A new development in English phonology?


With the increasing number of BBC journalists who have South Asian heritage, we are hearing an ever greater number of examples of a non-traditional pronunciation of the orthographic symbol {t} in words of South Asian origin.

I’m thinking in particular, but not solely, of the word Taleban. The initial T is pronounced with a dental articulation rather than alveolar by such renowned presenters/reporters/correspondents as Mishal Husain and Rita Chakrabarti, as well as those whose accents betray a South Asian upbringing. Interestingly, some Afghans who speak extremely good English are using the traditional alveolar place of articulation in the same context. How long before those of another tradition take to imitating them (if they can both recognise the difference, and reproduce it without special phonetic training)?

Will this come to initiate a change to English phonology, with the two articulations beginning to develop minimal pairs, or will it disappear again as the present generation is replaced by their children who will probably have less connexion with the sub-continent?

Time will tell.


  1. No, it won’t.

    The wonderful Mishal Hussain also pronounced the ‘gh’ (AKA voiced velar fricative) in its authentic form.

    However, anyone with any familiarity with foreign words/names may choose to use the original pronunciation. To use a more everyday example, anyone who knows a little Italian may choose to pronounce ‘bruschetta’ correctly yet order two ‘espressos’ without resorting to the correct plural form.

  2. Ojubo Esu –
    I fully endorse your description of Mishal Hussain as “wonderful”, but since criticism of her pronunciation of Afghanistan some years ago, she has adopted the usual British English version with the ‘gh’ pronounced /g/. The analogy you make with bruschetta is not quite right – I take it you intend ‘correctly’ to mean that the -sch- is pronounced as in the English word school, rather than in the German word Schule. However, this is still using British English phonemes to pronounce an Italian word – I have yet to hear anyone in a coffee shop or delicatessen ask for [bru’skɛt:a]. I only ever hear /brus’ketə/ with an approximant /r/, not tap, single rather than doubled /t/ and final schwa. This is the sort of approximation I consider to be unobtrusive and so preferable. As an extra comment to my original post, I have the impression that it is mostly the female presenters who are using the dental [t] – their male colleagues, equally good journalists, are still, in my ears, using alveolar [t]. Neither have I noticed this feature in the speech of the politicians of South Asian heritage who have been so prominent in British politics in recent years.

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