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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. May 5, 2015 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, 2015 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, 2015 at 2:15

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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". May 5, 2015 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, 2015 at 2:10
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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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I don’t know why I showed up here all this time later, but it seems simpler than everyone is making it out to be. I think the clearer way to answer this question is to better explain where each sound comes from. “Wadaya” is the best way to describe the pronunciation in this context, but it’s more so “wad a ya” They aren’t pronouncing “are” as “do.” They’re pronouncing the T in “what” as a D, then shortening the word “are.” And I think to a North American native English speaker, the idea of pronouncing “are” as “do” in this context wouldn’t even cross their minds. In the perspective of NA English speaker I think the answer would be that these phrases can be pronounced very similarly, but they’d say there’s definitely a difference. To someone who is either not a native English speaker, or from somewhere with a very different accent, they would possibly hear the same sound. I’d be curious to hear it recorded from many people and then slowed down to really get a solid answer. My guess would be that there would be a different sound. If it can mainly be heard specifically by NA English speakers, it may be too subtle to catch if it is not your first language/region

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In a comment John Lawler wrote:

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.

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