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I learned that we have to pronounce /ðə/ before consonants & /ði/ before vowels.

For example, the /ðə/ car, but the /ði/ earth.

But it seems that a lot of American people pronounce the /ðə/ before vowels, for example the /ðə/ era.

Are these native speakers pronouncing wrong? or it is a dialect or something?

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    If your teachers had taught you to pronounce the always as /ðə/, you would be asking "why do a lot of native English speakers sometimes pronounce it /ði/?" – Peter Shor Jun 7 at 9:12
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    @PeterShor I was told (non-native) that /ði/ is used for emphasis. Teachers (and I too now that I notice it) told me that only using /ði/ seems like you're emphasising everything weirdly. – JJJ Jun 7 at 13:01
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    @JJJ The long version /ˈðiː/ is the emphatic one, but /ði/ is still considered standard before any vowel. Those are not the same thing because the emphatic one is stressed so that it is held longer and never reduced. There is only a length distinction between archaic I shall give thee animals and I shall give the animals — but the vowel is the same in both. – tchrist Jun 7 at 13:08
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    As a native speaker, I think the /ði/ pronunciation is only before low vowels. Or perhaps just vowels other than /i/. I would say /ðə/ before a high vowel like in "the eatery". – Hearth Jun 7 at 17:20
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    By definition, can native speakers wrongly pronounce their own language (even if some would consider their accent horrible)? I'm dubious. – RonJohn Jun 7 at 18:41
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Many speakers of Gen Am and also speakers of British Englishes, including some young RP speakers, use a hard attack on the second word to separate a word-final and word initial vowel. For a minority of speakers this also occurs after the definite article. A ʜᴀʀᴅ ᴀᴛᴛᴀᴄᴋ is when a speaker uses a glottal stop, [ ʔ ], at the beginning of a word starting with a vowel*. So, for example, instead of saying [ɛnd] for the word end, a speaker using a hard attack would say [ʔɛnd]. In this syllable initial position, the glottal stop will not be recognised as a /t/.

Speakers who use a hard attack to separate the vowel in the from a following vowel will therefore say:

  • [ðə ʔɜ:θ] for the earth.

This is a relatively new phenomenon, at least in RP. Will pedants decry any new and novel development in the language? Of course they will!

But are these speakers making mistakes? No! The rules of language are the rules which describe what real speakers of the language do. The Original Poster has therefore observed a real rule underlying such speakers' speech.

* Note that this is a hard attack, not a heart attack!

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    It seems to me that Americans have been using glottal stops to separate adjacent vowels for a lot longer than speakers of RP (who reputedly put an /r/ between two adjacent vowels that don't have a glide separating them already). So it's not surprising that Americans do this. But I'm surprised that RP speakers are starting to do this ... is the intrusive /r/ disappearing from RP? – Peter Shor Jun 7 at 11:34
  • @PeterShor Yes, RP speakers usually use intrusive /r/ before non-high vowels-- though never in this environment after the definite article (to the best of my knowledge). Speakers who use hard attack in this particular environment are still quite a minority. Re intrusive /r/ I'm not aware of any observed trend, but in any case, intrusive /r/ is a possibility, not a necessity (and used to be frowned on by pedants). So in this respect intrusive /r/ different from syllable final orthographic /r/. One would assume that, as you conjecture, ... – Araucaria Jun 7 at 11:59
  • @PeterShor ... if even a few speakers are using hard attack instead of intrusive /r/, it must be declining at least to some small degree. But I don't know. – Araucaria Jun 7 at 12:00
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    I often hear what I think of as a "half-hearted glottal stop" after the schwa when Americans say things like Do you want something to eat? My BrE version interposes a /w/, so in rapid speech the schwa practically disappears and I end up saying ...something tweet. – FumbleFingers Jun 7 at 12:27
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    @FumbleFingers Standard English will often use a stop instead of a linking glide between duplicate adjacent vowels, such as for “the eel” [ðiˈʔiːɫ] instead of the version with a linking glide [ðiʲˈiːɫ]. (Hmm, I’m unsure how best to show reduction in the unstressed /i/ there. I suppose you could write the reduced one as [ɨ] or [ɪ̈] or maybe even [ɪ], and then shorten or omit the length marker from the unreduced one. Slow, careful speech displays much less reduction than fast, connected speech, and may even introduce artificial pauses perceivable as your “half-hearted glottal stops”.) – tchrist Jun 7 at 13:01

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