EFL teachers in Argentina are assiduous in covering every imaginable detail of English (RP-style) pronunciation, and rightly hold me to task if anything in LPD is not entirely clear. Veronica Varela wrote
Would you be so kind to explain to me very briefly why is it that in the dictionary an optional t is [found after] n? Or perhaps you can tell me where I can read this from. For example:
against ə ˈɡentst ə ˈɡeɪntst
I replied, briefly,
This is a feature of some people's pronunciation that we call Plosive Epenthesis. There is a discussion in my blog for 27 Jan 2009.
It applies whenever a nasal is followed by a voiceless fricative within
the same syllable (as I analyse syllables).
This phenomenon is not well described in standard textbooks or English phonetics. This may be because in Daniel Jones’s day it was less characteristic of RP than it is now, or perhaps because it was felt to be inappropriate for EFL. If you look up mince in Jones-Gimson-Ramsaran editions of EPD you will find it transcribed only with -ns. If you fossick around in the Explanations at the beginning of the book, however, you will find, under ‘Other variants of sound-distribution occurring in RP but not as a rule noted in this Dictionary’,
(2) Insertion of a « t » between « n » and « s », or of « d » between « n » and « z », e.g. « fents » for « fens » (fence), « ˈfrendzi » for « ˈfrenzi » (frenzy).It is not until Roach took over as editor that we find -nts explicitly in entries in the body of the book.
Kenyon & Knott, too, in their Pronouncing Dictionary of American English (1944) mention epenthesis only in their Introduction, under Addition or Omission of Consonants (p. xliv).
In present-day pronunciation, it seems to me, most Americans and plenty of English people (including some RP speakers) pronounce mince as mɪnts rather than mɪns. (There may also be glottal reinforcement or replacement: mɪnʔts, mɪnʔs.)
Presumably this necessarily makes mince a homophone of mints, giving rise to all those jokes about ‘one day my prints will come’.
Cruttenden goes so far as to say (Gimson’s Pron., p. 199)
Few RP speakers regularly maintain the distinction between /ns/ and /nts/ which is widespread in regional speech, e.g. distinguishing the final clusters in mince—mints, tense—tents, assistance—assistants, dance—plants, /nts/ tending to be used in all cases.
In the blog posting I referred to, Mariano Mazzeo (also in Argentina) commented
[When I] have to explain Epenthesis. I usually resort to my own home-made explanation: “When a nasal sound is followed by a voiceless fricative, a voiceless plosive which is homorganic to the nasal may be included between them.” Then I point out a few exceptions, comment briefly on the possibility of epenthesis before a voiced sound and that’s about it.
Mariano was correct to make the generalization that plosive epenthesis happens (for those who use it) when ANY nasal is followed by ANY voiceless fricative, though only in certain syllabification environments. In my 2009 posting I mentioned fen(t)s, ˈkɒn(t)ʃən(t)s, ˈhʌm(p)fri, ˈgæŋ(k)stə (fence, conscience, Humphrey, gangster). So the nasal can be labial or velar as well as alveolar; the fricative can be any of f θ s ʃ.
In the examples just given the nasal+fricative sequence (or cluster) is always word-final or followed in the next syllable by a weak vowel: that is, these are cases where, in my syllabification analysis (which I know some people disagree with), the nasal+fricative cluster is syllable-final.
In LPD I do not allow for epenthesis in words where (in my analysis) there is a syllable boundary between the nasal and the fricative, e.g. ˌɪnˈsaɪd, kənˈsɪdə (inside, consider): I took the view that this absolutely blocks epenthesis.
Interestingly, epenthesis DOES occur in cases such as warmth wɔːm(p)θ and Benson ˈben(t)sn̩, despite the presence of a morpheme boundary between the nasal and the fricative.
To my surprise I find that Cruttenden, in the current seventh edition of Gimson’s Pronunciation of English, says (p. 199, fn 50)
Similar epenthesis may occasionally take place [in other cases] e.g. confusion /kəmp`fjuːʒn/, convert /kəmb`vɜːt/ (=[kəɱb`vɜːt]), anthem /`æntθəm/ (=[`ænt̪θəm]), mansion /`mæntʃən/.
The last two examples are fine, but I don’t believe epenthesis is a regular (or even an occasional) possibility in the first two. It seems to me that the undoubted syllable boundary between the nasal and the fricative in confusion blocks (or at least strongly disfavours) epenthesis there, just as in inside or beanstalk. This applies a fortiori in the case of convert, where the fricative is not even voiceless.