Michelle Obama’s “Shtreet” for “Street”

By Pam Marshalla

Source: AP

Q: I have a 21-year-old client with above average intelligence who says “shtreet” for “street.” He also says “undershtanding” for “understanding” and “shtretch” for “stretch.” He seems to do this on purpose. Any comments?

It has been my observation that a certain segment of the population––especially those under 25 years of age––uses an “Sh” for “S” substitution in “Str” clusters. The result is “shtreet” and the other examples you have given above. Even Mrs. Obama does this.

In the 1970’s, this substitution was heard primarily in “Southern Dialect” and it was standard in what was called “Black Dialect.” Now this pattern seems to be generalizing to the broader population. With the president’s wife using it, it would seem appropriate now to call it part of Standard North American English.

In addition I hear “Chr” for “Tr” as in “Chrain” for “Train.”  I also hear “Jr” for “Dr” as in “Jrum” for “Drum.” These errors, or changes, have the same dialectal history as above.

As is well known, speech and language patterns change over time. I think this is an example of that.

7 thoughts on “Michelle Obama’s “Shtreet” for “Street””

  1. Ha – that substitution is how drunks are portrayed in comedic media – is this something we should just ignore?!? I hope not! Dialect or not, it sounds “mushy” and unprofessional.

  2. Thank you for acknowledging this speech difference. I am of the younger generation, and I also find that it is more common in NY, where I am from. I mentioned it to my supervisor one day because I felt that I shouldn’t count “chree” as an error for “tree” on the GFTA-2. He looked at me like I was nuts!

  3. I agree that these substitutions sound non-standard and unprofessional. I cringe every time I hear someone do it, and I especially cringe when I hear the president’s wife modeling this for all to hear and emulate.

    However, I also accept the basic notion that languages change over time. There are many examples of this today. In addition to the above I also hear widespread use of the retroflex L and the interdental L. I also hear widespread use of “ain’t” for “isn’t”, massive misuse of the reflexive pronoun “myself” (as in “She gave it to myself”), and a disappearing -ly adverb (as in “I walked slow” instead of “I walked slowly.”). People say “supposebly” for “supposedly” everywhere. I agree all of this is non-standard. But SLP’s everywhere have to adjust their clinical work to their circumstances. An SLP who works in a NYC public school would have to treat nearly every single child in the school for one or more of these errors––and that would be impossible.

    1. Just because it is impossible to treat everyone doesn’t mean teachers, etc., shouldn’t teach the correct pronunciation.
      And Mrs. Obama knows better, so she obviously does it on purpose. What’s the point I wonder?

  4. This denigration of speech has driven me crazy for years! As soon as someone says shtreet, I judge them as unworthy of my time. This includes Michelle Obama. She’s an embarrassment!

  5. I am enjoying Mrs. Obama’s book “Becoming” and have found her writing and narration of it to be among the best. However I have wondered if anyone else had noticed her use of “sh” for “s” and have found my answer here.

  6. Silent “t”. As in mi-ins. Bu-ins. Impor-int. More and more hearing it from news anchors. Especially younger ones

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