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There are two different pronunciations recorded for the "th" sound in the English word "with" in most dictionaries (Webster, OED). I was wondering if one or the other is preferred in certain phonological contexts (e.g. voiced "th" as in "that" before voiced consonants or vowels).

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  • An unvoiced sound (particularly an unvoiced stop) following with increases the likelihood of the voiceless variant, whereas a voiced sound (particularly a vowel, I’d say) increases the likelihood of the voiced variant. But neither is absolute in any way, and while I think it would be fairly uncommon to hear ‘with people’ pronounced with [ð], I’m sure it occurs; ‘with it’ with [θ] doesn’t even strike me as unusual. There’s one that I would say is pretty ubiquitous, though: before /ð/, always the voiced variant: ‘with this/that/etc.’ [wɪð'ðɪs…] (but ‘with ’em’ possibly ['wɪθəm]). Jun 28, 2023 at 12:32
  • Thank you. "neither is absolute in any way". Then it is safe to assume it can be labeled "idiolectal variation", with both variants being equally acceptable and in use, notwithstanding the general tendency to assimilate to the following sound( or feature).
    – komeyl
    Jun 29, 2023 at 11:33
  • Yes, absolutely – apart from cases like with this where it would actually sound strange to use [θ], you can use either variant in any situation with no risk of anyone finding it odd. I’m not sure it’s even idiolectal: even within a single speaker, you’ll find much variation. Jun 29, 2023 at 11:37
  • As far as I know, the voiced and unvoiced dental fricatives are distinct English phonemes. Witness "thy" vs. "thigh," "either" vs. "ether," and "loath" vs. "loathe." Jun 30, 2023 at 2:07
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    @JamesGrossmann They are distinct phonemes, but in the word with, they are in more or less free variation. Jul 7, 2023 at 14:13

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I generally produce ð in all contexts (even pre-pausal), but I have heard people uttering pre-pausal θ. You could approach the question from an individual phonological perspective, but once you start talking about probabilities, you're really in the realm of socio-phonetics. I don't see any reason to assume that all English speakers have the same representation of the word. As far as I know, there is no general phonological tendency to assimilate voicing of final /θ/ or /ð/ to what follows in dialects of English, though there are always problems detecting vocal fold vibration in fricatives in speech. If there is contextual variation for some speakers, it is more along the lines of phrasal allomorphy of the type "a ~ an" or "ði ~ ðə".

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  • Was the first or the second ð supposed to be a θ (I’m guessing the second one)? Jun 28, 2023 at 14:06

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