[str] ‘str’ as in ‘string’

In recent month, I’ve got a couple emails from a couple people saying they hear a weird thing happening when they hear native speakers speak. They hear the TR sound sometimes sounding like the CHR sound. For example: try. Tt-ry. They say they might be hearing ch-ry, chry. Try, chry. Same with the DR consonant cluster. D-rive, drive, they might hear jj-rive, jrive. Drive, jrive. I hear this a lot myself, and I’m certain that I do myself sometimes too. To understand why these consonant blends or clusters sometimes sound that way, we need to look at some photos of the sounds.

Here we see the T/D mouth position on the left and the ch/jj mouth position on the right. You can see they have a similar tongue position, with the forward part of the tongue raised, touching the roof of the mouth just behind the front teeth. In the T/D sound, the lips are relaxed, and in the ch/jj, sound, the lips have some tension, the come away from the face, they round somewhat. Here we see the R sound on the left and the ch/jj sound on the right. You can see the tongue position is different. In the R, the tongue does not raise all the way to the roof. It presses against the insides of the top teeth and the tip of the tongue is pulled back. But in the R sound, the lips also have a bit of tension: they are not relaxed. They are rounded somewhat, and therefore, come away from the face.

Here are all three sounds. You could say, if you take the lip position of the R, somewhat rounded, and the tongue position of the T/D, where the front raises and touches the front of the roof of the mouth, then you get the tongue position, the mouth position, for the ch/jj sound. Therefore, if the speaker is making the T or D sound followed by the R sound, their lips may start to round for the R as they are making the T/D sound. And if the lips round early, which they may very well do, then the mouth position will be the same for the ch/jj, and that is why the T/D may sound like the ch/jj.

And that’s why you might hear some native speakers making a sound that’s more like jj than dd in the DR consonant blend. Drive, dry, draw. And also, a sound that’s more like ch rather than T in the TR cluster. Try, trial, trip. I do want to note that though these may be the sounds that come out, they are not the sounds that a native speaker has in mind when they’re speaking.

Let’s look at a related question. I recently got an email from someone asking about the STR consonant cluster. She says she sometimes hears the T sounding like a D. Let’s look at why that might be. The sound that comes after the T is R, and that is voiced. T and D take the same mouth position, but D is voiced, and T is unvoiced. So in other words, tt, tt, only air is coming through for the T, whereas dd, dd, same mouth movement, but this time, dd, dd, the vocal cords are making noise. Tt, dd. So, in the consonant cluster STR, what this person is hearing, is the native speaker is beginning the voice, uh, for the R, before he or she has finished the T sound. This would naturally happen as someone was speaking quickly through a phrase. String, string, I’m thinking about a T there. Sdring, sdring, there I’m thinking about a D. They really sound the same. So this is why you may hear a D sound in the STR consonant cluster. String, tt, string, sdring, dd, sdring. That’s it, and thanks so much for using Rachel’s English.

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