Oct 4, 2018 at 10:49
  • @amegnunsen I don't think so. Both the Wired video and these sites which discuss "tipper" and "dipper" articulations of alveolar fricatives talk about the distinction being allophonic. If they were talking about passive places of articulation, that would probably count as some kind of lisp and speech therapists would consider the "dipper" incorrect.
    – Nardog
    Commented Oct 4, 2018 at 17:06
  • I agree with @amegnunsen. I articulate with the tongue dipped down by the lower teeth and gums. It makes sense to me.
    – Nate Glenn
    Commented Oct 5, 2018 at 16:02
  • @NateGlenn As I understand it, amegnunsen is saying that s/he thinks "dipper" refers to a dental (=passive) place of articulation – which is different from an articulation "with the tongue dipped down by the lower teeth and gums", which is just a laminal alveolar articulation. So it seems to me you actually don't agree with amegnunsen.
    – Nardog
    Commented Oct 6, 2018 at 13:53
  • But isn't the so-called 'dipper' /s/ often apico-dental? Commented Oct 6, 2018 at 23:41

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