Recently I have noticed that some languages have a sound which is somewhere between the "traditional" d and t. An example of this is the name "Roberto", pronounced by a Spanish or Italian speaking person. It doesn't sound like the t in "tower", nor does it sound like the d in "donkey". It is somewhere between the two, so:

Does this sound have a name? What is it's name? Which languages have it?


1 Answer 1


I think you're just hearing the lack of aspiration; English and German "t" is generally aspirated at the start of a syllable, while Spanish and Italian generally lack aspiration on voiceless plosives (but their voiced plosives start their voicing earlier). (For a more detailed comparison of English and Spanish plosives, see The Sounds of Spanish, by José Ignacio Hualde.) These differences are related to voice onset time. In the International Phonetic Alphabet, we can indicate aspiration with a superscript ʰ after the letter for a regular voiceless consonant, so the sound at the start of English "ten" can be writen as [tʰ].

Unaspirated (also called tenuis) voiceless stops are quite common and found in many languages.

Some languages, such as Hindi and Ancient Greek, contrast voiceless aspirated plosive phonemes ([pʰ], like in English "pin"), voiceless tenuis plosive phonemes ([p], like in English "spin" or Spanish "pollo"), and voiced plosive phonemes ([b], like in Spanish "bello").

(I used the example of "p" rather than "t" because Hindi actually has two types of "t/d" sound, dental and retroflex. In fact, Hindi also has one more type of phonation: the "voiced aspirate" or "murmured" plosives, represented by appending ʱ to a voiced plosive symbol.)

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    What about a language which has all 3? The English "d" and "t" but also the Spanish "t" (or similar to them). Would one just be called "voiced t" while the other would be called "unvoiced t"? Jul 22, 2016 at 9:58
  • @MatthiasSchreiber: they'd be called "aspirated t," (similar to English t) "tenuis t" (similar to Spanish t), and "d." The way standard IPA is defined, you can generally assume that sounds represented by the letter "t" are voiceless and sounds represented by the letter "d" are voiced. (In fact, English "d" can in some positions be phonetically devoiced to some degree, but phonemically it is still considered to be a voiced consonant.) Jul 22, 2016 at 10:26
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    @MatthiasSchreiber Having both aspirated and non-aspirated versions of t, p, s etc is a rather common feature. The interesting question of whether they are contrasted in the language. Jul 22, 2016 at 16:54
  • @A.M.Bittlingmayer What do you mean by "contrasted"? Jul 23, 2016 at 18:16
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    @MatthiasSchreiber Meaning: can either sound occur in the same position and change the meaning? For example in English if one pronounces 'sip' with a 'z' then 'zip' will be understood. In German it is simply a regional difference - no contrast. As 'ß' may occur elsewhere in the word we can say that the Northern ie standard language "has both sounds" but it does not contrast them. Jul 24, 2016 at 5:08

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