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Addendum (0:00am, June 27th, JST): After reading Draconis' answer, I did a little more research and added my findings below the horizontal line.

Can medial /t/ and /d/ before syllabic /n/ be easily distinguished? Here is an excerpt from p. 84 from Marianne Celce-Murcia, et. al., "Teaching Pronunciation," 2nd ed., Cambridge University Press, 2010.

... a consonant sound often anticipates some following sound. Both /t/ (in words like but͟t͟on and kit͟t͟en) and /d/ (in words like sud͟d͟en and had͟n't) exhibit unusual medial variants before syllabic [n̩]. The /t/ is either glottalized (articulated with a momentary blockage of the airstream in the vocal cords) or it is replaced by a glottal stop [ʔ], which is a sound formed when the vocal cords close tightly so that air cannot pass between them. When the consonant /t/ and /d/ is produced before syllabic [n̩], the air used to produce the stop is released through the nose rather than the mouth. Because of these articulatory differences, words with medial /t/ and /d/ before syllabic [n̩] are clearly distinguishable, for example, sud͟d͟en versus Sut͟t͟on, bid͟d͟en versus bit͟t͟en.

I am not clear on "these articulatory differences." I guess one interpretation would be that while the medial /t/ before [n̩] has either glottal reinforcement (pre-glottalization) or glottal replacement (borrowing terms from Wikipedia's entry on "T-Glottalization"), the /d/ counterpart does not, and that is the difference. The part about the /d/ is only implied, not explicitly stated.

Is this correct, though? No glottalization occurs to the medial /d/ before [n̩]? When I look up the pronunciation of bitten in American English on Forvo and compare that with that of bidden there, they sound quite similar and the only noticeable difference, at least to me, is the length of the preceding vowel. And even that may be a meaningless observation because these two were clearly spoken by different people. (I know Forvo is not the most reliable resource, but it is the only readily available one for me at this time.)

They also speak of post-nasalization (Wikipedia's entry on "Stop Consonant"), but that is supposed to be a common phenomenon to both /t/ and /d/, so it cannot be a differentiating feature.

I would appreciate it if you could shed some light on this matter. I am not a linguist, still less a phonologist or a phonetician. I teach English (American English, to be specific) and I am trying to educate myself with English phonology/phonetics just so I can be certain of what I teach to my students. One big problem for me is that I do not have innate knowledge of correct pronunciation because I am not a native speaker. Your help would be much appreciated because I honestly do not know whom else to turn to.


Even after reading Draconis' answer, I was not convinced that bidden is read [bɪɾn̩] --- I was fairly sure at least it is not always. Pronuncian.com's podcast episode "66: Syllabic n's and nasal plosions (as in the words 'sudden' and 'couldn't')" deals with this issue head on, and the author says bidden many times in this episode, and she realizes the /d/ as [ɾ] only once, at about 2'30" mark.

The rest of the time, she realizes it as [d̚] (no audible release). You could say it is actually [dⁿ] (nasal plosion/release), but I personally do not think adding yet another allophone is helpful, as far as American English is concerned. Wikipedia states to the same effect.

So in General American, bitten is read either [bɪʔn̩] or [bɪʔt̚n̩] while bidden, [bɪd̚n̩]. Since [t̚] = [d̚], I would say they sound quite similar; to my ears, they definitely do. Wouldn't you agree? I guess whether you can differentiate them or not depends on if you can tell [ʔ] from [d̚] (plus possibly the sensitivity to the duration of the preceding vowel). I have zero confidence in my ability to do that, but how about you? Please let me know, because I would really like to know!

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In most dialects of American English, medial /t/ and /d/ are indistinguishable in most environments: both are realized as [ɾ].

Before a syllabic /n̩/, however, they remain distinct: /t/ becomes glottalized to some extent, while /d/ never does. For me, the glottalization is complete, and I realize "bitten" as [bɪʔn̩] (versus "bidden" [bɪɾn̩]). For others, it's more like [tˀ].

Note that this doesn't happen before any other vowel, including other syllabic resonants: "bottom" and "bottle" both have [ɾ]. Only before /n̩/—which shares /t/'s place of articulation, prompting a sort of dissimilation.

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  • Thank you for your comment. So indeed no glottalization to /d/... this means I have been pronouncing the /d/ wrong the whole time!!! I have thought pardon and Parton (as in Dolly Parton) could be pronounced exactly the same way... How would you feel if someone (like myself) said [bɪʔn̩] for bidden? Would you feel it is categorically wrong, or accept it as a kind of variant? What do you think of the pronunciation of bidden on Forvo? I cannot hear a flap/tap --- do you? – Yasuro Jun 27 '19 at 5:31
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    @Yasuro [bɪʔn̩] for bidden, or [pɑɹʔn̩] for pardon, would be understood but not acceptable in General American. As Draconis says, the /d/ is never glottalized in those environments. – Mark Beadles Jun 27 '19 at 13:05
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    @MarkBeadles Thank you for your input! :) – Yasuro Jun 27 '19 at 14:22
  • @Draconis, In old English n and ŋ were allophones of the same phoneme. I know that n → [ŋ]/ _____ k,g. Is there a way to write this rule using features? – User384789 Feb 19 at 19:24
  • @User384789 This doesn't seem to have any relation to the question or answer here; I'd suggest asking it as a new question instead. – Draconis Feb 19 at 19:37
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To answer your additional question, it is when /ən/ is realized as [ən] as opposed to [n̩] that /d/ in bidden etc. can be flapped (i.e. realized as [ɾ]). Which isn't common as far as North American English is concerned but it does happen. [d̚n̩] is certainly the predominant pronunciation of /Vdən/ words.

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  • Thanks. I feel vindicated. :) So let me ask you this --- how confident do you feel about differentiating [bɪʔn̩] and [bɪd̚n̩]? – Yasuro Jun 27 '19 at 15:29
  • You mean in perception? Probably not much, so pronouncing postvocalic /dən/ as [ʔn̩] isn't likely to cause confusion or come off particularly as non-native. – Nardog Jun 27 '19 at 15:34
  • Wait, I am a little confused. Also, I should have phrased my question better. My apologies. I wanted to know if you can tell them apart when someone says [bɪʔn̩] or [bɪd̚n̩] to you. I want to know this because Marianne Celce-Murcia, et. al., essentially states it is trivially easy and I do not agree with that assertion. – Yasuro Jun 27 '19 at 15:47
  • That is how I interpreted your question, so the answer stands. So I don't agree with Celce-Murcia et al. either. When /ən/ is realized as [ən] rather than [n̩], which is increasingly common in British English, the difference is indeed quite clear: Listen, for example, to the samples of bitten and hidden by Oxford. – Nardog Jun 27 '19 at 16:06
  • On Lexico, they pronounce bitten and hidden with [ən], but kitten and bidden with [n̩]. Don't you find the latter pair harder to distinguish? – Nardog Jun 27 '19 at 16:09

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