I've been having trouble articulating this question, so I'm sorry if it's poorly worded.

I'm a teenage English speaker from Chicago. I've recently noticed a seemingly odd allophonic possibility in English which I have never seen discussed before anywhere on the internet. I would like to know whether my observation is bogus or not and, if it's not, why this phenomenon might occur.

On another Stack Exchange question about t-flapping, and the discussion came to -tive words. One person noted that they might use a full plosive [t] for the final /t/ of "experimentative," despite speaking a dialect with regular t-flapping. I said the word to myself to consider my own realization and found something seemingly unexplainable: not a plosive, but a lateral [l] sound gobbling up the "at" portion of the word. Not long later, I heard someone from the Pacific Northwest pronounce the word "competitors" with the "tit" being realized very much like a trilled [r] with two cycles. Again, I realized that I wouldn't expect myself to use this variation, but might instead replace the "it" with a [l].

I've come to classify this variation as something that might occur when a word has an underlying /t/-vowel-/t/ or /t/-vowel-/d/ pattern in an unstressed syllable, especially when one of the /t/s is otherwise likely to be tapped. I can imagine it happening at the ends of words like "completed" or (even more so) "complicated," as well as in the middle of words like the ones I noted in the previous paragraph. The best simple transcription of this variation might be something like [ɾl̩]. The lateral segment is quite light - not at all velarized like many American /l/s. I think it also involves lips that are more spread than rounded.

The slower a word is articulated, the odder this variation sounds, and the more I become content to think that I've made it up. However, when saying the word "competitors" quickly, I find it hard not to produce a series of phones which seems, at least to me, to clearly involve a lateral approximant.

Is this a real thing in English? How can this lateral epenthesis/allophony be explained, and why does it occur?

  • 1
    I’m not sure I fully understand which segment exactly it is you identify as lateral. Are you saying that you might pronounce competitor identically to compeddler or competaller (if those were words)? Or would it be like compeddled her or competalled her? Commented Mar 13, 2023 at 0:01
  • 1
    It would be better if you could give a link to an example that you've seen online, if there is one. Even a recording of yourself. I suspect you are talking about vowel reduction between flaps, but there's no lateral involved.
    – user6726
    Commented Mar 13, 2023 at 0:26
  • 1
    @JanusBahsJacquet [kʰə̃mˈpʰɛ̠ɾl̩ɹ̩̈] is the best I can do, but even that doesn’t feel quite tight. It’s not quite like compeddler because it lacks velarization and has spread lips, but it’s closer to that than your second possibility.
    – Graham H.
    Commented Mar 13, 2023 at 1:27


Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.