if twenty=twenny why isn't ninety=niny

sherry   Thursday, December 02, 2004, 14:34 GMT
trying to figure out a rule after a student questioned me. I know in American english when a /n/ preceeds a /t/ often the /t/ becomes silent I.e. center=cenner, enter=enner, twenty=twenny
But can someone explain to me in the word 'ninety' the /n/ preceeds the /t/ but we don't say niney????
Jacob   Thursday, December 02, 2004, 16:45 GMT
People who say "twenny" are also likely to say "niney." Especially when speaking rapidly. I can't count how many times I've heard "Windows niney-five" in casual conversation.
Tiffany   Thursday, December 02, 2004, 17:04 GMT
It's true, I agree with Jacob that the "t" seems to disappear in ninety.

More often for me, it's not "niney" it's "nIndee" or in other words become a flap T sound, more like a D. I'd say this was true of other words with -ty at the end like "party" which I pronounce "pardee".

I in nIndee = long i. Wasn't sure how to represent that.
mjd   Thursday, December 02, 2004, 21:16 GMT
Yeah, I agree with Tiffany. It certainly doesn't disappear, but it takes on a flap T sound.
Damian   Thursday, December 02, 2004, 22:35 GMT
At uni the American students I met (not many) invariably dropped their "Ts". I clearly remember one of the girls coming up to another guy and myself chatting together and she said "Sorry if I'm inner-rupding you". Sounded like she was doing something really painful to our insides.
Brennus   Thursday, December 02, 2004, 23:37 GMT

All of your comments sound plausible to me. Theoretically, people who say twenny should say niney just as Jacob said since it's the same phoneme. MJD 's comment about a flapp t appearing in these words probably holds true most of the time. But flap consonants are so faint and inaudible you often don't realize they exist in your speech (or language) until you see them published in a linguistic text or journal in the International Phonetic Script (IPA).

This is true of asperated words like 'atom', 'cucumber' and 'disco' where there is actually a small puff of air after the t in at(h)om and the c in c(h)uc(h)umber and disc(h)o. Linguists always write this small puff of air as a tiny h after the preceding consonant. However, I've never noticed this while speaking and I still don't think I would recognize an aspirated sound in English everytime I heard one.

It sounds like Damian is from Scotland (correct me if I'm wrong). This makes a difference because there is some scientific evidence that people in Britian (English or Scotts) and Americans actually hear differently and this influences the way in which they pronounce English words. So to Damaian "interupting you" might actually sound like "inner-rupding you" even though American speakers are not aware of it. Standard British English for this sounds more like (intuh-rupp-t'ing yew ) to my ears though a Britisher might not recognize it in the least. Then there is "sorry' which Britishers and Americans always pronounce as Sah-ree but Canadians pronounce as Sore-y and the Irish as Suh-ree.

I'm not trying to be a moderator here. These are just some of my impressions.

--- Brennus
Mxsmanic   Friday, December 03, 2004, 06:15 GMT
Americans and English and Scots all hear the same way biologically; they are even of the same ethnic stocks, so there can't be a genetic difference. Any differences in perception are acquired.

Anyway, in rapid running speech I tend to routinely drop the [t] for /t/ in words like ninety, twenty, interrupt, etc. In slightly more careful speech, the /t/ is rendered as a flap. It is rare that I pronounce it as [t]. Virtually all other Americans I've encountered do the same thing, irrespective of their background. Indeed, a clearly pronounced [t] is one of the markers of British pronunciation.

Don't some British speakers put a glottal stop [?] in this position, or am I confusing things?
Mi5 Mick   Friday, December 03, 2004, 07:31 GMT
People "hear" things differently: this is meant in a figurative sense, not literally in relation to biology. How our brains process vibrations from the tympans is a bit too scientific to get into: I don't think Brennus is implying this by the word "hear" where he writes that he hears "sah-ree" for "sorry" in Americans; however the English and Australians pronounce this how it is spelt: "so-rry".

As for ninety and twenty: I think most English speakers (Britons included) pronounce these "niney" and "twenny" in rapid, connected speech, as I and other Australians do. But in careful speech the [t] is pronounced, even among Americans, at least those in my field of work, locally and in the US.
sherry   Friday, December 03, 2004, 14:07 GMT
Thanks guys this was all very helpful. Niney just sounded soooo awkward I didn't realise people actually use it. But its good to know that it does exsist. Things will be easier to explain now :)
Erimir   Friday, December 03, 2004, 19:26 GMT
The first is always the one I'm most likely to say, but I also say the second (esp. in careful speech)

I say /tweni/ or /twenti/ but never /twendi/

I say /nayndi/ or /naynti/ or /nayni/

Just to complete the whole series:
/therdi/ or /therti/
/fordi/ or /forti/
/fIfdi/ or /fifti/
/siksdi/ or /siksti/
/sevendi/ or /seventi/ but never /seveni/
/eydi/ or /eyti/

Of course, there's probably significant variation cross-dialect and on an individual level, but just thought I'd put in my own two cents.

Personally, my advice is to either:
-always pronounce the /t/ or
-always pronounce it as a flap (here represented by /d/) except in the case of "twenty", in which case either pronounce the /t/ or leave it off, but don't replace it with /d/.

You CAN pronounce ninety as /nayni/ but even if you're going for an American accent, I can't see any time when it would be advantageous as compared to /nayndi/, since /nayndi/ would also be accepted as American pronunciation.
Joe   Friday, December 03, 2004, 23:57 GMT
The more common pronunciation in American English of ninety is /nayndi/. It does depend on the person and the region, but I know I never pronounce it with the T.

It's usually very noticable for an American to sharply enunciate everything. There was, for example, this past semester one girl who spoke like a robot, accentuating every single syllable, never slurring anything. It sounds unnatural. She was an American, she just felt she had to speak "properly" I guess.

I think that what is most interesting is while many will drop the T sound in all other words that are properly pronounced as such, they add a T sound to the word "often" saying it as "off-ten" instead of "offen" I say it as "offen."
Tiffany   Saturday, December 04, 2004, 00:46 GMT
Joe, they can't add a "t" if one is already present. We (Americans in other regions) keep the "t" while you drop the "t".
Joe   Sunday, December 05, 2004, 05:31 GMT
I found this excerpt from Dictionary.com interesting:

During the 15th century English experienced a widespread loss of certain consonant sounds within consonant clusters, as the (d) in handsome and handkerchief, the (p) in consumption and raspberry, and the (t) in chestnut and often. In this way the consonant clusters were simplified and made easier to articulate. With the rise of public education and literacy and, consequently, people's awareness of spelling in the 19th century, sounds that had become silent sometimes were restored, as is the case with the t in often, which is now frequently pronounced. In other similar words, such as soften and listen, the t generally remains silent.
mjd   Sunday, December 05, 2004, 19:20 GMT
Here in the U.S. the T in "often" is usually pronounced (although I'm sure there are accents in which it isn't), but in the U.K. it's generally silent.
Joe   Sunday, December 05, 2004, 19:55 GMT
Is pronouncing the ''t'' in ''often'' a Northeastern U.S. thing? In my California accent the ''t'' is silent. ''ahf-en'' [a:f..n].