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DIFFERENT PRONUNCIATIONS OF THE CONSONANT  / t /

 

One of the things that make English difficult to understand is the different pronunciations of one of its most common consonants: the English - T -  is supposed to be pronounced tapping the tip of your tongue tight against the alveolus (a bit behind your upper teeth). When we pronounce it there is an explosion.

0-      T  =  / t /

Well, that's the theory, but in practice, most of the times the pronunciation is different. These are the other 4 possibilities you may find and when they usually take place:

1-      v + T + v  =  / D /

When the T goes between vowels it is often pronounced like a quick /d/ (like in the Spanish or Italian "cara"). In BrE it happens often, in AmE it happens always. e.g. better, fighter, sitting, "but I ..."

Notice that also   v + d + v  =  / D /  so "pudding" and "putting" may sound exactly the same.

2-      T + / j /  =  /tʃ/   (T+Y=CH)

When T is followed by the sound / j /, both sounds mix together and make one new sound. The sound / j / is often written with the letter Y (as in "You" or "plaYer"). e.g. "but you..." (pronounced "buchoo"), question (= kweschon) The sound / j / is often found in the pronunciation of the letter U. For instance, CUTE is pronounced /kju:t/ (= kyoot), so T+U often produces this result. e.g. "future" (pronounced "fyoocha")

3-      -T  =  / ʔ /

When T is not followed by a vowel, it is often pronounced closing your throat suddenly, instead of using the tip of your tongue, especially at the end of words (most common in BrE but also happens a lot in AmE).

e.g. what, cat, foot

(in Scottish, colloquial BrE and some dialects, you may find that sound in between vowels too!)

There is also a variety of this sound when T+N. In this case, the sudden air stopping is not made down in the throat, but higher up, at the back of the nose (not in the vocal chords but with the soft palate or uvula), so the air explosion is released through the nose, as in "wriTTen" or "imporTant", where the schwa () disappears and T comes in contact with the N.

4-      T  =  / d /

Sometimes it's pronounced with the tip of your tongue but there is not the expected explosion, so it sounds like / d /. That happens especially at the end of words and before some consonants.

 

OTHER PRONUNCIATIONS YOU MAY FIND

       / n / + T  =  / n /

After the sound / n /, / t / may disappear. It happens a lot in AmE (especially in some areas), and it may happen sometimes in BrE (but only in grammatical words like "don't", "won't", etc). This happens sometimes after / s / too ("just", "first") both in BrE and AmE.

e.g. interesting (pronounced "ineresting", only AmE) This is what produces the colloquial expressions: wanna (= want to / want a) and gonna (= going to), very common in colloquial speech (esp. in AmE).

       T+T =  T

Of course, if you see two letters T in a word, you must pronounce only one /t/ (as in "better"), but the same may also happen if a word ends in T and the next one begins with T (as in "at two o'clock"). In that case you may pronounce a double T or just one T if you're speaking fast.


 

Now you can watch this video to hear all the different varieties of English you just learnt.

 And now you can practise what you learnt on the previous video here:


Phonetics with One Direction: Story of My Life arrow2 we analyse the pronunciation of the British group One Direction to see all their varieties of T and much more.


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