pronunciation: -t- between vowels in AE and BE

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Dinnerout

New Member
Italy - Italian
Hi guys!

I'd like to know the differences in pronunciation between american and english of the following words:

water

better

letter

latter

Someone can help me?

Thanks in advance.
 
  • Markus

    Senior Member
    Canada - English
    I assume you are referring to how the "tt" is pronounced. In North American English, the sound is pronounced as what is called a flap; it is similar to the Spanish single R (but not exactly the same), or a very quickly pronounced D. In British English, it is pronounced either as a glottal stop or as a T sound depending on the region (I believe it is the "posh" accent that produces as a T sound, but I am not sure, best wait for someone British for all the facts on their side of the Atlantic).

    Markus
     

    timpeac

    Senior Member
    English (England)
    Markus said:
    I assume you are referring to how the "tt" is pronounced. In North American English, the sound is pronounced as what is called a flap; it is similar to the Spanish single R (but not exactly the same), or a very quickly pronounced D. In British English, it is pronounced either as a glottal stop or as a T sound depending on the region (I believe it is the "posh" accent that produces as a T sound, but I am not sure, best wait for someone British for all the facts on their side of the Atlantic).

    Markus
    The standard British English pronunciation of a "t" between vowels is as a "t" (rather than the American flap which sounds so my ears quite like a "d") plus a little puff of air (aspiration) afterwards.

    Some people would use glottal stops (cockney and some Scottish springs to mind) but this is viewed as a low register and looked down on by some. So, rather than the "t" pronunciation being posh I would say it is the glottal stop pronunciation which is low register since the "t" pronunciation is standard.
     

    Benjy

    Senior Member
    English - English
    http://www.research.att.com/projects/tts/demo.html

    I don't know how useful it will be for your particular query but it's a handy site for pronunciation questions in general. :)

    Listening to the UK/US voices I think it shows the difference quite well. The only thing you can't sample is the glottal stop that has been mentioned.

    Which reminds me ... last month I was at a cafe Rios in Draper Utah trying to tell the guy that I wanted water and not a soda. It was so bad =[ after three tries of trying to get the guy to understand my English my mate (also from England) tries going "waaddddddddeeeeerrrrrrr" and the guy next to us starts laughing. Arf. Needless to say we got our food and left in a hurry :eek:
     
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    jacinta

    Senior Member
    USA English
    Dinnerout said:
    Hi guys!

    I'd like to know the differences in pronunciation between american and english of the following words:

    water

    better

    letter

    latter

    Someone can help me?

    Thanks in advance.
    As I go through this list, I have to say that this word, latter, I pronounce with the "t" distinctly because it needs to be distinguished from the word ladder. The rest I pronounce as everyone says, with the "d" sound.
     

    timpeac

    Senior Member
    English (England)
    In the book I'm reading there is a character called "Tcheda". The character says that this is "to rhyme with "cheetah"". This confused me for a while, as I was thinking why would you pronounce a "d" as a "t" when I realised that of course it was an American book, and so the author obviously expects people to pronounce cheetah with a "d"!
     

    Benjy

    Senior Member
    English - English
    I was going to ask that.. if you follow the link I posted and so both ladder and latter it is almost impossible to distinguish the two with the American voice.
     
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    jacinta

    Senior Member
    USA English
    Benjy said:
    i was going to ask that.. if you follow the link i posted and so both ladder and latter it is almost impossible to distinguish the two with the american voice.
    It's probably just a "me" thing. I don't think it's universal.
     

    duder

    Senior Member
    USA/English
    My pronunciation of "latter" and "ladder" is almost identical, but it is easy to tell which is which according to context.
     

    JJchang

    Senior Member
    NZ - English, Chinese
    the pronunciation of water is distinctly different. BE is like o (reverse c in phonetic symbol), AE is a. The er is flat in BE.
     

    timpeac

    Senior Member
    English (England)
    kathy_wylie said:
    also latter..

    in Bristish english it is pronounced ' l-ah-t-ah'

    in American English it is pronounced 'l-ai-d-err' if you get what i mean
    er, no it's not Kathy, in neither case. Actually looking at it I think you might have meant "later" rather than "latter" so I won't comment on "latter" further until you confirm:)
     

    LizzieUSA

    Senior Member
    USA, English
    I think there is a VERY subtle difference in the American pronunciation of "ladder" and "latter". There is just a slight aspiration after the "tt" in "latter". But you wouldn't notice unless you were looking for it. It's one of those things that makes people hard to understand on the phone.... :D
     

    katheter

    Member
    Ireland, English
    no timpeac. i meant latter

    well i suppose on which british english accent is pronouncing it, but there are english people who pronounce 'latter' by pronouncing the 'a' like 'ah' and the 'er' ending sounds like an 'a' too.

    same case for the american pronunciation, depends what part of america! what i meant here is that americans sort of flatten to 'a' sound slightly which to me sounds like they've put an i in.
     

    timpeac

    Senior Member
    English (England)
    katheter said:
    no timpeac. i meant latter

    well i suppose on which british english accent is pronouncing it, but there are english people who pronounce 'latter' by pronouncing the 'a' like 'ah' and the 'er' ending sounds like an 'a' too.

    same case for the american pronunciation, depends what part of america! what i meant here is that americans sort of flatten to 'a' sound slightly which to me sounds like they've put an i in.
    Hmm, well I can't really comment on the US usage but in terms of the British usage it would only be quite a small minority of people who would pronounce it like that I think. Most would have an "a" like in "hat" I think.
     

    mzsweeett

    Senior Member
    USA
    USA, American English
    Wow what a discussion. I pronounce latter with a very soft "t" sound and ladder with a definite "d" sound.
    If you were to ask my husband to say the same words...they sound exactly identical and you'd have to listen to the rest of the sentence to figure out what he meant. :confused: ....BTW he is from Brooklyn NY...so that accounts for a lot. In that area they have very different pronounciations from other places in the US. I am from Philadelphia and the difference is very obvious. It varies from region to region. We even say water like "woo-der" rather than "wa-ter".

    Sweet T. :D :D :D
     

    JennR

    Senior Member
    US English
    I am an AF brat, so I've lived all over the US and even a short stint in Bermuda and have heard the various differences. My sister-in-law is from PA so when MzSweeett mentioned woo-der, all I could do is hear my 'sis' say "Yins" this is the Pittsburgh equivalent to y'all. She tried to mix one time and she ended up saying "Yins All". :D

    If I am feeling lazy, I will 'flap'. If I am trying to avoid picking up a regionalism, Lord preserve me from the MA accents, I annunciate and do the proper 'T' and 'D'. When I am with a group of Southerns, I revert and pick up my "native" accent.

    Benjy said:
    which reminds me.. last month i was at a cafe rios in draper utah trying to tell the guy that i wanted water and not a soda. it was so bad =[ after three tries of trying to get the guy to understand my english my mate (also from england) tries going "waaddddddddeeeeerrrrrrr" and the guy next to us starts laughing. arf. needless to say we got our food and left in a hurry :eek:
    Just don't try to order a "soda" in New England. It's a tonic. You might end up with seltzer wadddddder. ;)
     

    mylam

    Senior Member
    United States English
    JennR said:
    If I am feeling lazy, I will 'flap'. If I am trying to avoid picking up a regionalism, Lord preserve me from the MA accents, I annunciate and do the proper 'T' and 'D'. When I am with a group of Southerns, I revert and pick up my "native" accent.
    Really??? Yes, it would be worthy of announcement to hear a fellow American enunciate the T and D properly! ;) :D
     

    JennR

    Senior Member
    US English
    :eek: DOAH!

    Yeah...that's right...I am announcing that I enunciate! :p

    I was having one of those days -- Words that sound alike but are clearly spelled differently. :D

    Thanks for keeping me humble.

    Cheers,

    Jenn
     

    hamlet

    Senior Member
    Français (FR)
    I don't know what this phenomenon is called but I wondered if there's a rule stating when it occurs. For instance you'd never say "I don'd know aboud id" (as a matter of fact you'd say aboud but not id). So, back to the question : is there a rule? Would you say "I ain'd eading" or "I ain't eading"? Thanks
     

    JamesM

    Senior Member
    First of all, "I ain't eating" would sound like pretty poor English in much of the U.S. :) In some regions it would be common in casual spoken English, but in many places it would sound "rural."

    I don't think, as a general rule, that the "t" sound is very pronounced in AE. It falls somewhere between the "t" and "d" sound for many people. The word "butter", for example, is rarely pronounced so that it sounds like "but-ter"; the "t" is softer and closer to "budder", but still distinct from "budder" in the way many people speak. It's difficult to describe. "Ladder", for example, would sound different from "butter" when spoken by most people I know but the "t"s would not be explosive or crisp in "butter."

    I think the softening of the "t" happens most often when it's in the middle of a word. It's not completely a "d" sound, though. "heating" and "heeding" would not sound the same when spoken by most people I know, but "heating" would not sound nearly as crisp as if we were saying, "Hee ting" (some imaginary Chinese name).
     

    Old Novice

    Senior Member
    USA, English
    I agree completely with JamesM. I'd just add that the "middle of a word" t-softening phenomenon also sometimes occurs between a word ending in t and a word beginning with a vowel, which is where your "about it" example comes from, I believe. Also, I am originally from a place where "ain't" was often heard, and in my experience, "ain't" always has had a distinct "t" sound at the end.
     

    JamesM

    Senior Member
    It's very tricky. In the case of a phrase like "let it out", I'd say the first "t" is softened the most, the second is more distinctly "t"-sounding, and the last "t" is clearly a "t". Spoken quickly, it sounds to me like "leddit out", but not "leaded out", if you know what I mean. :)
     

    tepatria

    Senior Member
    Canadian English
    Perhaps we need a new category for English - Canadian English. The t is pronounced, I maintain. I would say that "a bit of bitter butter will make the batter better." How about you?
     

    Matching Mole

    Senior Member
    England, English
    I believe this "d" like sound is called an alveolar tap or flap and is represented with ɾ in IPA. In this pronunciation "t" loses some or all of its plosive quality, which is retained by most British English speakers.

    In the recent discussion of "data" it was noted that this effect occurs in varying degrees amongst AE speakers. I think this is prone to occur before reduced vowels (e.g. schwa).

    In some British English accents it becomes a glottal stop instead of an alveolar tap.
     

    JamesM

    Senior Member
    Perhaps we need a new category for English - Canadian English. The t is pronounced, I maintain. I would say that "a bit of bitter butter will make the batter better." How about you?
    If I am deliberately pronouncing it then, yes, I would say the 't" very distinctly and you would hear each one. This is a common tongue-twister in AE as well.

    If I'm irriated and calling to my child across the street, saying, "You'd better get over here right away", I think you would hear the 't" in "get" and "right" very distinctly, but "better" would sound somewhere between "bedder" and "bet-ter".
     

    evaniax

    Member
    US. English
    My 'sis' say "Yins" this is the Pittsburgh equivalent to y'all. She tried to mix one time and she ended up saying "Yins All". :D
    I've heard it more as a "yuns" - but I loooooooved the "yins all." That is too awesome. She needs to find a way to add in the even more common (i.e., outside of "Picksburg" and the south :)) "you guys." "All yuns guys?" "Yuns guys all?".... lol.

    Just don't try to order a "soda" in New England. It's a tonic. You might end up with seltzer wadddddder. ;)
    Tonic = soda?? That explains part of a TV show that made me feel WTF. To me, it's the exact opposite, tonic = soda water = seltzer water (I would only ever use "soda water"). Actually, if I heard someone ask for a "tonic," I would assume he wanted some sort of special medical drink (like an infusion of certain herbs). It's strange how many variations on terms for "soda" there are in the US, like "pop" in the Midwest... which is fine for me, since I haven't really had any in the last 10 years... lol.

    Oh yeah, back to the original post. Yep, those are all flaps to me... but like most above, I distingish the t's and d's when absolutely needed or in a more formal setting... but I would really really have to focus to pronounce "water" with a t. You can even write it as a regular sound change:
    (Am Eng) t,d > ɾ / V_V

    The lightest flap for me is in "better" and "letter." I do tend to pronounce those more as t's (not quite, and certainly not aspirated).
     

    natkretep

    Moderato con anima (English Only)
    English (Singapore/UK), basic Chinese
    I just wanted to add that there is a fair amount of variation of a different kind in the UK. The choice is not only between an aspirated /t/ and a glottal stop. There could be unaspirated /t/ in, say, some Scottish accents. I have heard lots of accents of folks from Northern Ireland where a /d/ sound is normal. Even English speakers, when speaking informally, might produce something like 'bedder' for 'better', but this pronunciation will not be used all the time. There's a lot of 'bedder' in Australian English too, but you will also hear a lot of 'better' in more careful and formal contexts.
     

    Paxal

    Senior Member
    French
    Intervocalic 't' in AE is pronounced like a flapped 'r', close to an 'r'-sound in Spanish (single 'r' , not double) (as in "pero"). Whereas in BE, it is pronounced with the tip of one's tongue behind the teeth ridge (and not just behind the teeth as in French).
     

    Paco_18

    Member
    Spain
    Hi everyone!

    I have just been watching The Picture of Dorian Gray (1975) and I noticed that the actors did flap some of the t's and d's in function words mainly. Should I trust my ears? I mean, I know British people flap the t's some times, but I had know idea about the d's. So how spread is the flapping of those sounds in the British Isles?

    Thanks a lot!
     

    Cagey

    post mod (English Only / Latin)
    English - US
    There have been earlier threads on the pronunciation of "t". You can find them by searching for pronunciation t in the search box at the top of the page.

    I know too little about this to judge whether any of them are relevant to your question, but you might want to look them over. Perhaps you will find this one interesting [which Ewie has just merged with Paco's thread].
     
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    ewie

    Senior Member
    English English
    Hi everyone!

    I have just been watching The Picture of Dorian Gray (1975) and I noticed that the actors did flap some of the t's and d's in function words mainly. Should I trust my ears? I mean, I know British people flap the t's some times, but I had know idea about the d's. So how spread is the flapping of those sounds in the British Isles?

    Thanks a lot!
    Hi Paco. Can you think of any specific function words with 'flapped d's' that you heard?

    As a general comment: I agree with Nat [#23] that there's a good bit more variation in the pronunciation of BE intervocalic /t/ than we realize ... or are prepared to admit. (I think I may have said before in this forum that I have heard people of all ages, backgrounds, educations, etc. using glottal stops ... many of whom would never actually admit to it if it was pointed out to them.)

    And yes: I've heard BE-speakers flapping their -t-'s.
     

    Pedro y La Torre

    Senior Member
    English (Ireland)
    As regards Hiberno-English, it would sound something like:

    water - wah-terr

    better - be-terr

    letter - le-terr

    latter - lah-terr

    Hopefully that makes some sense, in any case, as the Irish are rhotic speakers, the R is always pronounced at the end, unlike English English.
     
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    timpeac

    Senior Member
    English (England)
    As regards Hiberno-English, it would sound something like:

    water - wah-terr

    better - bet-err

    letter - let-err

    latter - lah-terr

    Hopefully that makes some sense, in any case, as the Irish are rhotic speakers, the R is always pronounced at the end, unlike English English.
    Are you sure that you mean to append the "t" to the first syllable in the middle two Pedro? Wouldn't it be more likely to be "be-terr", "le-terr"?
     

    pickarooney

    Senior Member
    English (Ireland)
    As regards Hiberno-English, it would sound something like:

    water - wah-terr

    better - be-terr

    letter - le-terr

    latter - lah-terr

    Hopefully that makes some sense, in any case, as the Irish are rhotic speakers, the R is always pronounced at the end, unlike English English.
    In some HibE accents... others would have a glottal stop, a heavily dentalised 'th' sound or a sibilant in place of the 't' .
     

    diminished7th

    Senior Member
    Farsi
    At the end of the day, still I didn't grasp the idea! I'm pretty sure Americans say water as "wader" and pretty as "predy" and beauty as "beaudy".

    I guess one rule can be for the words ending with "ty". If the t is preceded by a vowel it's pronounced as /d/ like:

    reality
    uniformity
    beauty
    pretty
    obesity
    intensity
    treaty
    city
    density
    variety
    opportunity
    quality
    eighty five :D

    But in some other examples I don't know how to say the word to sound American like:

    repetitive (the first t)
    pattern
    data
    at a
    better
    about it
    it doesn't matter
    Beat it! (R.I.P Michael!)
    later
    latter

    And in some others I guess the t is exactly pronounced as it is like:

    native
    status
    greeting
    hate her
    letter
    sit around
    repeatedly
    beat around the bush
    parameters
    waiting
    fighting
    eating
    party
    exotic
    meeting
     

    A.F.Ferri

    Member
    English - British
    This is basically a question of dialect. In the vast region that is the Angloshpere the English language is used - and abused - in a variety of different ways. In proper English however, no instance comes to mind where you would pronounce a t as a d or vice versa.
     

    boozer

    Senior Member
    Bulgarian
    And in some others I guess the t is exactly pronounced as it is like:

    native - nay-duv
    status - ??
    greeting - gree-deng
    hate her - hey-dur
    letter - ledr
    sit around -??
    repeatedly - ruh-peedud-ly
    beat around the bush - beed uh-rAun tha bush
    parameters - puh-ra-muh-durz
    waiting - way-deng
    fighting - fy-deng
    eating - ee-deng
    party - ??
    exotic - ?? - ig-za..
    meeting - mee-deng
    Well, I find it hard to imagine how all of the above would be pronounced by the average US speaker, but I could distinctly imagine an American friend and colleague I once had saying those words as reproduced by me. I have in mind someone from Seattle (See-A-Dl) :) The problem is I simply understood what she said but never paid attention to all the small details. And I myself speak differently.

    I very much like A.F.Ferri's comments and fully agree. But it's not to say that Americans speak improper English. :) It's just different.
     

    mplsray

    Senior Member
    This is basically a question of dialect. In the vast region that is the Angloshpere the English language is used - and abused - in a variety of different ways. In proper English however, no instance comes to mind where you would pronounce a t as a d or vice versa.
    In some accents spoken by speakers of a standard dialect--I don't know whether you consider "standard" equivalent to "proper"--the consonant in the middle of butter and water is the same as that in budder and wadder (I had to look them up to ensure that the latter two words are indeed listed in a dictionary). This is not, however, [d] but is instead an alveolar tap, [ɾ]. The consonant in the middle of wader, on the other hand, is a [d] while that in the middle of waiter is a [t].

    My own accent, from the American Midwests, is an example of such an accent.
     
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    LV4-26

    Senior Member
    I distinctly remember Bogart saying
    Ged'm a drink uh' wader
    in a movie.

    although the 'd' might actually be something between a 't' and a 'd'.

    Also, Pete Seeger (or was it someone else?) wrote a song called
    Atom and Evil [Adam and Eve(l)] :)
     

    jpyvr

    Senior Member
    English - Canadian
    When I was learning to teach ESL, my pronunciation teacher referred to this phenomenon as a "D flap." I don't know if that's a standard term or not, but I always found that the term was easily explainable to my ESL students and they were able to grasp it without much problem. I think as a teaching term, "D flap" is much easier on students than "alveolar flap."
     

    entangledbank

    Senior Member
    English - South-East England
    No-one's mentioned stress yet. Here's my first go at a rule. The /t/ is flapped when:

    (i) it's not followed by a stressed syllable;
    (ii) it's between vowels, or between one of /n l r/ and a vowel. (These can be across two words.)

    So (i) excludes retain, intend, etc., which have [t]. Probably this also explains the [t] in the 'it' of let it out, which in effect has the stressed syllable /taut/.

    (ii) includes things like winter, alter, party, as well as better, water, beating. Not being an AmE speaker, I don't know how many people do flap their t's in these words. It tends to disappear entirely in /nt/ (Toronto, continental).

    Studies have shown (if I recall rightly) that most AmE speakers can't reliably distinguish /d/ from flapped /t/ in normal speech. They used test sentences like:

    The candidates for baptism were wai[ɾ]ing in the river.
    The wounded sheep was blee[ɾ]ing by the fence.

    But there can be differences even if the consonant is the same, [ɾ]. Voiceless stops shorten following vowels in English. The vowel of beat is shorter than that of bead or bee. Some flapping accents may apply shortening before underlying /t/ before turning /t/ into [ɾ], so for these accents there would be a length difference between waiting and wading.

    Also, Canadian English applies the Canadian diphthong change to /ai/ and /au/ before /t/ but not before /d/. So writing and riding have different vowels even though the /t ~ d/ difference is neutralized to [ɾ].
     

    Packard

    Senior Member
    USA, English
    ... "Ladder", for example, would sound different from "butter" when spoken by most people I know but the "t"s would not be explosive or crisp in "butter." ...
    I just spoke aloud "ladder" and "latter" and in my mind they sound different but as spoken they are very nearly the same. But when I "say" them silently in my mind they are distinctly different.

    My co-worker confirmed what I said and confirmed that she spoke them nearly identically too.

    I think it is pretty easy to convince ourselves that we are speaking as spelled, but a tape recording may put a lie to that notion.
     

    JamesM

    Senior Member
    They are very similar but they are written differently in phonetics and there is a distinction.

    This site (thanks for the info, Cagey!) is in our Resources for the English Only forum. It is a great place to hear multiple regional accents in varieties of English around the world. You can listen to "better" and "needle" in the American recordings to hear the difference. They are very similar but there is a different sound.
     

    berndf

    Moderator
    German (Germany)
    I think it is pretty easy to convince ourselves that we are speaking as spelled, but a tape recording may put a lie to that notion.
    It is not only that. The distinction between fortis and lenis plosives (p vs. b, t vs. d, k vs. g) is not a clear cut dichotomy but a threshold on a continuous scale (called VOT). Different languages, dialects and accents define this threshold differently. Depending on one's dialect, the same sound may be perceived as a d or as a t by different people, if the VOT is close to the threshold value. By and large (there are many ifs and buts depending on phonetic context - syllable onset or code; stressed or unstressed syllable) the threshold is higher in BE than in AE, i.e. sound which an AE speaker may still identify as a t a BE speaker may already identify as a d.

    For those who are interested, there are several threads in EHL about this topic, in particular these two: click and click.
     

    clevermizo

    Senior Member
    English (USA), Spanish
    Just my two cents as an American:

    1) T and D are always flapped in casual speech, and the phonology is that they are flapped in unstressed, intervocalic environments, which can cross word boundaries.

    2) T is clearly voiceless and aspirated in stressed environments such as retain, pertain, contain as well as word or phrase-initially.

    3) To flap the /t,d/ is normal and casual, however it is also done at formal register, unless it is desirable to make a certain word sound unambiguous.

    (ii) includes things like winter, alter, party, as well as better, water, beating. Not being an AmE speaker, I don't know how many people do flap their t's in these words. It tends to disappear entirely in /nt/ (Toronto, continental).
    Winter has two possible pronunciations: win.terwith an unflapped t (the "n" is not really vocalic), or with the t elided as a homophone of winner. Trying to pronounce the sequence [nɾ] is next to impossible for me.:D

    Alter is not pronounced with a flapped /t/ or at least I don't think it ever is. The l, though quasi-vocalic, seems to block what would be a flapping environment. I'm trying to think of other words with the words ld or lt and in no case can I come up with a flap. The t and d are full stops, with the t aspirated.

    Party has a flapped t as post-vocalic, coda r is a vowel coloration in American English and not a consonant phoneme.

    Better, water and beating all contain flaps as the t is intervocalic.


    For what it's worth, my pronunciations of latter and ladder are identical, and context determines which is meant. Also, many of us do pronounce our ts and ds as [t] and [d] and not as flaps to distinguish them when necessary. Some of us who are a little more well-traveled tend to "affect" a proper [t] and [d] when confronted with individuals who are non-native speakers of English and with whom the flap might create some confusion.

    Also, the flap in AmE is identical to the single, flapped /r/ of Spanish. It "feels" like there is a slight difference only due to orthographic bias. We really think we say a "t" when we pronounce a word like letter.
     
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