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Could you explain to me what happens from the linguist’s point of view when the sounds meet in the speech?

  • Can you specify what it is exactly you're interested in? Is it all sounds when next to each other, or just 'ds' and 'th'? And why are you asking? Is this to help better pronounce them, or to understand how people make mistakes in pronouncing them, or is it to help a non-English speaker learn? Is this for deliberate articulated speech or is it for quick conversational speech? – Mitch Jun 1 '18 at 15:23
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Briefly (because stuff like this happens whenever words meet up in speech,
which is to say in every sentence), the phonemics of words that
(occurring in a phrase, where words is stressed and that is unstressed)
is something like:

  • /'wərdzðət/

The big problem is that long consonant cluster in the middle:

  • /rdzð/

The /r/ just colors the preceding schwa vowel to [ɚ], so it can be ignored.
But the /dzð/ cluster starts with a dental stop and transitions into a postdental sibilant /z/,
and then an interdental fricative /ð/, all of which requires a lot of complicated lip
and tongue movement, with breath coordination.

So what happens in practice is that things get lost. Consonant clusters are regularly simplified;
sixths changes from canonical /sɪksθs/ to /sɪkss/, for instance.

In the case of words that, the final /ð/ usually drops, producing

  • /'wərdzət/

which sounds like words it or words at, but is understood as words that at ordinary speech rates.

  • +1 The other possibility there is that the /z/ in words is retained but the /ð/ in that is subject to preseverative assimilation so that we end up with /'wɜrdz zət/ or, if you prefer a transcription without gaps, /'wɜrdzzət/ – Araucaria Jun 1 '18 at 14:34
  • There are always variants. This is allophonic variation from the lexical phonemic norm to start with, and individual variation from speaker to speaker and event to event makes it at least a second-derivative effect. Given how many thousand canonical consonant clusters English allows, and how tightly they are packed in our stress-timed language, there are in practice innumerable variations available to every speaker. – John Lawler Jun 1 '18 at 18:19
  • Lip movement doesn't matter much, as there are no plosives. Rather than dropping the edth, the /z/ and edth are likely to lose voicing and sound like /s/ and thorn. – AmI Jun 1 '18 at 19:01

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