When I pronounce the phrase:

"Look, it's the first day. I don't wanna be late."

I think that the /t/ in the words "first" and "don't" can be deleted. Am I right? I'm talking about casual speech.

Below is the phonetic transcription. I stressed the content words (the bolded words) without shifting stress for special meaning. I deleted the /t/ in both words, though.

lʊk, ɪts ðə fɜrs deɪ. aɪ doʊn nə bɪ leɪt.

  • wanna is another example, the t in want to got elided. (And the o in to got weakened to a schwa). – oerkelens Jul 13 '15 at 8:50
  • So, is it true that American tend to drop it in casual speech? I'm talking about consonant + /t/ + consonant. – Zoltan King Jul 13 '15 at 9:10
  • 1
    Not only is the /t/ in I don’t wanna (X) nearly always elided in AmE—the /d/ is frequently (almost) elided as well (being usually represented by a very weak retroflex approximant), I is monophthongised, the /n/ in don’t is debuccalised (leaving behind a nasal vowel and nasalising also the following glide /w/), and the /n/ in wanna is reduced to a flap. In casual speech, it is exceedingly common for I don’t wanna (X) to be pronounced something like [ˈɑɻ̞õw̃ɒ̃ɾə]. The only sound that’s really left completely unchanged is the /ə/ at the end… – Janus Bahs Jacquet Jul 13 '15 at 19:01
  • Isn't this answered by the rule you asked about in this question? english.stackexchange.com/questions/237013/… – herisson Jul 13 '15 at 23:19

The dropping of /t/ or /d/ in English is technically known as alveolar plosive elision. This phenomenon is completely different from the substitution of a classical /t/ with a glottal stop. In cases where we use a glottal stop, the stop can be considered an allophone, in other words an alternative form of /t/. In the case of elision, there is no substitute sound. The sound disappears altogether from the word.

Alveolar plosive elision

As a rule, when the sound /t/ or /d/ occurs at the end of a syllable (and a morpheme boundary), we can drop it whenever the following two conditions are met:

  1. It is surrounded by consonants (not including /r/ or /h/).
  2. The preceding consonant has the same voicing. (It must be unvoiced for /t/).

This means we can drop the /t/ in left work, because /f/ like /t/ is voiceless (there's no buzzing of the vocal folds). We can't drop the /t/ in halt work though, because the /l/ there is voiced.

This context will allow for /t/ or /d/ elision in nearly all cases in Gen Am and SSB English. However there are many other instances where /d/ or /t/ may be also be elided. For example, /t/ is freely omissible in normal speech in contractions with not - regardless of whether followed by a vowel:

  • aɪ 'kɑ:n 'ɑ:nsə [I can't answer - Southern Standard British English]
  • aɪ 'kæn 'ænsɚ [I can't answer - General American]

The Original Poster's question

The /t/ in first is a classic candidate for elision. It occurs at the end of a syllable, and indeed at the end of a word. It is surrounded by consonants and preceded by a voiceless consonant, /s/.

The /t/ in don't is also liable to deletion just because it happens to be part of negative contraction. Generally speaking, there are three main possibilities with regard to the t in don't. Generally, the most likely outcome is that the /t/ will be realised as a glottal stop. The second most likely is that the /t/ will be elided. The least likely is a canonical /t/. However, in this case, as pointed out in a helpful comment by Janus below, if the speaker is already using "wanna" there is a much greater chance of /t/-elision as opposed to a glottal stop in this example.

The Original Poster's transcription therefore represents a distinct possibility here.

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    Note that the asker is talking specifically about AmE, where the most likely outcome of I don’t wanna is elision of the /t/, unless don’t is contrastively stressed. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Jul 13 '15 at 18:53
  • @JanusBahsJacquet Very true. Thanks, have incorporated that point :) – Araucaria - Not here any more. Jul 13 '15 at 23:46
  • @Araucaria I think that the /t/ is also dropped in "want my". Am I right? For example the question "You want my opinion?" can be pronounced with the deleted T. Am I right? – Zoltan King Jul 21 '15 at 14:10

Yes, but details of just exactly when [t] will drop will differ from person to person and according to how casual speech is. A general governing principle for this and other contextual phonological rules is the Law of Similarity, which here requires [t] to be lost when preceding and following sounds are most similar to the [t].

In the phrase "act tired", the [t] will almost surely go away, since the following sound is the same (the [t] of "tired") and the preceding sound is, like [t], a voiceless stop obstruent. On the other hand, in "part one", although the preceding and following sounds, [r] and [w], are both like [t] in being non-syllabic, otherwise they are not very similar, so many speakers would not delete [t] here (though they might still change it to glottal stop).

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  • Truish, but the issue is not that simple, though the vagueness of the description makes it sound attractive. A following [w] is perfectly fine for helping along the conditions for /t/-elision. So dropping the /t/ in "firss world war" is absolutely fine. The difference between [t] and [w] there does not count for anything in terms of negatively affecting the chances of elision. And ... – Araucaria - Not here any more. Jul 13 '15 at 23:47
  • ... The only salient factor regarding the similarity of the preceding consonant is the voicing of the obstruent. So in "lof conversion" /lɒf knvɜ:ʒn/ [sorry for the BE transcription there], the /f/ is a) not a stop and b) not alveolar - but the elision is very likely. According to your description the elision of /t/ is "Westville" should be nigh on impossible, but it seems rather likely, in fact. – Araucaria - Not here any more. Jul 13 '15 at 23:49

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