Literal-Minded

Linguistic commentary from a guy who takes things too literally

Tuh-Duh!

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Over at Language Log, Arnold Zwicky commented on a recent Zits cartoon regarding some outdated diction from Jeremy.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 Now to some extent, we’d expect Jeremy’s language to be somewhat outdated, since he ages so very slowly.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.

4 Responses to “Tuh-Duh!”

  1. Narvi said

    [tʰinow] and not [[tʰino]?

  2. Neal said

    Right: in English, /o/ is diphthongized as [ow] (and /e/ as [ej]). If you draw out saying “Sooooo,” you’ll eventually find you’re saying [u] and not [o]; do the same with “Sayyyy” and you’ll end up saying the “long e” sound [i] instead of the “long a” sound [e]. This is another thing that can contribute to non-Spanish accents when English speakers learn Spanish. Sometimes these diphthongs are written as [ou] and [ei].

  3. Amber said

    I’m a teenager and I totally use “be all” and “go” all the time, so I don’t see what the deal is. Nobody’s ever questioned me on it or anything, and as far as I know, my friends speak like that too.

  4. Neal said

    Amber:
    Thank you for your firsthand linguistic data; I stand corrected.

    Meanwhile, do you or any of your friends say tuh! or duh!? Both? Neither?

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