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While I am learning the American pronunciation, I find that the Americans pronounce the word "shorter" quite differently from the British. Specifically, the "t" sound in the word is pronounced like the "d" sound. Therefore, could somebody help me to explain this? Is there a rule behind this?

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    I don't think this is just the word shorter; you'll hear this difference in words like water and patty, also, and sometimes on the second "t" in potato, too.
    – J.R.
    Aug 24, 2014 at 10:31
  • Thank you for your reply. However, I do know why the "t" sound in water, patty, and potato are pronounced as "d" sound. It is called "flap t". Nevertheless, the word "shorter" is different from those words above. Therefore, I want to know the rule behind it so the next time I see the similar cases I know how to pronounce them correctly. Aug 24, 2014 at 12:41
  • If you already know what "flat t" is, I believe you will find these pages interesting: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rhotic_and_non-rhotic_accents, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rhoticity_in_English. Sep 13, 2014 at 21:48
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    Laziness has absolutely nothing to do with it.
    – user230
    Oct 13, 2014 at 22:29
  • There’s an excellent (and somewhat advanced) discussion of a similar case here and a less excellent but perhaps more applicable discussion here. Oct 14, 2014 at 0:33

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First of all, the UK has many different regions, only a few of them where people pronounce the perfect "t". This accent is mainly used by middle-upper class people of the south and most people in the north... until you get to Northumbria, nearly everyone in Scotland and Wales would pronounce the "t" silently and emphasize the "ER". Also there's a place riddled with mis-pronunciations known as Essex, people there will not only skip over the "t" but also make the first "r" sound more like a "w" so the word is vocalized as "SHOW-ur"

The Americans (of all regions) would pronounce both "r" more strongly and turn the "t" into a "d" just like the words: "water", "scooter" "bitter", "mortar", "quarter", "porter" and most* other 2-syllable words that end in "r". The reason I say most is because this is not a rule, rather than a convention to make words flow better for the American accent.

The only times when an American would pronounce a perfect "t" in the middle of a 2-sylable word is when the first syllable is long and/or stressed like the words "laughter", "after", "shifter", "master", "hunter".

The paragraph above however, is subject to region in the US where people in the south make the middle "t" much shorter or turn it into a d and people in the north would pronounce it as a perfect "t"... Again this is just for the sake of flow, once you start pronouncing certain words with your regional accent, it just feels natural to pronounce all words in a manner than makes them flow. This is what gives people the ability to "put on" a totally different accent than their own and make it sound authentic.

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I believe the answer has to do with how the "r" that precedes the consonant "t" is being produced in American English (EDIT: when saying the word shorter as distinct from saying the word carton).

The American "r" can be produced with lips nearly pursed (imagine a goldfish), and that constricted mouth position causes the "t" to move from unvoiced dental [t] towards voiced dental [d].

The british "r" is produced with the cheeks tauter and drawn slightly back, and that mouth position is more amenable to an unvoiced dental [t].

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    Do any Americans pronounce the first "r" in shorter with lips nearly pursed? I certainly don't; it's almost impossible for me to pronounce that "r" that way. I think we only use the lips-pursing for "r"s that start syllables (or at least ones that come before vowels. Oct 14, 2014 at 2:54
  • They do in my neck of the woods, Peter (southeastern Pennsylvania). The phenomenon occurs (to a varying degree) throughout the US: the lips protrude when the first [r] in shorter is pronounced, whereas in England the word can be pronounced with a tight, slightly retracted lower jaw that causes the lips to be tenser.
    – TimR
    Oct 14, 2014 at 15:46
  • Your surname here in SE PA would not sound anywhere close to "Shawr" (not an open vowel) but would be very close to "sure". We say "droor" when we see "drawer". drawers rhymes with doors here.
    – TimR
    Oct 14, 2014 at 15:51
  • Drawers rhymes with doors here, too. And Shor isn't Shawr here, either. But I don't purse my lips for 'r's after vowels. Oct 14, 2014 at 16:06
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    I don't produce an "r" after a vowel at all - the two "r"s in shorter are both entirely unvoiced; this is common in my part of England (the south-east).
    – ClickRick
    Dec 3, 2015 at 9:18
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I'll add a little bit to Jonas's answer. Americans, when a t is both preceded and followed by either a vowel or a voiced consonant, will tend to voice the t as well, thereby turning it into a sort of a d sound, especially when speaking quickly. (Note that er is a type of vowel sound.) You'll notice that all of the examples that Jonas gives in his second paragraph are words of this type.

The only exception I can think of to this is the word potato, which I pronounce potado. (When I lived in England as a boy, and used glottal stops to pronounce t's, I said pota'o, so there's an analogue there.)

Now, in the case of nt we tend to leave out the t altogether. So I disagree with Jonas in how I pronounce hunter: I tend to pronounce it hunner. Also twenty becomes twenny.

If you want to get further into British English, you might want to look into Received Pronunciation (RP).

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