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This question has been copied directly from English Language & Usage where it received plenty of interest but the answers had lots of flaws and no resolutions was reached. It was originally asked by user Billaire I urge you to please read the answers and comments there too and bring anything into the answer here.


When someone with a Received Pronunciation accent pronounces the word duke, as in The Duke of York, he doesn't pronounce it with a "hard" 'd', as one might pronounce the word duh, but a softer type 'd', which I can only spell phonetically as "dj", so as to pronounce duke somewhat like "djuke."

My question is composed of two parts:

  • What would a linguist call this phoneme?
  • What is the difference in articulation between it and a "regular" /d/?
  • I think this is the difference listed here in Wikipedia with barracuda, puma, /juː/ in BrE vs /uː/ in AmE. The following vowel probably affects the /d/ but I don't think it's the /d/ that is causing the difference. – aedia λ Sep 16 '11 at 4:42
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    @aedia, rather it may be a difference attributable to yod-dropping/yod-coalescence (secure.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/wiki/…). I'm not a sociophonologist so I don't know the precise dialect distribution of these rules, but I believe the dialect the asker has in mind would also have "chewsday" for Tuesday etc., which points to a rule-based rather than lexical source. – Aaron Sep 16 '11 at 7:18
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This is a palatalized /d/ or a /d/ with a palatal release, written /dʲ/. The superscript {j} is called MODIFIER LETTER SMALL J in Unicode. The name explains the difference in pronunciation. As you release the /d/ you simultaneously bunch up the tongue (behind the tip and maybe one thirds of the length backwards) towards the palate, without touching it. If you instead move the tongue backwards and bunch it all the way up to touch the palate and make a voiced stop there, you get a palatal stop, as is common in Indian English and some Norwegian dialects. If you instead of bunching the tongue up lower and flatten it you'll end up with the "dzh"-sound of "juice".

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  • Could you give us the IPA for it, or any other transcription you are fluent in? – hippietrail Sep 16 '11 at 19:11
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I think @Aaron is on the right track in pointing you to the Wikipedia article on yod dropping and yod coalescence. However, some clarifications are in order.

There is actually a family of variants for what you are calling the "softer d"--the variants can respectively be transcribed in IPA as [dj], [dʲ], [d͡ʑ], and [d͡ʒ]. Remember that in IPA [j] (called yod) stands for the sound at the beginning of the word yell, and the symbol [d͡ʒ] stands for the sound at the beginning of the word gel. When you used the letter j in your question, I'm guessing the sound you had in mind was more like the latter, although by placing the letter d before it you were perhaps approximating one of the "intermediate" sounds ([dʲ] or [d͡ʑ]). I refer you to the Wikipedia article on IPA and the relevant linked articles (you can click on individual symbols in the IPA chart for in-depth explanations of them) for a review of the sounds represented by these symbols. There you can also read about the differences in articulation among these different sounds, but generally speaking the articulatory differences between [d] and the variants mentioned here have to do with the placement of the tongue immediately after the closure (farther back for the variants than for the [d]) and the speed at which the tongue blade moves away from the roof of the mouth (more sluggish for the variants than for the [d]).

To discuss the transcriptions in terms of a concrete example, some speakers pronounce dew as if they are pronouncing the word yew with a [d] sound before it. That pronunciation would be transcribed as [djuː ]. Some speakers of the dialect (or dialect group) to which you are referring pronounce it like the word juice without the [s] sound at the end of it, i.e. it is indistinguishable from the word Jew. We can consider these pronunciations to be at opposite ends of a sort of spectrum, where the first pronunciation comprises a [d]-[j] sequence and the second one comprises a single sound (considered a coalescence of two separate phonemes /d/ and /j/). Yet other speakers might pronounce it somewhere in the middle, which would be transcribed with one of the other variants mentioned above. (I myself do none of the above; I pronounce it just like the word do, which some would analyze as yod dropping.)

Finally, it is important to point out that by using the word phoneme you are presupposing that the speech sound (or sound sequence) to which you are referring is the realization of a single underlying unit. Chances are you just meant speech sound. However, this brings up an issue that is relevant for @Aaron's comment about the pronunciation having a rule-based--as opposed to lexical--source. The existence of the minimal pair dew vs. do (as well as other relevant pairs like twos and Tuesday) in the relevant dialect(s) shows that the environment for this sound (or sequence of sounds) is not predictable and therefore the distinction must be lexical.

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I've always imagined (without much evidence) that this was a two-step process. First /u:/ became /ju:/, then the /j/ modified the consonant before it, i.e. d in duke and T in Tuesday. There is some evidence, at least, that the introduction of /j/ is a recent phenomenon. Guy Deutscher (in The Unfolding of Language, page 52) quotes Charles Eastlake in 1902 saying that those born around 1800 said "Dook" for Duke and "Toosday" for Tuesday; to me this implies that they were using /u:/ and not /ju:/.

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  • If /u:/ became /ju:/, why does nobody (that I know of) say "dyoo" for "do"? Did everyone with a contrast between these nowadays re-acquire the distinction from the spelling? – brass tacks Jan 11 '16 at 5:55
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Strictly speaking, palatalization in phonetics is a secondary gesture, and in IPA it is graphically represented as a superscript "j", [dʲ]. So, in my opinion, there is a difference between [dʲ] and [dj]. The former is one (palatalized) sound, the latter is two sounds, a voiced dental stop followed by a palatal approximant. I haven't checked it in Praat yet but I'm almost certain that you'll see that difference on a spectrogram.

Although there are palatalized stops in Russian, I've never seen/read anyone talking about palatalized stops in English. I will be more than happy to "get educated", if I'm wrong.

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  • 1) Palatalization is primary gesture for (at least) Russian, Ukrainian, Belarusian, Polish. 2) As far as I understand, the question author refers to [dʲju:k] or quite similar variant. – Netch Nov 10 '12 at 19:09
  • @Netch, "Palatalization is primary gesture for (at least) Russian, Ukrainian, Belarusian, Polish." What do you mean? – Alex B. Nov 11 '12 at 1:43
  • it differentiates phonemes, and following vowel variant depends on consonant palatalization, but not the opposite way. Maybe I used incorrect term but I have read "secondary" as "non-important" which is untrue for these languages. – Netch Nov 11 '12 at 9:44
  • @Netch, I see. Well, in Russian (and some other Slavic languages) you add palatalization to the primary gesture/articulation, e.g. [bʲ] - hence the word "secondary". – Alex B. Nov 11 '12 at 18:25

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