Thursday, June 22, 2006

The disappearance of the 20th letter of the alphabet from our speech

The 20th letter of our alphabet is the letter ‘T’, and it is constantly under threat of extinction – from the middle of words. When it comes at the beginnings of words, it is as safe as the Houses of Parliament.

It has long been under threat in the USA where it is regularly and unconsciously changed to a ‘d’ sound or omitted altogether.

Listen to a Texan say the name Peter and you will see what I mean. I once met an American lady who introduced herself to me as “Paddy”. I discovered later that her name was Patty.

The poor letter T – its sound anyway – can disappear in words like ‘mountain’ – making it difficult to know how to spell if it’s the first time you’ve heard the word spoken by an American.

But it’s not just Americans that threaten T’s existence; Brits do it too. I recently watched a bunch of young lads playing cricket. One lad asked how many he’d scored, and got the answer, “Twehy!” -20!

The well spoken from these shores have long done away with the ‘T’ sound in words like ‘car’ and names like Carnforth, and now the not so well spoken are doing it to the T too.

Where does this come from; this propensity to discard the T, and why? The answer to the last part of the question is probably that making the T sound in the middle of a word like ‘mountain’ stops the flow of the word – it takes a deft movement of the tip of your tongue to touch the back of your teeth to form the sound – air movement has to be restricted.

The word ‘ twehy’ is more or less said openly, apart from that first T. Without the second T it becomes a combination of vowels and glides and thus easier to utter. We remove the second T for ease, as some do when they substitute ‘were’ for ‘was’ in phrases like, “I were goin’ home last night when…”

Notice too the final ‘G’ drops off the present continuous for similar reasons; we are lazy when we speak.

Why does this omission happen all over the country; why isn’t it regional? The answer probably lies with the inhabitants of Albert Square – because its heard on TV in shows like Eastenders. Children copy from TV – I did it, and youngsters are still doing it, and they copy each other in the schoolyard.
Robert L. Fielding


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