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What's the word to describe the phenomenon of the final 't' sound becoming a stop without aspiration, vs. how it sounds at the beginning of a word?

Does any one particular dialect/accent of English exhibit this characteristic more or less than another?

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It's called an "unreleased [t]" and it's a general feature of English voiceless stops in final position that they are unreleased. They can be released, aspirated, and even glottalized, hwoever, to show emotion or emphasis. The symbol for an unreleased [t] is [t ̚̚], with a raised left angle, and it's the same for the other voiceless stops, [p ̚̚] and [k ̚̚]. –  John Lawler Sep 8 '13 at 2:47
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In addition to what John Lawler said, some dialects of English convert final /t/ (and even some other final voiceless stops) into glottal stops or drop them altogether. –  siride Sep 8 '13 at 3:42
    
@JohnLawler Here’s a fairly broad sampling of initial, medial, and final phonetic realizations of orthographic t. –  tchrist Sep 8 '13 at 19:32

2 Answers 2

up vote 3 down vote accepted

Disclaimer:
When referring to British English, I am referring to non-colloquialized British English. The pronunciation, as it is intended in a formal and correct sense. Given the enormous and varying accents across the United Kingdom, it is impossible to give an accurate assessment; it would require a thesis. I am using American English and British English; within the least colloquialized forms. There are exceptions to all the rules.
As for Australian English, it was originally influenced by the British, but now is equally influenced by American English; so makes an interesting study of a hybrid of the two. (my opinion and observation)

I am trying to best answer a question that has an encyclopedia of answers and exceptions.

The sound of a t at the beginning of a sentence is an aspirated t; which is used in both American and British English.

A final t becoming a de-aspirated is a glottal stop, this is used in both American and British English.

A flap is not used in British English.

There are varying colloquial pronunciations within both American and British English. Living in Australia, we are influenced by an interesting mixture of American and British English. As a general rule, the extent to which a person uses non-colloquialized British English, is an indicator of social class and education. The more British, the higher perception of social class. A good example of this being in the use of tapping. The pronunciation of potato with two t sounds as opposed to potado.

I have provided extensive quotes.

Tapping of / t / In American English, if a /t/ sound is between two vowels, and the second vowel is not stressed, the /t/ can be pronounced very quickly, and made voiced so that it is like a brief /d/ or the r-sound of certain languages. Technically, the sound is a ‘tap’, and can be symbolised by /t̬/. So Americans can pronounce potato as /pəˈteɪt̬oʊ/, tapping the second /t/ in the word (but not the first, because of the stress). British speakers don’t generally do this. The conditions for tapping also arise very frequently when words are put together, as in not only, what I, etc. In this case it doesn’t matter whether the following vowel is stressed or not, and even British speakers can use taps in this situation, though they sound rather casual.

The glottal stop In both British and American varieties of English, a /t/ which comes at the end of a word or syllable can often be pronounced as a glottal stop /ʔ/ (a silent gap produced by holding one’s breath briefly) instead of a /t/. For this to happen, the next sound must not be a vowel or a syllabic /l/. So football can be /ˈfʊʔbɔːl/ instead of /ˈfʊtbɔːl/, and button can be /ˈbʌʔn/ instead of /ˈbʌtn/. But a glottal stop would not be used for the /t/ sounds in bottle or better because of the sounds which come afterwards.

...

British English, as represented by Received Pronunciation (RP)...

American English, as represented by General American (GA)...

As an aspirated sound [th ], when it is the first sound of a word, as in tempting["t h emptI6], or in an inner and stressed position, as in potential [p@"t h enSl].

As an de-aspirated sound [t], when the syllable does not carry the stress, as in the second t in tempting["t h emptI6], or after [s] as in stop[stA:p], or at the ends of syllables as in pet[pet], or patsy["pætsi].

As a flapped sound [R], the most distinguishing allophone, which consists of pronouncing an alveolar flap instead of the plosive dental [th ] or de-aspirated [t]. This change occurs when t is at an intervocalic position, the first vowel being stressed, as in water["wO:t@r]. This phenomenon also applies when words are linked together in a full prosodic unit, as in the sentence What is this?["w2RIz"ðIz] when uttered it in colloquial register.

As a glottal stop [P]. A glottal stop is a voiceless sound produced by the obstruction of the airflow in the vocal tract. The glottis is the organ that actually prevents the air from passing through the vocal tract. The glottal stop substitutes the de-aspirated [t] sound at the end of words, as in put[puP] or report[rI"pO:rP], and also in the presence of a stressed syllable followed by patterns [t+vowel+n] or [tn], as in button["b2Pn], or continent["kA:nPIn@nt].

As a glottalized stop [tP ]. In a glottalized [tP ] the stop [t] and the glottal stop [P] are produced at the same time. For its production, this allophone follows the same rules as the glottal stop does. Example where this sound can be found are mutton["m2t Pn], or curtain["k3:rtPn].

The sound [t] could be completely omitted in some circumstances. In the presence of the pattern formed by a stressed vowel followed by [nt], sound [t] is not pronounced in some varieties of GA. Thus, we can hear winter["wIn@] or center["sen@r].

Both GA and RP have aspirated and de-aspirated [t] sounds, which, in a formal or simply careful enunciation, are the only two sounds corresponding to stop [t]. In colloquial and other registers, the other allophones may appear. In the RP the flap [t] is never used, but instead it is pronounced as a de-aspirated [t] or as a glottalized [t] (see [AE92] for a description of this sound). Glottal stops are common in both varieties of English and follow similar rules in general. The omission of the sound [t] in RP can also be found.

British and American English Pronunciation Differences Paco G´omez

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Very complete answer. I can't tell whether the OP was asking about a de-aspirated [t] or a glottal stop, but they're both described quite well in your quotes. –  Peter Shor Sep 8 '13 at 16:08
    
You claim that “a flap is not used in British English”. This says otherwise: notice the word better has a flap shown both in North Devon and in Belfast, which I am pretty sure do not count as part of the United States of America even if they are in some of the more western parts of the British Isles. That same site also shows that better regularly has a flap [ɾ] in all of Singapore, New Zealand, Australia, and Canada — again, none of which are parts of the United States. BrEng ≠ RP –  tchrist Sep 8 '13 at 19:18
    
"A final t becoming a de-aspirated is a glottal stop" - I disagree, it simply becomes a deaspirated stop at the given articulation point, it does not transfer articulation to the glottis. –  Mitch Sep 8 '13 at 21:22
    
No, in some lects a glottal stop is used instead of unreleased [t] in final or pre-final resonant position; in others it's not. There are a lot of lects in England, and they're different. As for flaps, they're not usually used in British English as an allophone of /t/ or /d/, like they are in American; but they are used as an intervocalic allophone of /r/. The word pronounced ['kʰæɾɪ] is spelled caddy in American, but carry in England; i.e, they're different words. –  John Lawler Sep 8 '13 at 21:37
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I wasn't sure which I was asking for either. I was thinking about it as I was reading "Green Eggs and Ham" aloud for the 100+th time and it sounded like I was using both de-aspirated [t] and glottal stops for "I do NOT like them..." depending on how fast I was reading, while the [t] in "goat" and "boat" seemed more uniformly de-aspirated, not glottal. –  wrschneider99 Sep 9 '13 at 0:48

Normally it depends on the phonetic environment, the style, the accent. A lot of things.

If we want to consider a speaker uttering in a purely hypothetical General Southern British English pronunciation (which obviously doesn't exist) a rule of thumb might be:

  1. If there is an audible release, it is a glottal stop.
  2. If there no audible release, then it is unreleased (haha really?).
  3. Sometimes you also get a creacky quality for the alveolar.

Let's say that there is a range of possible realizations of "get it" which basically depend on the articulatory movements (alveolar—glottal) and, in case of glottal, full closure vs. partial closure.

I'm sorry I cannot give you info concerning AmE varieties.

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