Intervocalic Voicing in English

Larry Trask larryt at
Wed Apr 18 13:06:06 UTC 2001

--On Friday, April 13, 2001 4:03 am -0500 Rick Mc Callister
<rmccalli at sunmuw1.MUW.Edu> wrote:

>	 Intervocalic <-t-, -tt-> in US English is not just voiced,
> something else is happening as well that gives it a tap /-r-/ quality

Yes; /t/ and /d/ are phonetic taps (US "flaps") in this position.  They are
similar, but not identical, to the tapped /r/ of Spanish.  Tapped /t/ is
not infrequently voiceless.

>	 I can't quite put my finger on it, but it seems that there may be
> some sort of hiatus before the second syllable of <writer>, <rider> in
> English pronunciation that's not present in the US pronunciation

No hiatus, as far as I can tell.  But both are usually phonetic plosives.
The articulation of the plosives is so deliberate, to my American ears,
that they sometimes sound to me like geminate plosives.  This is
particularly prominent in certain words, such as 'ready', which in English
mouths sounds to me like 'red-dy'.

>	 Regarding the different vowel quality of <writer> and <rider> cited
> in descriptions of US pronunication. Is this possibly a conscious reaction
> to the spelling?

I doubt it.

> In rapid speech the difference is either minimized or eliminated.

Not in my accent!  Of couse, I come from the far north of the US, and I
have a variety of Canadian Raising.  The difference in vowel quality
between 'writer' and 'rider' is large; it persists in all contexts; and it
is in fact phonemic in my accent.  For me, 'cider' and 'spider' have the
schwa-like nucleus, and these words do not rhyme with 'rider' -- not even
in very careful speech.

>	 Other minimal pairs such as <bitter> and <bidder> are pronounced
> exactly alike in US English--at least to my ear.

Phonetically, yes, though the underlying contrast remains and can be
recovered at will.  And they can be distinguished even in rapid speech by
the use of a voiceless tap in the first.

>	 Does this phenomenon exist anywhere in English outside of North
> America and Northern Ireland?

Yes.  Tapping of /t/ is reported for a variety of accents in England and in
Australia.  Some speakers in England even have taps in words like
'nineteen' and 'thirteen', where I can't possibly use a tap.

Larry Trask
University of Sussex
Brighton BN1 9QH

larryt at

Tel: (01273)-678693 (from UK); +44-1273-678693 (from abroad)
Fax: (01273)-671320 (from UK); +44-1273-671320 (from abroad)

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