The ELL question Do Americans pronounce 'are' as 'do' in 'what are waiting for?' brought to my attention something I've not noticed before.

In normal conversational (or faster) speech, it seems What are you waiting for? is pronounced something like Wadaya waiting for?, with (to me) the use of the Flap-T (alveolar flap) for the 'd' sound in 'Wadaya'. Seems to me, one is used, since it has the same context as what a, later, better, etc.

Which leads to: how is this different from the pronunciation of What do you as in Wadaya know/want/say' etc? Do we use an alveolar flap there also, or is there are different - d- sound? So, mainly, do the two questions What are you and What do you have the same or different pronunciation, when spoken in normal conversation, or faster?

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    I think that's a correct observation. Both What do you and What are you would both be normally shortened to /'wəɾəyə/ in speech. So, like other homophonous auxiliary phrases, they will be distinguished by what follows them -- do if it's an infinitive and be if it's an -ing form. There are various eye dialect spellings, but like all such, nothing standard -- not sposta be standard spelling, after all. – John Lawler May 5 '15 at 17:12
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    I must point out that "What are you waiting for" is not inevitably pronounced as "Wadaya waiting for". It's not at all unusual for it to be pronounced somewhat more distinctly than that. And when not pronounced so distinctly the phonetic spelling would come closer to "waderya. – Hot Licks May 5 '15 at 22:59
  • @Hot Licks, for me, I'm pretty sure the -r- disappears, maybe into the glide that starts the 'ya'. But if it's 'what're ya,' then yeah I retain the -r-. But I can't pronounce it as quickly as without the -r. – pazzo May 6 '15 at 2:15

What you are noticing is a "migration to schwa" that is common in English. Most unstressed syllables in English assume a schwa sound, a neutral vowel sound. Similarly, you're noticing a lack of consonant enunciation.

Because the speaker is being a bit lazy, they are not interrupting the voice when reaching the voiceless consonants. Nonetheless, a native speaker would have little difficulty with this and that's one of the reasons ventriloquists can get away with it.

I doubt you would consistently find a different sound produced in the two phrases at the end of "what". Some speakers might differentiate and others might not. The two are not interchangeable, so there wouldn't be any ambiguity if they were pronounced identically. You might find an "r" sound in "What are you..." that isn't in "What do you...".

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  • Some interesting observations here are the way different American dialects treat "What do you" (and "What did you"): 'Whadaya" in some places, in others "Whadja", where I live it's "Whacha". Observation can confirm that an "r" sound DOES make a completely structure. I notice it moving the slurred letters earlier in the word. "Whadaya" maintains the "what" at the expense of the "do", but "w'areya" and 'wutterya" maintain the "are" at the expense of the "what". – H.R.Rambler May 5 '15 at 18:17
  • Yeah, especially if it is "what're are," I can understand an -r- sound being there. Even so, it's harder to quickly say than wadaya. I'm still not convinced that the two questions are pronounced exactly the same: might the wadaya of what do you have a 'harder' -d- sound? Is there such a thing as a harder alveolar flap? (And I know pronunciations vary by person or, heck, time of day...) – pazzo May 6 '15 at 2:10

This could also be due to accent - for example, an irish accent might change brother to brudder ? another case of t --> d?

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