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Is there a "rule" or pattern for the pronunciation of "nt" in the middle of words, followed by a vowel (or "er" sound)?

Here's what I have so far:

1) "t" is often omitted in words like "wanted," "mental," and "international" when "nt" is followed by a vowel or an "er" sound.

2) If the syllable following the "nt" is stressed, the "t" is pronounced: "integrity," "intoxicated," and "intact"

3) In words with "int," the "t" is sometimes obligatory, such as in "interrogation" and "interpretation," BUT it is not obligatory in others like "interception." The only pattern I see so far is that when the root word has a stressed syllable following the "nt," this carries over into the longer forms of the word. For example, "inTERRogate" is pronounced with a "t" and "interrogation" is also pronounced with a "t" (even though the syllable following the "nt" is no longer stressed).

4) In words like "attention," the "ti" is pronounced as /ʃ/ ("sh").

Can anyone think of additional examples or rules? Are there any examples which would contradict my reasoning so far?

  • 2
    In interrogation and interpretation, it is perhaps not so much that the roots have stressed syllables after, but that the words themselves have secondarily stressed syllables after. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Mar 13 '17 at 1:25
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    As @Janus said, people usually analyze English as having "secondary stress" on certain syllables of polysyllabic words (usually it can't appear adjacent to primary stress; stress often occurs in an alternating pattern). Syllables with secondary stress are immune to certain lenition processes (another example of this is that the vowel of a syllable with secondary stress cannot be reduced to schwa). – herisson Mar 13 '17 at 2:41
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    More on secondary stress in the following post: Why do photons and protons exhibit such anomalous behavior? (Those are examples of words that do in fact have secondary stress right next to primary stress; it is possible, although as I said not preferred.) – herisson Mar 13 '17 at 2:49
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    The rules may go on and on with regional variations. Are you sure that 'mental' and 'international' lose the 't' rather than soften it, so it's drier than a 't' but more than just a glottal stop? – Yosef Baskin Mar 13 '17 at 20:13
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    simple. nt combo which closes a stressed syllable turns into just n. Internet, International, Wanted, Mental, Advantage, Environmental, Interaction and many many more. depending on how articulate the american wants to sound, he may choose to fully pronounce the T as a true T. – David Haim Aug 16 '17 at 13:01
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When it comes to nt reduction to n in American English that results in winter and winner being pronounced the same, there is an entry in J. C. Wells' blog about it:

http://phonetic-blog.blogspot.com/2011/11/winter-and-winner.html

Here are the most relevant extracts:

  • The environments in which nt-reduction operates seem to be the same as those for t-voicing. In particular, it does not happen in the environment of a following stressed vowel, as in intend, contain, nor of a following unstressed but strong vowel as in intake; nor does it apply to ntr clusters, as in country. The t can be lost in centre/center but not in central.
  • Some words may be special cases, In particular, I have the impression that ninety in AmE is often ˈnaɪndi rather than the expected ˈnaɪnti or ˈnaɪni. Does the same apply to seventy? Are there other exceptional cases?

There is also the case of nt followed by an n sound as in Clinton. In Clinton, nt often reduces to /n/ followed by a glottal stop /ʔ/: /ˈklɪ̃nʔn̩/, and not /ˈklɪntən/ which remains possible.

  • +1 I'm sure I often hear /ˈklɪnən/ as well as your other variants. – Araucaria - Not here any more. Oct 14 at 8:42
  • @Araucaria So "Clinton" rhyming with "linen"? – petitrien Oct 14 at 8:47
  • Not for speakers like me who have two KIT vowels in linen, but yes. – Araucaria - Not here any more. Oct 14 at 9:03
  • I'm American, and I think /ˈklɪntən/ sounds perfectly normal (as do /ˈklɪ̃nʔn̩/ and /ˈklɪnən/). You can hear all these pronunciations on forvo.com. – Peter Shor Oct 14 at 12:20
  • @PeterShor Thanks for the link! A quick survey on youtube, made possible by how often the name is pronounced in the news, seems to give /ˈklɪ̃nʔn̩/ as the more usual pronunciation over /ˈklɪntən/. I couldn't find any instance of /ˈklɪnən/, though, apart for one of the Forvo realizations of the name. – petitrien Oct 14 at 13:04

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