zh or ʒ

Handshape 1The consonant phoneme found in the middle of the word measure is a common topic during introductory cued English workshops. While it may occur with less frequency than other consonant phonemes, the /zh/ or /ʒ/ is still a necessary segment in dialects of American English and is found in hundreds of words.


In most (if not all) variations of phonemic representation methods, the consonant is transcribed as /zh/. The International Phonetic Alphabet symbol is /ʒ/, and the name of the letter is ezh. In Americanist phonetic notation, which is used in the book Cued Language Structure, the symbol is written as a z with a hacek – /ž/. 


While this page is devoted to the topic of /ʒzhzhʒzhzhʒzhzh/, it is important for both new cuers and instructors to realize that any word is subject to variations in dialect. It's key that new cuers learn to recognize /ʒzhzhʒzhzhʒzhzh/ whether they pronounce garage with handshape 1 or handshape 7.


One-Syllable Words

beige, Jacques, luge, rouge, zhuzh

Two-Syllable Words

Asia, Asian, azure, closure, collage, corsage, dressage, Frasier, freesiafusion, garage, genre, Hoosier, leisure, lesion, massage, measure, mirage, Persia, Persian, prestige, seizure, treasure, triage, version, vision, Zsa Zsa

Three-Syllable Words

abrasion, adhesion, amnesia, aphasia, aversion, Baton Rouge, bon voyage, camouflage, casual, casually, Caucasian, collision, concierge, conclusion, contusion, conversion, corrosion, decision, delusion, derision, division, effusion, elision, enclosure, entourage, envision, erosion, Eurasian, excursion, explosion, exposure, illusion, immersion, incision, inclusion, intrusion, invasion, luxury, measurement, occasion, occlusion, Parisian, Parmesan, precision, protrusion, provision, persuasion, revision, sabotage, soupe du jour, transfusion, treasury, usual, usually, visually

Four-Syllable Words

circumcision, disillusioned, espionageluxurious, measurable, occasionallypleasurable, revisionist, subdivision, supervision, television, unusually, visionaryvisualizing

Five-Syllable Words



While it is common for words containing /ʒzhzhʒzhzhʒzhzh/ to be included during the introduction of handshape 1, instructors may want to provide other opportunities to recognize /ʒzhzhʒzhzhʒzhzh/ during an introductory course. Inclusion of words like garage, prestige, and luxury after the other necessary cues have been covered will help students incorporate /ʒzhzhʒzhzhʒzhzh/ into their cueing.  

There's little argument that /ʒzhzhʒzhzhʒzhzh/ occurs with less frequency than /ppppppppp/ or /ddddddddd/. However, instructors should avoid downplaying the phoneme so much that students disregard it. Common myths among beginners suggest that /ʒzhzhʒzhzhʒzhzh/ occurs in fewer than 10 English words or that it only occurs in borrowed French words. Neither of these statements is true.

Instructors may wish to encourage students to recognize /ʒzhzhʒzhzhʒzhzh/ but find that some words may be too difficult for new cuers. In such cases, instructors can provide exercises where cuers must simply recognize and /ʒzhzhʒzhzhʒzhzh/ words from a list that also contains foils (words that do not contain /ʒzhzhʒzhzhʒzhzh/ but have similarly produced phonemes). For example: abuses, admission, cushion, fashion, pigeon, supervisor, tissues, urges. Additionally, instructors could have students select one /ʒzhzhʒzhzhʒzhzh/ word from the list to practice with a partner. These ways of scaffolding students allow them to work with the concepts in ways that are appropriately challenging to their level.

Instruction of /ʒzhzhʒzhzhʒzhzh/ to Deaf Adults

One of the most common issues in teaching deaf adults to cue or working with native cuers attending beginner or intermediate classes is dealing with the "I never knew that!" response. This is especially prevalent when introducing or reviewing words that contain a /ʒzhzhʒzhzhʒzhzh/ consonant as opposed to the generally anticipated or predicted /ʤjjʤjjʤjj/ or /ʃshshʃshshʃshsh/ consonant.

Individuals who are deaf may not hear whether an uncommon word has a /ʒzhzhʒzhzhʒzhzh/ versus a /ʤjjʤjjʤjj/ or /ʃshshʃshshʃshsh/ (all of which appear the same when lip reading). In general, cuers who have had exposure to these words through cueing acquire the correct pronunciation passively. However, for words that are encountered solely through print, later memorization and recognition of patterns among similar words may be necessary. Some words that use /ʒzhzhʒzhzhʒzhzh/ (e.g., concierge) come by way of French. Similarly, most "_easure" words (e.g., pleasure, measure, and treasure) are also /ʒzhzhʒzhzhʒzhzh/ words.

The word lists above include the most common /ʒzhzhʒzhzhʒzhzh/ words and can be provided to deaf adults who want to ensure they are cueing these words accurately.