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Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary of Current English has the following phonetic symbols:

meddle

/ ˈmedl; ˋmɛdl/

medal

/ ˈmedl; ˋmɛdl/

mettle

/ ˈmetl; ˋmɛtl/

metal

/ ˈmetl; ˋmɛtl/

Oxford gives British English usages; in BrE, meddle and medal are pronounced the same and mettle and metal are the same too.


I know that in AmE, t is usually pronounced as d.

Then how are metal and mettle pronounced?

Are they pronounced exactly the same as medal and meddle in AmE?


Adding to my confusion: please look at how they are pronounced in Merriam-Webster.

meddle

Pronunciation: 'me-dəl

medal

Pronunciation: 'me-dəl

mettle

Pronunciation: 'me-təl

metal

Pronunciation: 'me-təl

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    The only way of distinguishing medal and metal in American English is that the /ɛ/ might be shorter in metal. This is not very reliable; it works reasonably well for longer vowels, but for shorter vowels (especially /ɪ/) this length difference is very hard to hear. – Peter Shor Oct 25 '17 at 2:11
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    Most people in the US will pronounce the two words nearly identically, unless in a context where it's important to distinguish them. Probably you could use a sound analyzer to detect a difference, but most people wouldn't hear it. – Hot Licks Oct 25 '17 at 2:21
  • Your addition of reasonable research makes this a valid ELU question. It is worrying that US-based dictionaries (not just M-W) use the t instead of the d in their pronunciation guides when there's no t sound. – Edwin Ashworth Oct 27 '17 at 14:13
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Both words are typically pronounced [ˈmɛɾl̩] with a voiced alveolar flap.

That [ɾ] which I've written there is one of several possible phonetic allophones of both the /t/ and /d/ phonemes, but doesn’t sound quite like either [t] or [d] would there. It’s a very light, quick tap — such as you might find in the middle of the Italian (or Spanish or Portuguese) word cara.

Spelling is immaterial here: all four of medal, meddle, metal, mettle typically have that same pronunciation in most speakers at normal conversation rates.

  • Note that Americans don't actually pronounce it with a /d/. If you pronounce metal with a /d/, you risk being misunderstood (depending on exactly how you pronounce your /d/s). – Peter Shor Oct 25 '17 at 2:17
  • @PeterShor Right, the [ɾ] is an allophone of both /t/ and /d/ but doesn't sound quite like either [t] or [d]. I should have made that clearer. – tchrist Oct 25 '17 at 2:19
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    Actually, I think in this particular context, a plosive realization like [d], with lateral release (i.e. [dˡ]) is in fact possible. See Mark Liberman's Language Log post Metal v. medal. @PeterShor's point that this might not be identical to the realization of phonemic /d/ is valid, but it might be indistinguishable. – sumelic Oct 25 '17 at 2:30
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    @Clare: some speakers might distinguish them, but Liberman does say "It's true that for most Americans, these words are homophones". I can't hear any difference. – sumelic Oct 25 '17 at 2:58
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    @Edwin Ashworth . It might also be considered that the answer given is opinion, the citation of sources irrelevant to establishing a fact.. The answer does not establish by reference that the 4 words in question are homophones in any variety of English. – J. Taylor Oct 27 '17 at 7:20

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