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I would like know which consonants are aspirated in American English and when? Also, when are they not aspirated?

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    The way I speak English, there is a clear difference between 'be top' and 'beat hop'. When I was a child I lived in an area where there was no such distinction for the majority of speakers. I used to fit in with my schoolmates by adopting their accent whilst I was with them and speaking differently when at home. I remember feeling the conflict when I invited friends home. – chasly - reinstate Monica Oct 23 '15 at 11:28
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    @chaslyfromUK Yes. I tend to agree that I would pronounce be top differently to beat hop. – WS2 Oct 23 '15 at 11:33
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    @tchrist I hesitate to contradict you on such a matter, but doesn't the Received Pronunciation aspirate both the t in beat and the h in hop making the sound quite different to be top? – WS2 Oct 23 '15 at 11:35
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    I have never in my life had to utter either 'be top' or 'beat hop'. I think that's a dialect difference right there :) – Mitch Oct 23 '15 at 12:36
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    Relevant: english.stackexchange.com/questions/268218 – herisson Oct 23 '15 at 16:46
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The unvoiced stops /p, t, k/ at the start of a stressed syllable are “always” aspirated. For example, be top and beat hop are therefore homophones.

They are occasionally aspirated at the end of an emphatic utterance.

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    For me, be tall and beat all are distinguished by a lack of aspiration in the 't' in beat all, while tall is aspirated because it's the start of a word. – Peter Shor Oct 23 '15 at 12:00
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    This isn't an accurate description of my speech at least. Aspirated t (found in "be top") is distinct from a sequence of coda t and onset h (whether between words like in "beat hop," or within a word as in "adulthood"). – herisson Oct 23 '15 at 16:29
  • @sumelic "Aspirated t (found in "be top") is distinct from a sequence of coda t and onset h (whether between words like in "beat hop," or within a word as in "adulthood")." That's how I hear it, too. I was surprised when I read that "be top" and "beat hop" were homophones. – Luke Oct 24 '15 at 7:42
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I'm American, but not an expert on American pronunciation. I would say

  • 't' is always aspirated at the start of a stressed syllable: tall.
  • 't' is never aspirated at the end of an unstressed syllable: rabbit.
  • 't' is never aspirated after an 's' when they start a syllable: store, strike.

I believe that in most other positions, several factors determine the aspiration of the 't' (which words are emphasized, which sound follows a 't' at the end of a syllable, and the speaker's dialect.)

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  • Can't it be aspirated at the end of a word, even after an unstressed syllable, when pronouncing the word slowly and carefully? – herisson Oct 23 '15 at 16:25
  • If you're pronouncing it slowly and carefully because somebody didn't understand the word earlier, sure. But in ordinary speech, I wouldn't expect it to be aspirated. This is why British speakers sound so strange to Americans when they say at all ... they aspirate the /t/ in at all, which we don't do because at is unstressed. – Peter Shor Oct 23 '15 at 17:17

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