Flapping /t/ in Australia. A Development Prognosis in General Australian English

Seminar Paper, 2015

20 Pages, Grade: 1,7


Table of contents

1. Introduction

2. Theoretical framework
2.1. The flapping /t/
2.2. The flapping /t/ in Australia
2.2.1. Emergence
2.2.2. Current situation

3. Methodology

4. Data analysis
4.1. The ideal candidates
4.2. Presentation of the results
4.3. Observations
4.4. Prognosis

5. Conclusion



1. Introduction

Australian English (AusE), as it is today, is an English accent that counts with own and also shared features when compared to other variants of English. One of the phenomena that can be encountered in AusE is the realization of a flapped or tapped /t/ allophone (Honeybone 3), a tap alveolar, which is a quality that can easily be perceived when hearing Australians speak. After thoroughly revising English linguistic books though, it is remarkable that few authors appoint this phonetical process to also being part of AusE, but rather of American or Irish English nature among others; some do actually talk about this phenomenon as being also present in English spoken in the southern hemisphere, but they usually don’t specify in which territories, which does not help the reader to find enough information about this specific subject when needed. Furthermore, Some AusE linguists seem to ignore this phenomenon when writing their research papers. Opportunely, there are a few authors who do correlate this as also being an AusE feature. This being said, their investigation will be taken as a starting point for further research on this subject. This paper will study the flapping /t/ as it is today and its possible evolution in the nearer future in General Australian English.

General AusE is one of the three variations that exist in the dialect, and it is of a higher level of interest to study only this variation due to “some evidence [that] suggests that it is the most rapidly expanding category at the present time” (qtd. in Cox 4) and also, like Harrington, Cox and Evans show in their table, most Australian talkers speak General AusE (159). By saying this, it is elementary to understand that the two other variations, namely Broad and Cultivated AusE, will not be taken account of in this research, except when generally talking about AusE.

The study to follow will target to get enough information about the flapping /t/ in AusE, trying to focus as much as possible in General AusE, by pointing out what it is, how it emerged and what is the current status of the phenomenon, in order to later on be able to compare these pieces of information with an own research on the ongoing situation based on recordings, which will then lead us to answer to the main question of this paper: What possible development can we expect from the flapping /t/ phenomenon in Australia?

2. Theoretical framework

2.1. The flapping /t/

When researching the flapping /t/, one comes to the conclusion that linguists write about is as being one of the many phenomena and one of the many realizations of the /t/ allophone that can be found in the English language. It is also something that can be found in many different languages, such as in Spanish or in Italian (Recasens 21).

The flapping /t/ is defined in many ways by different authors. Finegan convinces with his compact but precise definition for tap; it goes as follows:

A *manner of articulation produced by quickly flapping the tip of the tongue against some *place of articulation of the upper surface of the vocal tract, commonly *alveolar ridge, as for <t> in the American English pronunciation of metal [mɛɾəl]; also called a tap (sic). (535)

As the definition also implies, this linguistic occurrence happens as well in other territories where the English language is spoken, such as in the North American GA pronunciation.

It is important to add that the sound created when flapping a <t>, [ɾ], is not only something to be found as a realization of the /t/ allophone, but also as a realization of /r/ in other English varieties (Ogden 115).

Of major interest is the fact that the country where the English language was imported from to Australia, the United Kingdom, and its main pronunciation, the Received Pronunciation (RP), does not make use of the flapping /t/ (Fuster and Sánchez 21), which leads to question how it is possible that the phenomenon emerged in Australia. The next section will deal with this question and how it is in fact realized in AusE, what are the rules for its use in order to have a better overview in this matter.

2.2. The flapping /t/ in Australia

2.2.1. Emergence

No specific reason for the birth of the flapping /t/ in Australia can be found in earlier research, though some facts about AusE history enables to find a feasible explanation for its existence.

In the first place, Australia’s population has developed from a long history of immigration from different countries around the world. Could it be that this linguistic process was firstly imported with the arrival of some immigrants whose language or accent already employed a flapping /t/? Perhaps the first convicts from the British Isles, and particularly from Ireland, already brought it with them from the very beginning, because, for example, the alveolar tap is a common linguistic process in Irish English (Ó Baoill 84).

Another explanation could be that some Aboriginal languages included a [ɾ] sound, and that with the time, this peculiarity was transferred into AusE. There is evidence that, indeed, some Aboriginal Australian languages do and did make use of the sound, as described by Blevins on her study about the Nhanda language (11).

Also, what could also be a reason for the emergence of the phenomenon is the cultural, language and political exchange that Australia enjoys with other English speaking countries, more specifically with the United States of America, which in its accent, as cited in 2.1., makes use of a flapping /t/.

In the twenty-first century, Australian English is as much influenced by American English as by British English, perhaps more so. That is partly a reflection of the role that American English has had as the language of a world superpower since 1945, and partly reflection of the fact that British Empire policy during the Second World War made Australia realize it needed to look to the United Stated, not to the United Kingdom, for military and political support. (Lucas and Mulvey 114)

A last possible explanation is that Australians developed this phenomenon by themselves, without it necessarily having had an external reason of existence. These four exposed hypotheses for the dawn of the tap alveolar in AusE could all be complementary to each other but they could also be individual justifications.

2.2.2. Current situation

In linguistics, Australian English makes use of different realizations of the consonant /t/, which are: the perhaps most common realization, a “plosive [t]”, but also “voiced taps [ɾ], fricatives [ts], and glottalised variants (traditionally transcribed as [ʔ], [ʔt] and [tʔ] . . .)” (Tollfree 47).

When dealing with this subject it is essential to understand when to expect the phenomenon to take place. Some English accents make use of the flapping /t/ in occurrences in which AusE wouldn’t; particularities of the distinctions that exist in this aspect are for example instances in which a dialect is rhotic, which is not the case of AusE. Therefore it is essential to become aware of the rules for the Australian case. Burridge and Kortmann unfold that both New Zealand and Australia follow the same rules when it comes to making use of the flapping /t/. They explain:

Widely used by Australians and New Zealanders is a flap or tap [ɾ] variant of /t/ in intervocalic final positions (as in get it and sort of) and medial positions (as in better and beauty). This variant also occurs commonly preceding syllabic laterals and nasals (as in bottle and button). (296)

Unfortunately, this and other available rules for its use don’t discriminate between the three variations encountrered within AusE when talking about this feature. Since “one of the most noteworthy features of Australian English today is the lack of variation across such a vast country” (Lucas and Mulvey 112), the realization of the allophone /t/ as a [ɾ] sound is going to be the same no matter where in Australia. There is no need to make a geographical differentiation between the speakers whether they are in Queensland or in Western Australia.

3. Methodology

In order to be able to know how the flapping /t/ phenomenon might develop in the nearer future in General Australian English, it is vital to collect enough relevant information about the current use of it - how often it is applied in speech. This paper will therefore treat with and analyze different online video recordings in which General Australian English is spoken, and it will thereafter study how often a flapped /t/ was used instead of the common voiceless alveolar stop [t] or other realizations.

Not every Australian English speaker satisfies the appropriate conditions for the investigation; the reasearch focuses only in General Australian English, which means that those who speak another variation cannot be analyzed. Moreover, only individuals whose mother tongue is Australian English will be studied in view of the fact that external factors, such as language transfer, could interfere with the results.

For this research to be successful, it is also necessary to make a differentiation between the ages of the speakers; it is important because it is the only mean of knowing how it has specifically developed in this one variation throughout generations. By discovering that there is indeed a difference in the quantity of usage in different age groups, it is possible to identify a trend in the evolution of the phonetical process in this particular variation and to develop an own feasible prognosis for the future.

The speeches to be scrutinized will be of at least 350 words per speaker. They will be transcribed, and all cases in which a flapping /t/ can occur, as cited in 2.2.2., will be marked, putting special attention and marking differently those that are actually realized like a flapping /t/, an [ɾ] sound. The percentage of these sounds will then be calculated as per how often it was pronounced per person contrasting it to all the other realizations that were chosen. Afterwards, a total average will be given to each age group and will thereafter be compared in order to conclude with an evolution trend of the phenomenon throughout the years.


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Flapping /t/ in Australia. A Development Prognosis in General Australian English
University of Bamberg
Australian English
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flapping, australia, development, prognosis, general, australian, english
Quote paper
Benjamín Dueñas (Author), 2015, Flapping /t/ in Australia. A Development Prognosis in General Australian English, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/312130


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