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First of all, I'm not a native speaker (I'm a Vietnamese) and I'm still learning English as my university major (using American accent, mostly) so I can't really say I'm as fluent as a native speaker.

However, I can say I have no problem pronouncing the voiceless "th" (/θ/) as taught by many sources including my lecturers by placing the tip of your tongue between your teeth but just blow air through your mouth without vibrating your vocal cords. My pronunciation of, say "think", always sounds like a little bit of air at the beginning (when I place my finger in front of my mouth, I can feel the air blown out), followed by the sound of "ink".

So here's the thing I find irritating: when watching American TV shows, movies and especially listening to pop music, I usually (if not always) hear they pronounce/enunciate this "th" sound like a hard /t/ as in "thing", "something", "think", "thought" (this one sounds exactly like /tot/), etc. in fast speaking situations. They sound like they do place the tip of their tongues between their teeth but no air was blown out of the mouth, thus making the sound of /θ/ somewhat voiced.

So my question is, is this a correct way to produce the sound of the voiceless "th" or is this just a matter of dialect?

Thank you!

  • It's an accent, not a dialect, but yes, basically, your hunch is correct. There are some immigrants to the U.S. who do what you noticed with the tongue. At some point, people who spoke this way started to seem cool (attractive), and it became somewhat common (more with men than women, I think) to imitate this T and TH, even if one had not learned it from one's parents. – aparente001 Jun 3 '17 at 4:35
  • I think it's particularly associated with the New York City and northern New Jersey areas, and goes along with pronouncing "bird" and "word" as /boid/ and /woid/. Watch the old Bowery Boys movies, movies based on Damon Runyon stories, or the TV shows "All in the Family" and "The Honeymooners". – Barmar Jun 5 '17 at 18:39
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    "usually (if not always)"??? I doubt the speakers/singers on TV are doing this as often as that! I suggest you're hearing it where it doesn't always occur. You can go to Forvo.com and look up words that begin with 'th' and listen to how native speakers pronounce them. I doubt more than 1% will be pronounced the way you describe. And entertainers don't adopt this weird pronunciation just because they're on TV or in the movies or singing songs. – AmE speaker Nov 11 '17 at 19:11
  • @aparente001 can you find a source? – Mike Dec 11 '17 at 21:53
  • It’s definitely true that it’s perfectly common in AmE to pronounce both /θ/ and /ð/ as interdental affricates or even plosives, rather than as fricatives. That’s probably what you’re hearing. What you have to note is the difference between those and the regular alveolar plosives that /t/ and /d/ represent. Even to people who pronounce them all as plosives or affricates, the two sets are phonetically distinct from each other, and no native speaker would get them mixed up. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Feb 9 '18 at 23:00
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Both interdental fricatives found in English (/ð/ as in "father", and /θ/ as in "thank") are uncommon among other human languages, consequently many non-native English speakers (and speakers of some native dialects, like Cajun) can have a hard time learning to pronounce them. As mentioned in the comments (thanks @aparente001), the substitutions made by non-native speakers (like /d/ and /t/) can spread to native speakers through media and pop culture. This may be especially common in song because of the demands to rapidly articulate consonants between notes.

However, you are right to study and practice as you are, because if in everyday speech, you fail to pronounce the interdental fricatives where appropriate, your performance will strike native speakers as foreign.

  • I don't think the phenomenon is anywhere close to the "usually (if not always)" that the OP mentions. – AmE speaker Nov 11 '17 at 19:08
  • @Clare That's a good point; maybe OP is talking about something else... – guenthmonstr Nov 11 '17 at 22:24

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