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BYU professor investigating case of the Missing 'T'

By John Hollenhorst | Posted - Nov. 3, 2009 at 10:22 p.m.



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PROVO -- Help! One of our consonants seems to be missing. A lot of people have noticed the letter "T" disappearing from cer_en words. But is the Utah dialect really getting thicker, or is something else going on?

At the University of Utah's theater department, some students don't need encouragement to drop their "T"s.

"Our younger students have become notorious for saying ‘mow-en' (mountain), ‘Lay-en' (Layton)," says Sarah Shippobotham, associate professor and dialect coach at the University of Utah.

Shippobotham says some need retraining for the stage-standard American accent.

"One of the things we have to work on is getting the ‘T' put back in," she says.

The Missing "T" is starting to get noticed in lots of places, such as the KSL newsroom.

"There's ‘buh-en' (button), ‘rah-en' (rotten), ‘Lay-en' (Layton), ‘mow-en' (mountain). Is it ‘Lay-en' or is it ‘Tremoh-en' (Tremonton)? I can't remember. The list goes on and on," says KSL morning anchor Scott Haws.

"The most memorable one to me is ‘mow-en.' Mountain. It's supposed to be mountain. ‘Mow-en.' I don't get that one," KSL reporter Richard Piatt says.

So, as a true Utahn might say, oh my heck! Whatever is going on here?

Yes, the case of the Missing "T" is under investigation. Linguist David Eddington started recording people to investigate the way people speak their "T"s at the end of words, not in the middle.

Eddington has published two studies showing the changing pronunciation is more common with females, especially those under 40, living in the West. Eddington says the "T" isn't really missing.

"It's being pronounced differently. Instead of being pronounced with the tip of the tongue, it's being pronounced in the throat. So, it's there, but it's not a ‘T' anymore," Eddington explains.

In the specialized world of linguistics, we await further studies on the altered "T" in the middle of words. Another linguist told us she believes it's common throughout the country, has been for many years, and is only now getting noticed. So, if the language is changing, is that good or bad?

"The language is continuously shifting, and people don't like that idea. But they like the fact that we don't speak like Shakespeare any more. But they don't like seeing the change in their own lifetime," Eddington says.

"It's fun, and I think it's great that language develops," Shippobotham says.

She would say that, being from England. Some researchers believe Americans are drifting toward certain British pronunciations.

A University of Utah linguist says she's found the same pronunciation on recordings from the 1980s. Although she believes it's nationwide, she says it seems to be only in Utah and Vermont that it's begun to draw negative commentary.

E-mail: jhollenhorst@ksl.com

John Hollenhorst

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