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A single t between vowels sounds like a d to me (or like an r in my language, Brazilian Portuguese).

May I say the tt spelling the same way, or does that only work for a single t?

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Theoretically, the second "t" in the first word of this sentence is pronounced with a soft sound. :-) –  Jay Dec 20 '13 at 15:22
3  
The reasons for one t or two t_s has nothing to do with how the t(t) is meant to be pronounced, and more to do with the vowel sounds preceding the t. e.g. bitter, biter: they differ only in the _i's pronunciation. –  Mr. Shiny and New 安宇 Dec 20 '13 at 17:28
    
Exactly (and in what theory) does "pronounced with a soft sound" mean anything? –  John Lawler Dec 20 '13 at 19:22
    
soft = unvoiced, i.e. said without using your vocal cords; hard = voiced, with vocal cords. "t" and "d" are hard and soft versions of the same sound. Similarly p/b, f/v, ch/j, s/z, and k/g. See, for example, slb-ltsu.hull.ac.uk/awe/index.php?title=Hard_%28consonant%29 –  Jay Dec 20 '13 at 21:21

3 Answers 3

up vote 5 down vote accepted

Yes, the spelling doesn’t matter, just the pronunciation.

In most North American and some Antipodean dialects of English, both Katie and kitty have an alveolar flap there, just like the one in the middle of Portuguese or Spanish cara. It is represented by [ɾ] in IPA.

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Like a small cat-flap? –  Edwin Ashworth Dec 20 '13 at 14:35
    
@EdwinAshworth More like a small-cat flap, actually. –  tchrist Dec 20 '13 at 14:53

In standard American English, the phoneme /t/ is pronounced, regardless of spelling:

  • As [tʰ] with a puff of air, at the beginning of a word (should be t superscript h, but I can't figure out how to make that on stackexchange).

  • As [t] without a puff of air, immediately before or after a consonant (e.g. in "wits" or "stretch" or "empty")

  • As the alveolar flap [ɾ] between vowels. This "between vowels" does not respect word boundaries: it is how the t in "put" and "it" are pronounced in Put it on the table.

  • As a glottal stop [ʔ] word-finally (unless the next word begins with a vowel.)

The phoneme /d/ merges with the phoneme /t/ between vowels (so both are realized as [ɾ]). Thus, for instance, "latter" and "ladder" become homophones. Because most American English speakers are literate, they will occasionally use the spelling pronunciation of "latter" to avoid the ambiguity in careful speech.

Similarly, the phoneme /t/ is not always realized when it occurs after /n/, so e.g. the words "winter" and "winner" become homophones (although this is not as universal as the phenomenon in the above paragraph). Again, speakers may consciously insert the [t] in "winter" to avoid the ambiguity.

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The neutralization only happens between a stressed vowel and an unstressed one (in that order): ladder/latter neutralize /d/ and /t/, but pretend and predate, with final stress, do not neutralize intervocalic /t/ and /d/. –  John Lawler Dec 20 '13 at 19:27
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Also before /schwa n/ one hears the glottal stop in standard american english: rotten, gotten, forgotten. –  hunter Dec 23 '13 at 19:10
    
Yes, before syllabic resonants like [ṇ, ṃ, ṛ, ḷ] (rotten, bottom, butter, bottle) you often get the optional [ʔ] allophone of /t/. –  John Lawler Dec 23 '13 at 21:38
    
I think in American English this only occurs before /n/ –  hunter Dec 23 '13 at 23:33

May I say the tt spelling the same way, or does that only work for a single t?

That will depend on which English you speak. tchrist mentioned that it's in most North American and some Antipodean dialects of English.

It's not normally the same in the English of England and the rest of the UK.

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If it's not the same, what is it? –  MrHen Dec 20 '13 at 17:08
    
MrHen, one or two letter ts in a word, are pronounced as a t sound, rather than the quiet d sound in so much of American English. Words like butter and matter have a t sound, in the UK. –  Tristan r Dec 20 '13 at 17:32

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