141: We "recently" changed our t sound lesson

Updates to the alternative t sound patterns.


Hi again, and welcome back to Seattle Learning Academy's American English pronunciation podcast. My name is Mandy, and this is our 141st episode.

I was recently working with a student from India on his alternative t sounds. To review, the alternative t sounds are the quick d sound, the glottal stop, and the omitted t sound. I've talked about them quite a bit in past podcasts, but this show is still pretty advanced.

Anyway, I corrected this student on the word recently, telling him that the t sound should be pronounced with a glottal stop. The glottal stop is that sound in the middle of the word uh-oh, uh-oh. It is created when we briefly close our vocal cords deep in our throat.

This student is very familiar with the t sound patterns and, when I told him that the word recently is pronounced with a glottal stop, he replied, "But the t is following an n, so it should be ignored, shouldn't it?"

He was right; I had told him that the pattern for dropping the t sound is when it follows an n sound and precedes a vowel sound, r sound (including schwa+r) or an l sound. The word recently (which I just said with a regular t sound) definitely fits that pattern. If I say it without the t sound, it would be pronounced as recen(t)ly. That doesn't sound overly strange, but it doesn't seem as common as saying it with a glottal stop. With a glottal stop, it is pronounced recently, recently.

Then, within a few days, the glottal stop came up in our EnglishAssembly.com forums. Pat asked about the "weird silence" in the words mountain, button, Clinton, and curtains. Pat was hearing was the glottal stop. Two of the words in question, mountain and Clinton, don't follow the pattern that was shown for the glottal stop in the Pronuncian.com lesson.

Obviously, it was time to revisit the lesson and add not one, but two new options for the glottal stop.

Before I get into the updates to the alternative t sounds (also called t sound allophones), let me remind you that whenever the t sound begins a stressed or secondarily-stressed syllable, it will remain a t sound, no matter what sounds come before or after it.

So, let's begin by talking about the word recently. The updated lesson says that if the /t/ follows an n sound and precedes an l sound that is not a syllabic l, the t sound will be pronounced as a glottal stop. Wow, that is complicated. With that explanation, we need to revisit the idea of a syllabic l. A syllabic l is an l sound that creates a syllable; this means the syllable does not also include a vowel sound.

Let's compare the words gentle (g-e-n-t-l-e) and gently (g-e-n-t-l-y).

The final syllable of the word gentle is just an l sound (l sound). Yes, there is an e in the spelling, but it is not pronounced in any way, gen-tle, gentle. In the word gentle, because the /t/ is between an n sound and a syllabic l, the t sound can be omitted. We get the word gentle in fast speech.

The final syllable of the word gently is an l sound and a long e (l sound+long e) (gent-le). Since I have a vowel sound in the final syllable, the l sound is not syllabic. So now we have a /t/ that follows an n sound and precedes an l sound that is not syllabic, so the t sound is pronounced as a glottal stop. Other examples include the words urgently, constantly, and pointless.

That gets us through one of the two glottal stop updates.

Let's move on to Pat's words, mountain and Clinton. Now we have a /t/ between an n sound and a syllabic n. Basically, when we say the words with a glottal stop, the sound moves from the n sound to the glottal stop back to the n sound. It's interesting that during all three sounds, my tongue does not need to move. That's right, my tongue stays in place right through the glottal stop. It can do this because the glottal stop doesn't actually have anything to do with my tongue; it's controlled by my vocal cords briefly closing deep in my throat.

Try it; say the word mountain, mountain, and Clinton, Clinton.

Yes, I will admit that this is all really confusing. The best way to learn it is usually by seeing the diagrams, which you can see on the free Pronuncian lesson, which I will link to from this episode's transcripts page. You can also get additional listen and repeat exercises by becoming a Pronuncian subscriber. Subscribers have full access to all of Pronuncian's lessons, quizzes, and videos. And you get to feel good about yourself for helping support this show and keeping us going on our regular publishing schedule.

To get to the free lesson to help you understand this topic, go to www.pronuncian.com/podcast, click on Episode 141 and you will see this episode's transcripts and related lessons. To join Pronuncian and also get access to the exercises, just go to www.pronuncian.com/join. Pronuncian is spelled p-r-o-n-u-n-c-i-a-n.

Are you ready to practice? Here are some words with glottal stops based on today's additions to the alternative t sound lesson. Please repeat after me:







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Thanks for listening.