Pronunciation: prince, prints, and similar

Tabac

Senior Member
U. S. - English
I am a native speaker of English from the US. I recently discovered that what I thought to be perfectly normal for me may not be the norm for everyone. Upon analysis, I have come to realize that when I pronounce a word with /n/ followed by (unvoiced) /s/, I sneakily and ever so slightly insert /t/ between the two sounds.

Thus, 'prince' and 'prints' sound alike when I say them.
So do 'attendance' and 'attendants'.

Likewise, 'Mount Saint Helen' and announcement have the same sound. I have tried to say the words of the questionable /t/ without that additional sounding, trying to glide from the /n/ to the /s/, but I find it totally unnatural.

Other examples of my speech:
insurance, nuisance, intelligence, ounce,


Dictionaries do not include /t/ in their pronunciation guides of the words 'prince' or 'announce', but then they do not use the International Phonetic Alphabet as their indicators.

Nobody has ever "caught" me on this: I'm the one who brought up the idea that 'prints' and 'prince' are pronounced the same. My question! Is this a peculiarity of mine only (apparently unnoticed by others) or a phenomenon that exists in general and is so covert that most people don't recognize it? Remember: my /t/ slips in ever so lightly; it not a strong sound, but I hear it and I feel it as well.

I'm hoping for answers from those with at least some study of linguistics, although others may find it interesting to say the words while paying close attention. And, if you speak from some authority (degree or study in linguistics, I'd appreciate knowing that).

Thanks for your patience (and possible input).
 
  • Kelly B

    Senior Member
    USA English
    Rather than adding a t per se, I think it's a result of the need to move the tongue from the front of the palate as you pronounce the n, to the teeth as you pronounce the s sound. As it happens, the tongue position for t is the same as n but the t sound includes a lift away from the palate. Moving from the palate to the teeth from n to s includes a lift as well. You're not sneaking it in -- it's a natural part of the movement, and it is the same by coincidence.

    I'm no linguist, though....
     

    Rob625

    Senior Member
    English - England
    I'm no expert, and I hadn't thought about it until now; but I think I do the same, and that so does everyone. As Kelly B says, it's a natural consequence of the movement of the tongue.
     

    timpeac

    Senior Member
    English (England)
    I don't have a degree in linguistics, but I took quite a few modules in linguistics at university. I think Kelly's explanation is excellent.

    I have been sitting here saying "prints" "prince" to myself, and I definitely pronounce them the same. Moveover I would say that there is a suspicion of a "t" in both. However in saying "nuisance" I am fairly sure there is no suspicion of a "t" in my pronunciation.

    I think the difference lies in the fact that "i" is both a high and front vowel. That is, your tongue is raised high and to the front. Your tongue is already further forward than normal when you pronounce the "n" so when you stop nasaling to pronounce the non-nasal "s" you naturally pronounce something approximating a "t".

    The "uh" of "nuis uh nce" on the other hand is pronounced with the tongue lower and futher back, so when your "n" is in its normal place and is still "n" like as you stop nasalising and as your move the tongue forward to hiss the "s" there is no "t".

    Or rather when I say "you" in fact I mean "me" since I am analysing my own speech. In your case I imagine that you naturally pronounce your "n" a bit further forward than I do and so when it denasalises you hear the "t". In either case, it's perfectly normal, and nothing to worry about!:)
     

    panjandrum

    Lapsed Moderator
    English-Ireland (top end)
    Minority report coming in.

    Definitely different.
    Some vague t if I say prince alone, but there is no t if there is a following word, as in Prince of Denmark. Prints of Denmark of course does have a t:)

    In Prince.,the sibillant is longer, more significant; and depending what you have been eating/drinking may have an involuntary moment of closure, creating a t.
    In Prince of Denmark, the sibillant is a mere passing moment on the way to of so that it sounds like Prin sof Denmark.
     

    suzzzenn

    Senior Member
    USA English
    Hi guys,

    I did learn about this in my phonology classes. It is an example of an insertion rule. While it is very common, it is not universal. Here is the rule from my textbook:

    Voiceless stop insertion (English): Between a nasal consonant
    (n,m,ng) and a voiceless fricative (s,f,th,sh), a voiceless stop with the same place of articulation as the nasal (p,t,k) is inserted.


    From: Language Files, eds. Stewart & Vaillette

    So this means that:

    Dance /dans/ --> [dants]
    hamster /hamstr/-->[hampster]
    lance /lans/ --> [lants]
    strength /strength/ -->[strengkth] (I only sometimes add the k..I had to try it a few time before I had a natural sound. In my accent I delete the ng sound altogether and say [strentth]

    I thought about what Kelly and Tim said about the physical constraints that make the insertion natural. I agree to an extent that it is possible to justify the insertion by looking at the vocal tract. For example, it makes sense that only sounds that have the same place of articulation as the nasal are inserted. No one inserts a /k/ after a /m/ for example, that would be unnatural. But I don't think that there is any reason that this is obligatory due to the way the vocal tract is structured, or how one must move his or her tongue while pronouncing these sounds together. My evidence? This is a rule that is specific to English! Speakers of many other languages manage to make a transition from /n/ to /s/ without inserting a /t/! It is understandable but not universal or predictable based on the physical factors.

    I will edit this later and try add the IPA symbols. I tried this once in the past and others could only see boxes instead of letters. I need to figure out what fonts word reference can read. If you can't read these letters could you let me know?? ɵ Ŋ æ

    Susan:) :)
     

    panjandrum

    Lapsed Moderator
    English-Ireland (top end)
    suzzzenn said:
    I did learn about this in my phonology classes. It is an example of an insertion rule. While it is very common, it is not universal.
    As one who claims NOT insert the t, I am happy that it be described as "very common":D
    Reflecting on the Prince of Denmark (as one does) I wonder if my pronunciation has been modified by a couple of decades of choir directors trying desparately to surpress sung sibillants - and suggesting we move them from the end of one word to the beginning of the next?

    If you can't read these letters could you let me know?? ɵ Ŋ æ
    I can see them OK, but can't attach sounds to them without assistance. The pronunciation thread here includes links to such assistance.
     

    Tabac

    Senior Member
    U. S. - English
    panjandrum said:
    As one who claims NOT insert the t, I am happy that it be described as "very common":D [/color]
    Reflecting on the Prince of Denmark (as one does) I wonder if my pronunciation has been modified by a couple of decades of choir directors trying desparately to surpress sung sibillants - and suggesting we move them from the end of one word to the beginning of the next?
    font]
    I am sure your singing in choirs is responsible for your lack of insertion. For 30 years I encouraged singers in my choirs to do exactly that. "Get off the consonant as quickly as possible and sing the vowels!"
     

    beclija

    Senior Member
    Boarisch, Österreich (Austria)
    I have been sitting here saying "prints" "prince" to myself, and I definitely pronounce them the same. Moveover I would say that there is a suspicion of a "t" in both. However in saying "nuisance" I am fairly sure there is no suspicion of a "t" in my pronunciation.

    I think the difference lies in the fact that "i" is both a high and front vowel. That is, your tongue is raised high and to the front. Your tongue is already further forward than normal when you pronounce the "n" so when you stop nasaling to pronounce the non-nasal "s" you naturally pronounce something approximating a "t".
    Obviously I'm not a native speaker, but I was just wondering about a possible alternative explanation, namely, that it is actually not the quality of the vowel but stress placement. Do you get that suspicion of a t in words like "announce" , "pence" or "fans" when the -ns- comes after a stressed vowel other than i?
    A collegue here in Vienna has recently written his PhD on cases like bid vs. bit (among other things) where you get audible lengthening of i before voiced consonants. With unstressed vowels there is no difference: the uhs in "wicked" and "ticket" are equally short. I'm wondering if the [ns] vs. [nts] thing might in some sense be parallel d vs. t, that is, a stressed vowel must either be long or followed by the "strong" variant, while an unstressed one doesn't pose such requirements.
     

    marget

    Senior Member
    I don't have a degree in linguistics, but I took quite a few modules in linguistics at university. I think Kelly's explanation is excellent.

    I have been sitting here saying "prints" "prince" to myself, and I definitely pronounce them the same. Moveover I would say that there is a suspicion of a "t" in both. However in saying "nuisance" I am fairly sure there is no suspicion of a "t" in my pronunciation.

    I think the difference lies in the fact that "i" is both a high and front vowel. That is, your tongue is raised high and to the front. Your tongue is already further forward than normal when you pronounce the "n" so when you stop nasaling to pronounce the non-nasal "s" you naturally pronounce something approximating a "t"

    The "uh" of "nuis uh nce" on the other hand is pronounced with the tongue lower and futher back, so when your "n" is in its normal place and is still "n" like as you stop nasalising and as your move the tongue forward to hiss the "s" there is no "t".

    Or rather when I say "you" in fact I mean "me" since I am analysing my own speech. In your case I imagine that you naturally pronounce your "n" a bit further forward than I do and so when it denasalises you hear the "t". In either case, it's perfectly normal, and nothing to worry about!:)
    Very interesting analysis! I think I have a bit of a "t" even with the word nuance in English, but of course not so in French. Are you sure your pronunciation of nuance in English isn't almost (or completely) perfectly French!?
     

    elroy

    Imperfect Mod
    US English/Palestinian Arabic bilingual
    I'm so glad Panj weighed in, because I pronounce them differently as well. When I say "prince," I say "prins." When I say "prints," I say "prin's." There's definitely something there between the "n" and the "s" that is nonexistent when I say "prince," no matter how hard I try.

    Susan's contribution is reassuring and logical. It's reassuring because she said it wasn't universal and it's logical because it's totally true that in other languages you can pronounce "ns" with no fear of inserting other sounds between the two.

    I should mention here that I'm usually told I enunciate with unusual clarity and precision (I'm not saying this to toot my own horn; I just think it might be relevant to this discussion).
     

    panjandrum

    Lapsed Moderator
    English-Ireland (top end)
    It's a bit scary to find a year-old post resurrected here with a Panj post ... Fortunately, I still agree with myself.
    As I have often said here since, we in Northern Ireland are more likely to pronounce everything we see, and only what we see, than the English. We pronounce r when the word has an r. We don't insert an r between words just because one ends, and the next begins, with a vowel sound.

    There is a t in prints, so we pronounce it with a t.
    There is no t in prince (or in other words ending ...nce, so we don't give it one.
     

    beclija

    Senior Member
    Boarisch, Österreich (Austria)
    Well, you don't, I don't think I do either, but I'm interested in those that do and precisely where they do it.
     

    jimreilly

    Senior Member
    American English
    I hadn't seen this thread the first time around.

    And damned if I don't have the "t" in there, including in the examples other people give when they don't have it in, such as "nuisance" and "Prince of Denmark", as well as "nuance" (in English, not when I speak French). Even in a word like "dunce". I have to really work to keep the "t" out of there, and it seems highly unnatural when I succeed. And, god knows, I've done enough choir singing in my life, too much!

    I always wonder, in cases like this, how much it has to do with language as I learned it and how much it has to do with the shape of my mouth, teeth, etc. Not everyone is built exactly the same.
     
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