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According to Wiktionary the word "second" can be pronounced one of two ways in the US: /ˈsɛk.(ə)nd/ and /ˈsɛk.(ə)nt/

I've googled to try to find anything about the difference between these pronunciations, be it morphophonemic or simply a regional variation. However my search was to no avail as "second" is a common word, often with results of alternative/second pronunciations of other words popping up.

Can anyone enlighten me on why there is a difference in pronunciation of this word?

For reference, I'm from the US South and I say it with a final "t."

  • Someone brought it up on the talk page of that entry, but a citation doesn't seem to have been found: en.wiktionary.org/wiki/Talk:second#/%CB%88s%C9%9Bk%C9%99nd/… It certainly seems to vary by region. I don't think of this word as ending in /t/, although that pronunciation doesn't sound impossible to me. What would you think of the word hundred? I feel like some people may have /t/ at the end of here (e.g. "hundret"). – herisson Apr 18 '19 at 23:58
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    In an Australian context, pronouncing "second" with a final "t" is associated with non-native speakers. A number of seemingly-NNS patterns have been traced to teaching from old sources, as opposed to being a deviation from the 'norm'. I wonder whether the final "t" pronunciation predates the final "d" variant. – Lawrence Apr 19 '19 at 2:12
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    But if I get the drift of it all, you could hear the same person, in the same conversation, pronounce it the two different ways, 15 seconds apart, depending on the "flow" of the sentence. – Hot Licks May 6 '19 at 12:31
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    Many dialects and sociolects of English, world-wide, routinely devoice final voiced stops, especially in words that are common in constructions and fixed phrases, where the edges get worn down faster. And many individuals frequently do it, whatever their native dialect. It's a natural phonetic phenomenon and happens all the time. This is why prepositions, conjunctions, auxiliaries, articles, and other nuts-and-bolts words are usually very short. – John Lawler Jun 5 '19 at 13:25
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    BTW, the general name for the phenomenon is "terminal devoicing". The mnemonic is "terminal devoicink". – John Lawler Jun 5 '19 at 13:28
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I haven't found any studies or papers that identify the regional distribution of the pronunciation of second with a phonemically voiceless final consonant by adult speakers. It seems to be a real phenomenon, but an understudied one. Here is a Reddit post from 2105 about it: "Are there any dialects where 'second' is pronounced like /ˈsɛk.(ə)nt/?" (posted by u/backpfeifen-gesicht in the r/linguistics subreddit).

The paper "The Speech of Fourth Graders in Fifteen Central Pennsylvania Schools: Phonological and Granmatical Variables", by Maly Alice W. Minderhout and David J. Minderhout, from June 1973, mentions secont, but only as a children's mispronunciation of second.

I also found a passage in an American periodical published Jan. 1, 1848 that uses seckunt to represent the pronunciation of the word in a bit of dialectal speech:

Presently, a man elbowed his way out of the pit, and accosting Burton said--"Look a here, I can't git a chance to see anythin', no how. D'ye think I could git inter the seckunt tier, sa-ay!

("Progress of Man Under the Republic", The John-Donkey p. 326)

Unfortunately, it's hard to tell exactly what seckunt here is supposed to represent:

  • an alternative pronunciation that was common in the author's time and place, but considered nonstandard;
  • a pronunciation that was common for all speakers, but only written down in "eye-dialect";
  • an uncommon alternative pronunciation that the author just thought helped to produce the right overall effect;
  • an allophonic or conditional devoicing of the final /d/ in second before the voiceless plosive /t/ at the start of the following word tier.

But I think this passage at least provides some evidence that pronouncing second with a final consonant that sounds like /t/ is not an extremely recent phenomenon in English.

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  • My impression, growing up in suburban Louisville, KY and then living most of my life in tropical southern Minnesota, is that it's more of an urban/rural split than one based on pure geography. – Hot Licks Aug 8 '19 at 0:41
  • Ahhh, how fecund is "second" in regional pronunciations! – Benjamin Harman Sep 7 '19 at 1:55

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