When people say "wasn't really" really fast, does the tongue position for /n/ in "wasn't" exactly the same as an usual /n/? (like in this description.)

I ask this question because when I try shadowing the sentence "It wasn't really a job." in this video, I find it extremely difficult to speak at the exact same speed as Tom Hanks. If I put my tongue for the /n/ in the "proper" place (alveolar ridge), the /n/ will hinder my /r/ that follows.

Is it just a lack of practice for me or the tongue position for /n/ deviates a little?

  • If I speak "wasn't really" very quickly, then the /t/ essentially disappears, but the /n/ and /r/ are still there as normal. Most native speakers don't find /nr/ to be an unusual combination - it appears in words like "unroll" or "sunrise" or the name "Henry". – Canadian Yankee Aug 14 '20 at 12:46

With -n't contractions, it can be common among native speakers to drop the 't' sound, which should be a stop consonant. This is increasingly common when pronouncing the 't' would make the transition to the next word difficult, which may be why you are asking specifically about pronouncing "wasn't really". A hard 't' sound would restrict the flow into the 'r' sound of 'really'.

Normally you would pronounce a longer 'n', followed by the 't', but when the 't' is dropped, the 'n' sound, which is a nasal consonant, stops abruptly.

  • By drop the 't' sound, which should be a stop consonant, do you mean that there should be /t/? Because /t/ is already a stop. – Void Aug 14 '20 at 14:00
  • @Wistful Absolutely, the 'T' in "don't", "won't", "wasn't" etc should be pronounced. Have a listen to pronunciation guides for the word in isolation if you're not sure. But when the word is used mid-sentence then the 't' may not be sounded. – Astralbee Aug 14 '20 at 16:22
  • It's not that the /t/ isn't pronounced: it isn't released. There's still a (slight) stop in the breathflow, but there is no dental/alveolar release. – Colin Fine Aug 18 '20 at 16:20
  • @ColinFine that doesn't fit with the definition of pronounced. If the sound isn't made in the usual or correct way then it isn't pronounced. – Astralbee Aug 19 '20 at 7:39
  • 1
    @Astralbee: That's not how most linguists think of "pronounced". An unreleased stop is a common allophone of a stop consonant in clusters, and sometimes finally. The /t/ may sometimes disappear completely in wasn't really, but certainly in my speech there is an audible stop, making it different from was'n'really – Colin Fine Aug 19 '20 at 8:53

I am not a native speaker but quite a proficient user of English and when I pronounce these kind of transitions I have two options of which I prefer the former (sorry):

  1. The "t" sound is dropped and instead of "wasn't really" I get "wasn-really" which kind of flows as a single word. The "t' sound indeed does prevent the flow and is quite uncomfortable to pronounce.
  2. The "t" sound is replaced by a really soft staccato "d" sound, which is quite close to being "t" in fact and we get "wasn'd-really" where we kind of have the stop consonant but the flow is achieved!
  3. The "t" sound is pronounced and a short pause comes after.
  • Why the downvotes? – SovereignSun Aug 16 '20 at 16:23
  • 1
    Neither of these describes how I as a native speaker say it: there is a definite but unreleased stop [t̚] in there. – Colin Fine Aug 19 '20 at 10:48

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