At the running club these days I can, alas, do no more than jog a mile or two if neither my arrhythmic heart nor my arthritic hip are playing up. But it’s still a great place to socialize with friends old and new.
One of our coaches is something of a linguistic paradox: a highly educated man, with a degree from one of our oldest universities, established in his chosen profession. But he retains a strong working-class south London accent. As he was giving out the announcements recently, he told us in connection with some forthcoming event that further ˈdɪiʔɛ̈oz were available on the club website.
This pronunciation of details exemplifies, inter alia, intervocalic t-glottalling and l-vocalization, stigmatized features that one would not usually hear from someone with his educational background. Naturally he also has the usual British word-initial stress for this lexical item. (Compare AmE: in Yuko Shitara’s poll, 75% of Americans voted for final stress in detail.)
This set me musing about similarities and differences between the two major sound changes now vying for supremacy in the world of English non-initial t, namely voicing and glottalling. I am thinking above all of cases such as butter and a lot of, where AmE normally has a voiced tap ɾ and BrE may have any of t, ɾ, ʔ.
It is clear that an American-style voiced tap is by no means uncommon in Britain, particularly in high-frequency items such as a lot of. Conversely, a British-style glottal stop seems to be not unknown in north America.
But the two rival developments affecting t do not operate in identical environments. Yes, their environments overlap, as in the cases quoted. But t-voicing is blocked by a non-vowel right-hand environment (as in the two plosives in that’s right!), an environment in which glottalling is clearly more frequent than prevocalically. ˈðæʔs ˈraɪʔ
Furthermore, t-voicing is blocked (somewhat mysteriously, from my point of view) if the following vowel is unreduced and there is no word boundary. You get it in later ˈleɪɾə(r) and my late uncle maɪ ˈleɪɾ ˈʌŋkl̩, but not in latex ˈleɪteks.
For Americans, then, there is no chance of voicing the t in detail. For those who stress the second syllable, the t is like a word-initial t, always voiceless. For the 25% of Americans who prefer initial stress the same constraint as in latex comes into play, and again there is no chance of voicing the t. But for Brits who revel in glottalling — like our running coach — this is just one more candidate item for a glorious glottal stop.