Is the alveolar tap executed with the same tongue movement as in the alveolar plosive except that in the case of the alveolar tap, the tongue tip strikes and moves away from the alveolar ridge so quickly that only brief contact is made and the airstream is completely obstructed for only a split second? That is, will a voiced alveolar tap always result when the tongue movements for a voiced alveolar plosive is performed quite quickly?

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The articulatory distinction between plosives and taps/flaps is that in plosives, the articulator (the tongue or lips) is held against the place of articulation for some time; pressure builds, and is finally released. This isn't the case for taps and flaps: the articulator just quickly touches the place of articulation.

You can actually see the difference quite clearly acoustically. Here's the Dutch word bidden, which has a voiced alveolar plosive, using the sound file on Wiktionary:


I've labelled the hold period and the release period separately; they're very distinct.

The Spanish word pero (Wiktionary) has a voiced alveolar flap:


There's clearly no hold and release there: it's just a single action. (There's a hold and release on the [p], but because it's voiceless at the start of a word only the release is really visible.)

No matter how quickly you want to execute your plosive, the hold-and-release pattern is prototypically there; taps and flaps are fundamentally a different manner of articulation.

(I used Dutch and Spanish as examples only because I couldn't immediately find sound files for English that were clean enough to illustrate the point; you'd see the same thing there. I made the visualisations in Praat.)

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