[Ads-l] super-relaxed pronunciations of "pretty"

Geoffrey Nathan geoffnathan at WAYNE.EDU
Wed Aug 7 09:52:18 UTC 2019

The pronunciation that you are referring to, where the sound represented by the ‘tt’ in the spelling is not pronounced, is normal American English ‘casual speech’. The fact that the ‘t’ and ‘d’ sounds in English are pronounced something like a quick ‘d’ sound is covered in all elementary linguistics texts. American English (and also Australian and some Irish dialects) have this sound (called a ‘tap’ or a ‘flap’, depending on your linguistic tradition), which occurs when either the ‘t’ sound or the ‘d’ sound follows an accented vowel and precedes an unaccented one:

‘city’, ‘Betty’, ‘later’, ‘wider’, ‘cider’ etc.


‘potato’, ‘incubator’ etc.

What is not mentioned in those texts is that in some very common words and phrases the flap can be omitted. The most common word in which this happens is ‘pretty’ used as an adverb (‘pretty good’, ‘pretty much’). But you can also hear it in ‘Saturday’, for example.

It’s also important to emphasize that this pronunciation is not caused by ‘speed’, but rather by a choice to sound casual. There are instances where people speak very quickly without using this kind of casual speech process, and others where people speak slowly and still drop ‘t’s, omit schwas (‘every’ pronounced ‘evry’, ‘banana’ pronounced ‘bnana’ etc.)

Finally, I should point out, for completeness sake, that this account, where I describe one sound as becoming another, and then yet another, is disputed by some linguists who believe that each pronunciation is stored separately. The facts being described, however, are not in dispute.

As you note, this ‘flapping’ does not occur in most British dialects, where the ‘t’ sound is replaced instead with a glottal stop. But that’s a whole ‘nother lecture.


PS Feel free to contact me offlist if you’d be interested in reading more about these issues, and I can point you towards some basic readings on the topic.

PPS There are a few other environments where flapping occurs that I have omitted, such as ‘capacity’, ‘positive’.

Geoffrey S. Nathan
WSU Information Privacy Officer (Retired)
Emeritus Professor, Linguistics Program
geoffnathan at wayne.edu

From: American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU> on behalf of Eli Bishop <this at ERRORBAR.NET>
Sent: Wednesday, August 7, 2019 1:21:03 AM
Subject: super-relaxed pronunciations of "pretty"

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Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
Poster:       Eli Bishop <this at ERRORBAR.NET>
Subject:      super-relaxed pronunciations of "pretty"

Hi! I'm new to the list, and I hope it's the right place for this kind =
of question.

I was recently asked to help someone understand some English dialogue =
that had some phonetic dialect spellings. The phrase that puzzled him =
was "perwel"... which was this character's way of saying "pretty well." =
Now, to me this was obvious: when I read it out loud, it wasn't that far =
from how I sometimes catch myself slurring those words if I'm in a =
hurry. But my friend is British and apparently he'd never heard anything =
like that. And the writer was an American expatriate in England, =
originally from Pennsylvania (like me).

So basically I'm wondering=E2=80=94since I've lived in different parts =
of the US=E2=80=94what the regional distribution and history of this =
pronunciation might be, and also if there's a technical term for it.

Specifically, what I'm referring to is a kind of slurring together of =
the word "pretty" where the tongue just vaguely gestures toward making a =
T or D sound, but doesn't really do anything of the kind; there isn't a =
glottal stop either, just a slight jog where a consonant would be. The Y =
gets soft-pedaled as well. So the result is somewhere in between "pri'y" =
and "purty" or even "purrih." This would generally be in a not very =
meaningful phrase like "pretty well" or "pretty much" that's being said =
quickly, becoming more like "per'well" or "per'much."

Thanks in advance for any insight.


The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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