Learn English – Can a plosive be pronounced without an audible release sound following it


When a plosive is at the beginning of a word, the pronunciation naturally flows into the vowel which follows it. The extra vowel sound following the plosive seems to give the plosive a very obvious end. When the plosive is at the end of a word, I find myself releasing the stop with an extra bit of sound at the end which does not seem to be part of the plosive itself.

Consider "cat" which is generally transcribed as [kæt]. I feel like I pronounce it more like [kætə].

Another example is [med]. I find that I cannot detect the difference between [med] and [men] unless I audibly release the [d] in [med]. (This also begs the question of how to pronounce a word which ends in a nasal followed by a plosive on the same articulation point like [lænd]).

I'm looking for two pieces to the answer:

  1. Is the extra sound an actual feature of the pronunciation of the plosive?
  2. If yes, is this feature unique to English or is it common to all languages with plosives at the end of a word.

Best Answer

This may be a more linguistic than ELL answer, but here goes:

(1) The stops t, p, k, when syllable-final, undergo glottal reinforcement in English. This minor glottal occlusion does not wholly impede the airstream. So, when the stop is released, the remainder of the air is released too. This is reminiscent of an unvoiced schwa, which accounts for what you hear after the t in cat. In terms of IPA transcription, one tends not to write the fine, automatic phonetic detail, and, so, for English, one marks only the preglottalization, as in [kʰæˀt].

(2) Crosslinguistically, the behaviour of syllable-final t, p, k varies. In Kiowa, for instance, as described by JP Harrington, t and p undergo complete glottal closure and are unreleased. In German, they are lightly post-aspirated. There are, however, only a certain number of perceptually distinct things you can do with your articulatory tract. So, my guess is, there'll be other languages that behave as English does.