Kitties and Kiddies

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This is a nice illustration of the phenomenon I talked about in a previous post.


  1. sollersuk said,

    July 1, 2008 @ 2:35 pm

    Now, that's a mistake that could never be made in the UK; "t" is always unvoiced and slightly aspirated whereas "d" is always voiced and never aspirated. Except, of course, for those dialects where internal "t" becomes a glottal stop – which "d" never does!

  2. Mark Reed said,

    July 1, 2008 @ 3:10 pm

    Isn't said phenomenon purely American, though? Seems like the rest of Anglophonia would pronounce those pairs of words distinctly, with the tap in "kiddie"/"meddle" and a glottal stop in "kitty"/"mettle"/"metal"…

  3. Sridhar said,

    July 1, 2008 @ 3:24 pm

    I thought Canadians, Australians, and New Zealanders all also had intervocalic alveolar flapping, no?

  4. Neil Dolinger said,

    July 1, 2008 @ 4:16 pm

    "Isn't said phenomenon purely American, though? Seems like the rest of Anglophonia would pronounce those pairs of words distinctly, with the tap in "kiddie"/"meddle" and a glottal stop in "kitty"/"mettle"/"metal"…"

    I believe that in both the UK and US there are regional variations that produce the glottal stop, as well as aspirated and unaspirated 't' in the middle of 'kitty', 'mettle', etc.

    As for 'kiddie', although I have never heard any English speaker pronounce that consonant as anything but 'd' in speech, I think I remember hearing a song on the radio (Peter Gabriel or Mark Knopfler) in which a 'd' in the middle of a word was pronounced as unvoiced. Not sure if this was a fluke of recording or is an actual regional pronuciation. Has anyone else heard this?

  5. Catanea said,

    July 1, 2008 @ 4:17 pm

    I can only tell you, when I had one, it was a kitty car. I was a kiddie and I used it. [Technically, has no pedals, it's like the Flintstone's car, you "walk" it.] But I just thought it was called that. Years later I "analysed" the term and realized…the name as probably meant to be kiddie. But I took my parents' and grandparents' and sister's pronunciation, and said "kittycar". Witha vague assumption it was small and cute. "Kiddie" was not a word I knew.
    I am speaking of – hm – circa 1955? I was born in 1951.

  6. dveek said,

    July 1, 2008 @ 5:36 pm

    My contribution to the annals of linguistic science (due in no small part to my working with Brits, Aussies, Kiwis, and South Ifricans:)

    In standard American dialect (the largest American dialect group,), it is entirely possible to distinguish between intervocalic dental flaps (which by definition are unvoiced, IIUC) and intervocalic -d-s. If you speak standard American dialect, try this experiment aloud:
    Repeat several times: "butter." Now imagine a word *"budder", maening "someone/somehing who/that buds." Repeat several times: "budder." Now repeat several times aloud: "butter, budder."

    You're welcome.

  7. dveek said,

    July 1, 2008 @ 5:38 pm

    And no, I don't aspirate intervocalic dental flaps. No speaker of standard American dialect does.

  8. dveek said,

    July 1, 2008 @ 5:45 pm

    Oops – in my ranting frenzy I wrote "dental"instead of "alveolar."

  9. Jangari said,

    July 1, 2008 @ 6:42 pm

    Sridhar, I can only speak for Australians, but we have the option of intervocalic alveolar flapping. In my experience most speakers do it, but some never do. It's much more widespread in the US, in my opinion.

    By the way, I flap -t- and -d- all the same. I can't distinguish 'butter' from 'budder' unless I consciously formed plosives. A better example is 'latter' and 'ladder', which are perfect homophones in normal speech for me.

  10. Timothy M said,

    July 1, 2008 @ 7:07 pm

    Ditto on what Jangari said about butter and budder. And alveolar flaps are voiced, by the way. If they were unvoiced, one would have a hard time explaining why British people hear them as D's.

    Similar to the girl in the cartoon, in my head I always imagined that the word "biddy" was spelled "bitty" (or "bittie," actually). Never having occasion to write the word down or see it in print, this went on for a long time, until one day I decided to check for the word in the dictionary, and found that it was actually a D and not a T!

  11. Sridhar said,

    July 1, 2008 @ 10:03 pm

    dveek: I speak a fairly standard variety of American, and I can't appreciate any differences between my pronunciations of "butter" and "budder". What would you have me look for? (And, echoing others, the flap in the middle is voiced.)

    Jangari: Ah, that's interesting about the "optionality" of alveolar flapping. Are there some particular areas of Australia that it might be more associated with than others, or is it class-associated, or some other such thing?

  12. Dannii said,

    July 2, 2008 @ 12:43 pm

    As a middle-class Brisbanenite all these word pairs are very distinct for me.

  13. Ryan Denzer-King said,

    July 2, 2008 @ 1:38 pm

    dveek: Same for me. No appreciable difference. I guess with "budder" my tongue might be hitting a point slightly further back than "butter," but the difference is so slight I'm not even sure if it's real.

    I ran across an interesting example of this same phenomenon recently, when someone spelled "diabetes" as "diabedes."

  14. Widsith said,

    July 2, 2008 @ 3:57 pm

    My girlfriend's (Scottish) sister, Karyn, now lives in North America and, following telephone conversations, regularly receives mail addressed to "Cadon" or "Kadin"…

  15. dveek said,

    July 2, 2008 @ 4:00 pm

    Hi, Timothy M. No, *all* flaps are *not* always voiced – only in some dialects. That was my (rather wordily expressed) point.

  16. dr pepper said,

    July 2, 2008 @ 6:11 pm

    I find that whether i pronounce the t in "kiity" as "t" or "d" depends on the speed and intensity. In "here kittty kitty kitty!" it usually comes out more like a "d", whereas in "kitty, get down from there!" it has a definite "t" sound.

  17. Robert said,

    July 3, 2008 @ 2:43 am

    Some persistent respellings I tend to see associated flapping are:
    – Congradulations
    – Retarted

    Being a BrE speaker, I did not recognise what word retarted was supposed to represent when I first saw it.

  18. Timothy M said,

    July 3, 2008 @ 3:28 am

    To Robert:

    On "congradulations" – So are you saying that British English speakers aren't prone to misspell this word, as Americans are?

    On "retarted" – Did you know that this one is not just a misspelling? People also pronounce the word "retart" with a [t] (usually an unreleased one). I would assume it's a backformation from "retarded" – if people thought the first D in the word was actually a T, then of course the noun form would be "retart." This example is interesting for me, because for as long as I can remember, I've known that there were two D's in the word, as opposed to two T's. However, since elementary school I've also heard children calling each other "retart," and even though I knew that's not really how the word is said, I never questioned it. I guess I just accepted it as another – usually pejorative – way of saying "retard."

    As an aside, the "retart" pronunciation is also related to another expression, the "tart cart." The tart cart is a pejorative term for the short school bus, and it basically means that only retards ride in the short bus. I don't know where the expression came from, but it probably wouldn't have arisen if we didn't have a version of "retard" that rhymed with "cart."

  19. dveek said,

    July 3, 2008 @ 3:29 am

    Hi, Widsith. Once I met this nice British woman whom I persisted in addressing as "Motty" which she always reacted to with what I thought at the time was a very strange expression – but she was too polite to point out my error and general ignorance. Later I figured out her name was "Marty", of course.

    Then a few years later I met another nice (but American, Latina) woman named "Mari" as in "Marisol." She was a native AmEng speaker, like me from California, but insisted (nicely) on having the "r" in her nickname flapped. So it ended up sounding like the other "Marty." Asi es la vida…

  20. Neil Dolinger said,

    July 5, 2008 @ 1:38 pm

    Ryan Denzer-King said,
    July 2, 2008 @ 1:38 pm

    dveek: Same for me. No appreciable difference. I guess with "budder" my tongue might be hitting a point slightly further back than "butter," but the difference is so slight I'm not even sure if it's real.

    I (Philadelphia AmE speaker) think the difference is real, but acknowledge that it would be difficult for most people to hear. I wonder whether it is possible in IPA to differentiate alveolar flaps produced by the tip of the tongue from those produced by a point further back on the tongue — and then specify where that mid-tongue point is located.

  21. [ni:v] said,

    March 28, 2009 @ 8:41 pm

    I've also come across the difference between speakers of British or Irish English and American English: recently I had a number of American friends send me "Happy St. Patty's Day" messages… at first I thought it was a joke, since in Ireland it's St. Paddy's Day, and Patty is considered a woman's name. I soon realised this was an misinterpretation of the sound due to the same pronunciation of Paddy and Patty in American English.

  22. Valérie said,

    May 28, 2009 @ 9:11 am

    It seems like many of the examples are in one direction, but this could also be reversed by adults who know the spelling of a word and might be unlikely to make up a new one. For instance, I recall editing a paper by a 20-something-year-old male who was in college and who used "ladder" for "latter" (it was something like "in the ladder case…" and didn't refer to stepstools).

  23. Gobbie said,

    July 6, 2009 @ 9:24 am

    I'm an Australian, and I always flap my Ts and Ds. Most Australians do. It's weird, though, cos the Australian accent came from the UK (especially Cockney), and these guys mostly glottalize their Ts, while Australians don't.

    Kiddie and kittie are homophones for me. Even latter and ladder, title / tidal, traitor/trader, writing/riding, etc.

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