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Some people I know have a ‘lazy tone’ on their British accent pronouncing their ‘th’ as ‘v’.

Don’t bover about the weava. (Don’t bother about the weather.)

It’s not a slur, because the ‘t’ in don’t and about is still there.

It’s not a lisp either.

My question is: What is the word for pronouncing ‘th’ as ‘v’ as part of your English accent?

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  • Are you saying that they could pronounce /ð/ but choose not to? Or that they cannot pronounce /ð/ and have to approximate? – Andrew Leach Jun 20 '18 at 13:49
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    There is a useful article in Wikipedia, where the term “th-fronting” is used. In my experience, it is very common in toddlers, before they have learned to make the necessary action with their tongue. Cockney dialect uses ‘th-fronting’. I have down-voted your question because you could easily have found the answer yourself. – Tuffy Jun 20 '18 at 14:34
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    @Tuffy It might be if you know what to Google. This question is perfectly on topic. – Azor Ahai Jun 20 '18 at 17:34
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    @AzorAhai I put “th pronounced v” and the article was the first to appear. – Tuffy Jun 20 '18 at 18:39
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    It’s not a slur, because the ‘t’ in don’t and about is still there. That argument can easily be defeated by e.g. calling it "partial slurring" or "word slurring". Slurring is a spectrum, not a binary choice. Just like how I can mix casual and formal statements in a sentence, I can choose to slur parts of a sentence. – Flater Jun 21 '18 at 7:13
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The linguistic feature is known as th-fronting, where a dental fricative (both th-sounds) becomes a labiodental fricative (f,v) while the voicing remains the same. First noted in the late 18th c., it is now a common feature of several dialects of English: Cockney, Essex dialect, Estuary English, some West Country and Yorkshire dialects, Newfoundland English, and African American Vernacular English. Most recently, it’s been attested in, of all places, Glasgow.

The feature is used to comic effect in Catherine Tate’s character Lauren Cooper and her catchphrase “Am I bovvered?” which during Comic Relief 2007 then-PM Tony Blair unleashed on Lauren instead. Blair doesn’t quite manage the pronunciation.

You can even buy the t-shirt:

enter image description here

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    th-fronting must be older than late 18th century: the Rotherhith(e)/Redriff(e) equivalence for the district in south-east London is implicitly in Pepys' and Evelyn's diaries from the 17th century and explicitly in Swift's Gulliver's Travels of the early 18th century – Henry Jun 20 '18 at 17:39
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    Note that the voicing feature is consistent, though -- the voiceless th of hawthorne would become a voiceless /f/, while the voiced th of heather would become a voiced /v/. Not the other way around. It's rather similar to Elmer Fudd's rule of Wabiawization. – John Lawler Jun 20 '18 at 18:53
  • @Henry: Centuries ago, spelling was considerably less standardized and more reliant on the writer's phonetic interpretation. As per the "weava" example; someone whose environment consistently uses the pronunciation might either popularize that spelling, or (counterintuitively) no longer hear the actual "v" sound (whereas someone foreign to the region clearly hears a "v" instead of a "th"). There are cases of communication between different linguistic regions that causes confusion or misspelling (or even naming shifts, e.g. "llama" or "killer whale" were mistranslations) – Flater Jun 21 '18 at 7:22
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    @Flater - indeed, and if Pepys and Evelyn heard fs instead of ths then you can say this is an earlier example of th-fronting – Henry Jun 21 '18 at 7:31
  • @Henry How is that evidence for th-fronting? Redriff is not Roverhive. According to Wikipedia, Rotherhithe derives from OE Hrȳðer-hȳð. If Redriff derives from it too, then that could be seen as evidence for a historical change from [ð] to [v] over time. But if I interpret the OQ right, the OP asks about th-fronting as a synchronic accent-feature, the use of [v] when standard English has [ð]. – Rosie F Jun 21 '18 at 14:43
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This is called

th-fronting

A 'th' (voiced or not) is a dental fricative (the tip of the tongue behind the top front teeth). Fronting it (moving articulation more forward) is to the labiodental position, the lower lip contacting the front upper teeth.

'Th' is a rare sound in the world's languages (some varieties of Spanish (Castilian) and Arabic (MSA), are notable for having it). It is easy for it to be articulated by language learners as some nearby thing instead, as a stop (t/d) or alveolar (s/z), at the ridge behind the top front teeth), in addition to fronting.

Th-fronting is a feature of some speakers of Cockney/Estuary English and African-American English (AAE) and related varieties of Southern American English. I say 'some speakers' because it is not a feature for all speakers of these varieties like r-dropping might be)

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    'Th' is indeed quite rare. Several of my French friends seem to find it impossible to pronounce when it occurs in English words. Mainly as it's not a sound used in the French language. Although I can't understand why it's so difficult. They have the same teeth/tongue arrangement as a lot of humans. – Tim Jun 21 '18 at 9:21
  • @Tim isn't it everywhere in spanish as well? – WendyG Jun 21 '18 at 14:40
  • @Tim Fwiw, they don't. It can be impossible for native Chinese to get consistently right for a while at first, too, because they simply haven't trained the muscles in/around their tongue to get it out that far in their mouths. Takes time to build up, like any muscle. – lly Jun 21 '18 at 16:53
  • Rolling Rs is considerably harder. In any case, it is odd that they call it th-fronting, since what's actually happening is the tongue is staying back and the upper teeth are making contact upon the lip in place or pulled back. – lly Jun 21 '18 at 17:02
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    @WendyG, in Europe we're taught to lisp the 'soft C' and the Z because that's the Castilian standard, but everywhere I've visited in Spain - Catalunya, Andalusia, Balearics - it seems to be pronounced S. – David Garner Jun 21 '18 at 18:17

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