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I can't seem to find anything explaining this, but on words like "don't" and "day", some people pronounce the D with a sibilant sound/aspiration and others like a dead D with no aspiration.

I have some examples here with the word "don't":

The first two pronunciations in the American English here, where the first is sibilant and the second is dead: https://forvo.com/word/don%27t/

sibilant D: https://youtu.be/YZG7z4FOn0g?si=y4Jk2ErqgyITrpS_?t=86 at 1:26

sibilant D: https://youtu.be/NCtzkaL2t_Y?si=czD97JPA-wiZJSJM at 0:04

dead D: https://youtu.be/aef2eV7GmQw?t=238 from 3:58 to the end

dead D: https://youtu.be/nfsWdOvtkSU?si=G2hUh14Makji52CF at 0:51

There seems to be a big difference for something that isn't mentioned anywhere. This can be found in lots of words starting with D, like "day", "down" and so on.

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    Minor differences in accents aren't likely to be included in dictionaries. You'd need at least dozen pronunciations to cover multiple countries and regional accents within each.
    – Barmar
    Nov 3, 2023 at 21:29
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    There is nothing about grammar here, only the different shape of people's teeth and tongues. Nov 3, 2023 at 21:30
  • @WeatherVane Where is grammar mentioned?
    – Barmar
    Nov 3, 2023 at 21:30
  • In the last example, the lyric at 0:51 is "good at", not "don't".
    – Barmar
    Nov 3, 2023 at 22:23
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    I think that what you may be recognizing is the fact that word-initial /d/ is sometimes devoiced, essentially becoming an unaspirated [t]. In the two examples you provide from Forvo, the one that you call a "dead" /d/ appears to have a more fully voiced sound, whereas the "sibilant" one has an audible period of voicelessness at the start.
    – alphabet
    Nov 4, 2023 at 0:15

2 Answers 2

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From the clips you shared, by "dead" /d/ I suppose you mean unaspirated /d/ (or maybe tapped /d/, see the last paragraph of this answer). With that, there's a section in "Cambridge English Pronouncing Dictionary, Cambridge University Press" describing a similar phenomenon you mentioned, i.e., some speakers tend to add /s/ after /t/ so it becomes /ts/, thus sounding "sibilant" as you put it. For example <time> would be pronounced as /tsaim/.

So it's quite natural to expect the same phenomenon to occur for /d/ since lenis consonants in English are often devoiced (especially when they're at the start/end of the speech) and particularly in singing where special "effects" are often added to sounds.

Also in American English, /t/ and also /d/ can be tapped (or some would say flapped), that is, tongue tip makes a quick contact with the alveolar, so the hold phase (the time when the airflow is compressed between articulators before being released) may be significantly weakened or even absent.

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These minor differences tend to be associated with different accents, and dictionaries simply don't bother trying to cover all the regions, it would require several pronunciation guides for almost every word. So they only list major differences in pronunciation, such as highly noticeable vowel variations, whether or not a letter is silent, etc. You'll rarely see more than two or three pronunciations for a word.

They're not going to bother with two pronunciations for every word beginning with "d", to show both aspirated and non-aspirated variations. It's not a difference that most people would even notice.

More generally, dictionaries can generally only go into a limited amount of detail before they become unweildy. Lexicographers are always making judgement calls about what nuances to list as separate senses or definitions, and similar judgement is used for pronunciation (but they tend to be even more conservative).

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  • That makes sense! So there's no rule or even a more common used version here? Nov 3, 2023 at 21:40
  • Nope, just judgement calls by the dictionary compilers.
    – Barmar
    Nov 3, 2023 at 21:43
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    I can't even hear any sibilance. I suppose what sounds you can distinguish depends on your native language. Nov 3, 2023 at 22:12
  • @KateBunting really? I think the difference is pretty clear between the second example in the sibilant/aspirated D and the second example in the dead D sound Nov 3, 2023 at 22:18
  • It's essentially impossible to aspirate a voiced /d/ in the same way that word-initial voiced /t/s get aspirated.
    – alphabet
    Nov 4, 2023 at 0:22

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