Posted by Neal on September 30, 2007
Over at Language Log, Arnold Zwicky commented on a recent Zits cartoon regarding some outdated diction from Jeremy. In the relevant panel, Jeremy says:
Somebody would go, “Got your keys?” and I’d be all, “Tuh! Whadda ya think?” and they’d be all, “Dude!” and…
Zwicky focuses on the quotatives be all (which I indeed haven’t heard since the mid-90s) and go (which I haven’t heard since elementary school). Now to some extent, we’d expect Jeremy’s language to be somewhat outdated, since he ages so very slowly. But what I noticed more than the quotatives was something that may be right on the cutting edge: the tuh!.
This is the second time I’ve noticed Jeremy saying “Tuh!”, and the last time was less than a month ago. Why not duh? I think it has to do with the fact that for American and British English speakers, word-initial /d/ is (usually) realized as [t]. (Phonology note: characters in slashes are how the sound is perceived in the relevant language; characters in square brackets are how the sound is actually pronounced.) Not aspirated [tʰ], which is what you get in words that are spelled beginning with a ‘t’, but unaspirated [t]. When English speakers hear a word beginning with an unaspirated [t], they tend to hear it as a /d/. Duh, for example, is typically pronounced as [tʌ], though you’ll also hear [dʌ], especially if it’s preceded by a voiced sound, for example a vowel, as in No duh!. In Spanish, though, /t/ at the beginning of a word is pronounced as [t]. I remember a Mexican-American kid in my kindergarten class that I thought was named Dino, until one day when we were going through the alphabet and identifying classmates whose names began with each letter. I volunteered Dino’s name for D, only to find out that his name was actually Tino. Now I realize that it was because I was hearing [tino] as /dino/. Of course, once I learned his name was Tino, I started pronouncing it as [tʰinow].
However, if you pronounce a word with a word-initial /d/ emphatically enough, that [t] can start to sound a bit more like a /t/. That seems to be the case with tuh! According to one definition on Urban Dictionary, tuh is:
The written equivalent of a short burst of laughter, usually in response to someone or something
which describes an emphatic kind of pronunciation.