What is "Flap-t"?


Did you know that the pronunciation of [t] in English is quite different, and it changes into various sounds depending on the sounds before and after?
The theme this time is about "Flap-t" in American English.
Let's understand "Flap-t", which changes the sound of [t] completely under certain conditions.

What is "Flap-t" peculiar to American English?

There are many different pronunciations of [t] in English. I explained the rule of "Glottal-t" in the past article, but it is also very difficult for Japanese people because there are completely different pronunciation rules depending on the conditions even with the same [t]. "Flap-t" is a pronunciation in which the sound of [t] changes to a sound close to "do" or "le". For example, "Flap-t" occurs when the following English words or collocations [t] are pronounced.

  • water
  • get out
  • better
  • city
  • hospital

As some of you may already know, when Americans pronounce better, it sounds like "Bella", doesn't it? This is "Flap-t".

[Related article] What is "glottal-t, slottal-stop"?

Flap-t importance and pronunciation

In fact, even if you don't master Flap-t perfectly, it won't hinder your communication. But if you want to reach your goal of being able to pronounce like an American, you can't ignore Flap-t. Flap-t is pronounced by playing the upper jaw (rough area near the upper front teeth) with the tip of the tongue. By the way, in Discovering Sounds, this movement of the tip of the tongue is called "licking sound".

Three rules to become Flap-t

When does the sound of [t] become Flap-t?
Here, I will explain the three rules that cause Flap-t.

Rule ① [t] is sandwiched between vowels in a word

The first rule is here. [T] sandwiched between vowels is converted to a flap.
"Between vowels" is not a spelling story, but a phonetic symbol. For example, the following words are flapped because [t] is sandwiched between vowels.

  • better / be t ər / ← before t is vowel [e], behind is vowel [ər]
  • water / wɑː t ər /
  • party / pɑːr t i /
  • pretty / prɪ t i /

Rule ② Vowel + word ending with [tl]

The second condition is a word ending in a vowel + [tl]. There are quite a few, but here are some examples.

  • bottle / bɑː t l /
  • fatal / féɪ t l /
  • recital / rɪsáɪt l /
  • hospital / hɑːspɪ t l /

By the way, in the case of [tl], it looks like it is not sandwiched between vowels because it is [l] after [t].
In technical terms, it is called Syllabic L, but bottle is a two-syllable word, but in Japanese English-Japanese dictionaries, the phonetic symbol is / bɑːtl /, and [tl] counts it as one syllable. In the English-English dictionary, there may be an ambiguous vowel [ə] such as / bɑːtəl /, so it may be different depending on the expert whether the pronunciation is [tl] or [təl]. Hey.

Rule ③ There are vowels before and after the word ending in [t] (idiom/sentence)

Flap-t is not limited to words, but can be pronounced with Flap-t when a compound word with two words in a row or when a sentence has vowels before and after [t].

  • Get in .
  • Beat it .
  • Cu t i t out.
  • No t a t all.
  • Ge t ou t of here.

Certainly, the pronunciation of Get in sounds like "gerin", which is far from the [t] -like sound. As you can see, Flap-t is often seen in sentences, so be aware of it.

How to check Flap-t in the dictionary?

If you look up the phonetic symbols in the dictionary, how is Flap-t written?

In online dictionaries, it is represented by the phonetic symbol [ṭ] (marked under t) in weblio, and in English-English dictionaries such as Cambridge, it is represented by the phonetic symbol [t̬] (marked v under t). Some are displayed (eg water / wɑːt̬ər /). It's good to remember for reference!

Two conditions that do not become Flap-t

Considering the conditions I mentioned earlier, if the vowels before and after [t] are vowels, it will be Flap-t, but in reality it may not be Flap-t. Here, let's explain two conditions that do not become Flap-t even if vowels are before and after [t].

Condition (1) When an accent comes to the vowel following [t] in the word

When the vowel after [t] is accented, it is not flap-t. For example, pay attention to the following words.

  • hotel / hoʊ t él /
  • return / rɪ t ə ́ːrn /
  • thirteen / θər t íːn /
  • photography / fə t ɑ ́ːgrəfi /

Both have an accent on the vowel after [t]. In this case, it does not become Flap-t.

By the way, potato is not a flap-t in the first [t] because the accent comes to the vowel behind it, but the second [t] can be pronounced in the flap-t, which is a bit confusing. Will be.

Condition (2) When the second accent comes to the vowel following [t] in the word

Also keep in mind that when the vowel following [t] in a word has a second accent, it does not become a flap-t. For example, the following words are applicable examples.

  • secretary / sékre t è ri /
  • territory / térə t ɔ̀ri /
  • appetite / ǽpə t à ɪ t /
  • inventory / ɪ ́nvən t ɔ̀ːri /

The second accent is the second most pronounced syllable. Many people may not be aware of it very often, but it is good to remember that it will improve your pronunciation if you are aware of the second accent.

About other exceptions

Normally, [t] sandwiched between vowels becomes Flap-t, but in rare cases it may not become Flap-t, so let me tell you just in case.

  • detail / dɪ́ t eɪl /
  • YouTube / júː t uːb /

There is no clear reason, but the above two words are not flap-t. It's a good idea to keep in mind that such exceptions are very rare.

Summary: What is "Flap-t" that is indispensable for learning the pronunciation of [t] in English?

This time, I explained about "Flap-t". Flap-t is a pronunciation method in which the upper jaw is played with the tip of the tongue without pronouncing [t] as "tut", and it sounds like "do" or "ru". In addition, we have introduced the following three rules for becoming Flap-t.

1. [t] is sandwiched between vowels in a word
2. Vowel + word ending with [tl]
3. There are vowels before and after the word ending with [t] (idiom/sentence)

There are detailed rules, but first of all, let's remember that "when the vowels before and after [t] are vowels, they are flapped". I will introduce how to actually pronounce "Flap-t" and how to practice to be able to pronounce it in another article.

By mastering Flap-t, you will be able to speak American English dramatically better. You should definitely master Flap-t to improve your pronunciation level. In pronunciation correction, it is necessary to proceed steadily based on a curriculum that is properly logically created. If you find it difficult to do by yourself, please take a Discovering Sounds lesson!