LINGUIST List 4.556

Thu 15 Jul 1993

Sum: Taps and Flaps

Editor for this issue: <>


  1. Geoffrey S. Nathan, Taps and flaps

Message 1: Taps and flaps

Date: 7 July 1993, 14:20:32 CST Taps and flaps
From: Geoffrey S. Nathan <>
Subject: Taps and flaps

In May I asked the List for suggestions about 'flaps' in
American English.
Thanks to the following people, who responded personally to
my query:

Sandra Bott, Karen S. Chung, John Coleman, Bruce Connell,
David Iannucci , Laura L. Koenig, Mark A. Mandel, Henry
Rogers, Larry Shriberg, David Stampe, Larry Trask.

A number of correspondents slapped my wrists for using the
term 'flap' to refer to the sound in American English in
words such as 'butter' and 'city', pointing out that most
authorities (Ladefoged, and Laduslaw and Pullum (!) being
the most often cited) carefully distinguish between 'flap'
and 'tap'. The American sound is a TAP.

What no one could offer, at least so far, is an operational
acoustic definition of a flap/tap such that I could distin-
guish a tap from a regular stop on a waveform or spec-
trogram. I am working on a possible methodology, but since
the relevant acoustic research has not yet been begun, I
will keep the speculation to myself until such time as I can
confirm my suspicions. It might, of course, be possible to
use the Microbeam facility, but I suspect that it's much
harder to do that and get reliable taps, since tapping is
partly a function of relaxed speech, and I really wonder how
relaxed the tip of the tongue can be with a pellet glued to

The following is a half-baked bibliography that is the
result of all the responses. I have not yet had a chance to
dig them up, and in relevant cases fill in missing informa-

Bibliography on Taps and Flaps

Churma, Don (in the Department of English at Ball State)
 has done a detailed phonological study of flapping in
 American English.
Connell Bruce (1992) 'Describing Taps' uses EPG to look at
 taps in Ibibio. This appeared in our (Oxford
 University) Working Papers PROPH Vol 5 .
Fujimura et al (1973) in JPhon 1 for Japanese, and Elugbe
 1978 in JPhon 6 for Ghotuo.
Iannucci, David et. al., (1968), Some determinants of
 stylistic phonological variation, Journal Of Verbal
 Learning And Verbal Behavior 7.
Price, Patti Jo. (1981) Dissertation that looks at acoustic
 and palatographic data on flaps in AmEnglish and
Scott, Donia (1984) Abstract in JASA Suppl. 1, Vol. 75, p.
Some EPG has been done on Japanese taps,some of which has
 been published in the Annual Bulletin of the Research
 Institute of Logopedics and Phoniatrics. Sorry I don't
 remember specifics.
Stone and Hamlet (1982) in JPhon 10.
Turk, Alice. A paper in the Working Papers of the Cornell
 Phonetics Laboratory #7 on flaps.
Wells J. C. (1982), Accents of English, vol. 1 of 3, pp.
 248-252, Cambridge: CUP

 Geoffrey S. Nathan
 Department of Linguistics
 Southern Illinois University
 Carbondale, IL, 62901 USA
 Phone: (618) 453-3421
Mail to author|Respond to list|Read more issues|LINGUIST home page|Top of issue