zero vs. "that" relatives

Tom Zurinskas truespel at HOTMAIL.COM
Sat Dec 27 15:54:33 UTC 2008

Paul, Very interesting.  I wonder if you have data about the frequency of the glottalization of the ending "t" such as in words, "What about that," where each word can the "t" spoken with the back of the tongue thrust backward instead of the tip touching the teeth with a plosive and then aspiration.

I also wonder about the ~d for ~t substitution, such that "better butter" is pronounced "bedder budder" as can be heard at

I believe these are normal pronunciations although not even recognized as an alternative in the phonetic notation.  I recognize them as alternative pronunciations in my vOA dictionary.

I believe American English is very standardized as presented in TV media newscasts.  What are the biggest differences lately?

Tom Zurinskas, USA - CT20, TN3, NJ33, FL5+
Learn truespel in 15 minutes at

> Date: Fri, 26 Dec 2008 23:21:56 -0500
> From: paul.johnston at WMICH.EDU
> Subject: Re: zero vs. "that" relatives
> ---------------------- Information from the mail header -----------------------
> Sender: American Dialect Society
> Poster: Paul Johnston
> Subject: Re: zero vs. "that" relatives
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> Arnold & everyone,
> About perceptions vs, reality where this type of variation is
> concerned, I couldn't agree with you more. Having worked in the
> variationist model for thirty years, I can remember countless times
> where I spotted a certain salient variant of a vbriable that I didn't
> expect, or was radically different from my own or other Standard
> systems, and when I finally counted the numbers up, it turned out to
> be a minor, sometimes even sporadic, variant--just one that stuck out
> in MY reckoning. And informants would have the same problem, too. I
> can remember looking at medial /t/-preglottalization and replacement
> by glottal stop in Wooler, Northumberland, a place where, when I did
> the study, this type of glottalization was actually pretty rare. To
> an American, those {?t]'s really stick out, and I heard a few of
> them. I expected to see the normal distribution of a vernacular
> variant, more men than women, more working class than middle/upper
> class, all the things early Labovian studies showed. And my
> informants seemed to agree wity that, too. One teacher, locally born
> and bred, even commented on this variant. Well, first, no group used
> it more than 15% of the time. Second, every class and gender group
> used it. But they sure avoided it in formal speech!! My explanation,
> in 1970's terms, was that since it's established in NEWCASTLE
> vernacular, and everybody there knows what Geordie sounds like (in
> general) and what the use of Geordie vernacular variants means
> socially, they still respond to it as IF it were their own
> vernacular, and as IF it were common. The perceptions don't match
> reality. (And yes, it's more complex than I thought- I hadn't known
> that [?] varies differently from [?t], and wasn't really looking at
> all the phonological environmental constraints).
> And that's phonology. Perceptions as to syntactic variation can be
> even thornier, since the notion of Standard vs, non-Standard is so
> knocked into us in our schooling, and sometimes, by our families.
> When you add complex constraints as you describe for 0 vs. that into
> the mix, it's a wonder how we can make any intelligent statements at
> all about the distribution of these features without really "doing
> the math" and doing a full study of the phenomenon. Remember, too,
> how long it took sociolinguistds who came up through the Labovian
> model to find a way to elicit syntactic variants in a way that would
> be pretty close to what happens without an observer.
> Paul Johnston
> On Dec 26, 2008, at 11:01 AM, Arnold Zwicky wrote:
>> ---------------------- Information from the mail header
>> -----------------------
>> Sender: American Dialect Society
>> Poster: Arnold Zwicky
>> Subject: Re: zero vs. "that" relatives
>> ----------------------------------------------------------------------
>> ---------
>> On Dec 25, 2008, at 9:33 AM, Wilson Gray wrote:
>>> ---------------------- Information from the mail header
>>> -----------------------
>>> Sender: American Dialect Society
>>> Poster: Wilson Gray
>>> Subject: Re: zero vs. "that" relatives
>>> ---------------------------------------------------------------------
>>> ----------
>>> FWIW, I prefer the form with "that." I have the *impression" that
>>> "that" is used more often in BE than in sE. I'm willing to admit that
>>> I could be wrong about that. Maybe it's just that *I* prefer the
>>> "that" forms. But my preference for "that," IMO, is based on my
>>> underlying BE grammar. And, given that more sE speakers than BE
>>> speakers exist and are more likely than BE speakers to be posting to
>>> the Web, IAC, that there should be fewer examples with "that" than
>>> without "that" is to be expected.
>> i wasn't claiming that i prefer the zero variant (when it's available)
>> *in general*, only that i prefer it in the particular construction i
>> posted about.
>> the facts about "that" vs. zero in relative clauses are very complex.
>> to get some appreciation of this complexity, check out some papers by
>> florian jaeger and various collaborators, available at:
>> (i'll quote from several of these below).
>> to start with,
>> "For most speakers of Standard American English, only finite,
>> restrictive, non pied-piped, non-
>> extraposed, non-subject-extracted RCs [NSRCs, for short] can occur
>> without optional that."
>> and then:
>> "A variety of factors seem to influence the choice between that and no
>> relativizer in these cases. These include the length of the NSRC,
>> properties of the NSRC subject (such as pronominality, person, and
>> number), and the presence of disfluencies nearby."
>> "... lexical choices in an NP containing an NSRC can [also] influence
>> whether a relativizer is used. ... particular choices of determiner,
>> noun, or prenominal adjective may correlate with exceptionally high or
>> exceptionally low rates of relativizers."
>> there's more, but this should be enough to show that introspecting
>> about your *general* preferences for "that" or zero is just hopeless.
>> someone's impressions about their general practices are not any kind
>> of evidence about their actual practices (and, even more strongly,
>> someone's impressions about the practices of an entire group of
>> speakers are not any kind of evidence about this group's actual
>> practices).
>> everyone's inclination is to think about what they'd do in a few cases
>> and then generalize from that. thinking about specific examples can
>> be a useful exercise, but the generalization is utterly worthless
>> unless it's tested -- in this case, tested by examining people's
>> actual practices (and that's a non-trivial piece of research). it
>> doesn't really make any difference what you *think* you (or other
>> people) do.
>> it seems likely to me that individual speakers/writers might have
>> different overall preferences for "that" vs. zero (all other factors
>> being held constant), and that groups might also differ in this way.
>> i don't know of any research on the question, though. i don't even
>> know what i do myself.
>> arnold
>> ------------------------------------------------------------
>> The American Dialect Society -
> ------------------------------------------------------------
> The American Dialect Society -
It’s the same Hotmail®. If by “same” you mean up to 70% faster.

The American Dialect Society -

More information about the Ads-l mailing list