Intervocalic Voicing in English

David L. White dlwhite at
Tue Apr 10 21:18:15 UTC 2001

>> I cannot off the top of my head think of any examples from English

>   Would an example from English be the voicing of intervocalic /t/, in the
> speech of many in the US, in words such as "butter"; as against the
> voiceless /t/ in the speech of many in the UK?

        I meant examples of dialect mixture, not intervocalic voicing.
        But the answer is ... maybe, depending on what you mean.  The idea
that American English /t/ between vowels (the first one being stressed) is
pronounced as [d] is to some extent a British mis-hearing.  In speech that
is not too rushed, there is a difference in preceding vowel length between
things like "writer" and "rider" that helps (not always enough) to signal
the intended difference in (phonemic) voicing.  In any event, it is always
possible to slow down and say "I meant [whatver it was]", so that to regard
this as a case of neutralization, comparable to final devoicing (but in the
other direction) is not appropriate.  (As far as I know, no amount of
"citation speech" pronunciation will enable a German to say "tag" with [g]
instead of [k].)  Technically or phonetically, the sound is voiced, but in
terms of the phonemic signalling, it patterns like a voiceless sound, which
indicates that speakers are thinking of it as a voiceless sound and that the
voicing is, in a sense, accidental, the result of it being rather
inconvenient to stop voicing for such a very small interval.

Dr. David L. White

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