Maybe I’ve just not been keeping my eyes open, but I can’t recall reading any surveys of the prevalence or otherwise of what I would like to call nt-reduction.By this I mean the loss of t from the cluster nt in intervocalic contexts. This makes winter a possible homophone of winner,
painting a possible rhyme of straining and dental a potential rhyme of kennel. As far as I know this is not found in any kind of British speech, and we think of it as an American or Australian characteristic.
The possible AmE pronunciation of continental as ˌkɑ̃ːʔn̩ˈẽnl̩ is quite strikingly different from the BrE ˌkɒntɪˈnentl̩.
Several qualifications are needed.
• In the kind of AmE I am referring to, winter may possibly have a nasalized tap, thus ˈwɪɾ̃ɚ, rather than the more deliberate plain nasal of winner ˈwɪnɚ. Trager and Smith (1951) refer to this as a ‘flap-release short nasal’, how accurately I am not sure. In any case, a distinction based solely on ɾ̃ vs. n cannot be very robust. I suspect that in reality for many Americans (and Australians) winter and winner can be, and often are, pronounced identically.
• I have the impression that the incidence of nt-reduction is subject to regional variation in the US. It seems more prevalent in the south and west, less so in the north-east. Is this so? Do Canadians ever do it? It is also probably subject to stylistic variation, with unreduced nt more careful and the reduced variant more casual. Has anyone ever investigated its sociolinguistic characteristics?
• The environments in which nt-reduction operates seem to be the same as those for t-voicing. In particular, it does not happen in the environment of a following stressed vowel, as in intend, contain, nor of a following unstressed but strong vowel as in intake; nor does it apply to ntr clusters, as in country. The t can be lost in centre/center but not in central.
• Some words may be special cases, In particular, I have the impression that ninety in AmE is often ˈnaɪndi rather than the expected ˈnaɪnti or ˈnaɪni. Does the same apply to seventy? Are there other exceptional cases?
• Special cases of a different kind are the handful of words in which a similar reduction is found in BrE, namely in London and some other kinds of popular English. For Brits who do this, the t can be lost from twenty and plenty, and from prevocalic went and want (as in went out, wanted), but not from words such as winter or painting.
This posting was triggered by my hearing an Australian golf commentator on TV referring to ðə ˌsevn̩ˈiːnθ the seventeenth (hole). This violates the constraint barring nt-reduction before a stressed vowel, and I suspect would not be possible in AmE.
Furthermore, I wonder whether Australian English has taken nt-reduction direct from AmE, rather than via some British source? And if so, is it the first instance of such a sound change?