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There are five segments in the clip. Are all the ts in "But I..." pronounced out the flap t sound? I personally can hear the flap t sound in the second and third segments. The first and fourth are not that clear. And the fifth, I don't hear the flap t sound at all and the t sounds like a stop t or a silent t. Are there any native English speakers help me with that?

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    They all sound like flaps (I've always preferred the term taps though) to me except the 5th, which sounds like an [ t⁼ ] unvoiced unaspirated apical alveolar stop. May 31 at 10:57
  • Thanks, GArthur. Theoretically, the t in the fifth should a tap/flap t as well, right? But, the speaker makes a pause before "but" so that the t in "but" becomes a stop t. Am I right?
    – questionguy
    May 31 at 12:53
  • They're all similar. Obama's second But-I is the least pronounced. Note the flap attaches to the I, not the But: Ba-DYE. If the T does not compare to a D to your ear, think of it as the slightest flap of a rolled R. May 31 at 13:03
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    In the fifth, there's definitely a /t/ sound. I think it's an unaspirated /t/ rather than a flap /t/ (it's hard for native speakers to hear the difference — they all sound like /t/s to us). The speaker may not use a flap /t/ here because she's enunciating carefully, because it's a video for ESL students. I wouldn't think it has anything to do with a pause before the but. May 31 at 13:52
  • As opposed to what, a glottal stop? Standard English pronunciation, no matter which side of which pond you're on, is to tap the tip of the tongue against the soft pallet to make a T sound and releasing whenever it is immediately followed by a vowel sound, like is the case in all of those examples. Relatively few accents don't do so by instead employing a glottal stop, which, again, none of those do. The biggest difference you'll hear between accents isn't if there's no tap and release there but if that tap and release there is voiceless or voiced, i.e., if it sounds like a true T or like a D. May 31 at 17:13
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TLDR: all of them are flaps except for the last one which sounds like an unaspirated t.

First and foremost, native speakers think of all the T's a single sound—/t/, that is, all those sounds are stored as a single sound ('phoneme') in their minds so they might not notice the phonetic difference between a flap and a normal t. A phoneme is a 'meaningful unit' in that it distinguishes one word from another, for example, tap is distinguished from cap by a single phoneme (/t/), so we would say that /t/ and /k/ are different phonemes because cap and tap are different words having different meanings. I recently came across a language known as 'Samoan' where [t] and [k] don't distinguish words i.e. they are a single phoneme (meaningful unit) so we would say that both [t] and [k] are the allophones of a single phoneme /t/ (or perhaps /k/, I'm not entirely sure).

Likewise, [tʰ], [t], [ɾ], [t̚] and [ʔ] occur as allophones of the phoneme /t/ in English. Although native speakers do (and can) hear the difference between all those sounds, they think of them as the same sound—/t/. Unfortunately, native speakers cannot help you 'hear' the flap, the only thing you need is long-term exposure to hearing the flap. In the clip you provided, all of them are flaps except for the last one which sounds (to me) like an unaspirated t: [t˭].


NOTES:

  • [tʰ] is called aspirated t which occurs at the start of a stressed syllabe as in time, top, tool etc.
  • [t] is a t sound without aspiration. Unaspirated t usually occurs after an S as in stop, steel, stall etc.
  • [ɾ] is called an alveolar flap which usually occurs where an intervocalic (between vowels) /t/ is unstressed. It's mostly found in American accents.
  • [t̚] is called unreleased t i.e. no released of the closure made for the t. It usually occurs at the end of an utterance (as in bat in some accents)
  • [ʔ] is called glottal stop. It usually occurs at the end of words as in hate, mate, but in some accents.
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  • Thanks for your explicit explanation, Void. I am practicing listening and try to get familiar with these sounds. That is why I came up this question. Jun 1 at 4:50

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