Monday 17 September 2012

Fresh prints ...

This isn't exactly a global Englishes-related post but I've explained this once or twice recently so I thought it might be worth blogging about.

One of my former students in HK asked me the following on Facebook:

"About the coda /ts/:
  • Why is there an italicised /t/ before /s/ in the transcriptions of words like 'dance', 'finance', 'answer' in some learner dictionaries? 
  • Is there now a systematic use of this /t/ in British English native speakers?"

My response:

"This means that, although there is no 't' in the spelling, it is sometimes pronounced by a speaker. This is called an epenthetic /t/.

"The reason it occurs is because there is a homorganic nasal + fricative (in this case, /ns/). For a nasal the velum is lowered but for an obstruent like /s/ the velum has to be raised.

"In the sequence of articulation, if the velum is raised while the tongue is still making a complete contact with the alveolar ridge and upper side molars before the tongue moves to a narrow approximation with the alveolar ridge, there may be plosion rather than a straightforward narrow/fricative release.

"Compare the two words 'mints' and 'mince', which can sound the same in e.g. RP."

After discussing /t/ epenthesis on the UCL Summer Course in English Phonetics this year, one of my class told me the following joke:

Q: How do you find Will Smith after a blizzard?
A: Go outside and look for the fresh prints in the snow.

Love it!


  1. I think that in AmE accents this epenthetic /t/ is now general.

  2. Jane,
    A) Does epenthetic /t/have any social connotations, or is it just a neutral, more or less sporadic feature?
    B) Do you t-epenthesize? If so, since when? And if not, why? (I mean, can you describe the position and movements of your speech organs when you say /ns/? Do you actually stick the tip of your tongue to the alveolar ridge before passing from /n/ to /s/?)
    C) What about /nz/?
    D) Sorry for being so inquisitive.

    (Hey John, it's me. I'm using my real name -I'm a good boy now, you know.)

  3. Hi Emilio.

    a) No social connotations that I'm aware of.

    b) Yes, but I don't notice when I'm doing it and when I'm not unless specifically paying attention! You must have a complete oral alveolar closure to articulate /n/ so yes, I do stick my tongue there.

    c) Although I've not done any research on this, /d/ epenthesis between /n/ and /z/ is unlikely. We never show it in dictionaries, for example, but we do show /t/ epenthesis. In fact, the /d/ will commonly be elided in a word like "friends" /frendz/ -> /frenz/ which leads me to conclude /d/ epenthesis in e.g. "bins" /bɪnz/ doesn't happen.

    d) No problem at all!

  4. Possibly this explains why I pronounce one of my favourite albums, Tago Mago, as 'Tango Mango'. Even if not, I've got some far more impressive words to explain it with.

  5. Difficult for me to comment on this, Patrick. You're sure it's not just idolectal ..?