When I hear native speakers, especially Americans say the phrase I expect a "th" sound in "the" but instead, it sounds more like a "t" or "d" sometimes. Am I correct or am I just hearing it wrong?
I'm pretty sure this is th-stopping, which is when people "pronounce the fricatives /θ, ð/ as alveolar stops [t, d]". It is especially associated with African American speech, but you will find it used elsewhere, in other dialects.
This can not only be heard in speech, it also shows up in written slang. Urban Dictionary, for example, defines the word "da" as:
- (slang) The
In all these expressions, the th is written as d:
Native British English speaker here and I have only ever experienced the voiced dental fricative being used in this situation, unless the person is trying to sound a bit like a gangster or actually speaks like a gangster, in which scenario I have only heard "d" used, never "t".