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?

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  • I hear it like that too! – Mathew Hany Apr 2 '19 at 16:53
  • It would not be uncommon to hear "Wha' da' f**k!" In most cases this is an affectation of sorts, but some people use such words in normal speech. – Hot Licks Apr 2 '19 at 16:57
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    @David That is neither here nor there – and it’s not very likely to be true either, I would wager. I don’t think I know a single person who doesn’t use such language (and that includes my mother), and it would be extremely unlikely that none of your acquaintances do. And there is no need for anyone not to either, as it happens: profanity is just as integral and important part of language as any other. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Apr 2 '19 at 18:17
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    @David Be my guest. “Profanity: 1. blasphemous or obscene language” (ODO). – Janus Bahs Jacquet Apr 2 '19 at 18:23
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    @JanusBahsJacquet — Chambers adheres to the original sense which is blasphemous. And if it is an integral part of the language, why the asterisks? – David Apr 2 '19 at 18:43

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:

  1. (slang) The

In all these expressions, the th is written as d:

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    Even speakers who do not have th-stopping will usually pronounce this with a dental affricate, which can easily sound more like a /d/ than a /ð/, especially to a non-native speaker. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Apr 2 '19 at 23:46

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".

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    You probably think you’re hearing a voiced dental fricative because that’s the phoneme; but by far the most common pronunciation is with a voiced dental affricate [d͡ð], rather than an actual fricative. Especially with the preceding /t/ (even if glottalised), affrication is almost unavoidable in regular speech. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Apr 2 '19 at 18:09

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