In phonetics, a flap or tap is a type of consonantal sound, which is produced with a single contraction of the muscles so that one articulator (such as the tongue) is thrown against another.
Understanding the term
Flap refers to a way of pronouncing a consonant that involves the tongue lightly touching, the roof of the mouth. The best way to remember this would be to think that the tongue "flaps" up when pronouncing a flap.
To an extent, the pronunciation of a flap can lead to a little ambiguity regarding exactly what sound is being said. This is due to the fact that the flap is a kind of shortcut that makes full enunciation (also called diction) of a given sound unnecessary.
The flap can thus be especially present in casual conversation, where speakers are not especially concerned with proper and formal enunciation.
Flap - Learning pronunciation
A good example of the flap within the English language can be found in the word "better". In many dialects of English, the "tt" in the middle of the word is pronounced with a flap, through which the sound is not fully enunciated but rather produced through a rapid movement of the tongue toward the roof of the mouth.
"The essay purchased online from Ultius was better than the one I wrote myself".
One result of this flap is that the word "better", when spoken, often sounds like "bedder" in many dialects of English. This is because the sounds "t" and "d" are pronounced using the same part of the mouth, and the flap of the tongue prevents the speaker from making a clear distinction between the one sound and the other.
The rule for the flap is thus based on this specific upward movement of the tongue. Whenever this movement occurs, the consonantal sound thereby produced contains a flap. There are several different examples of the flap in several different languages, but the example cited above is one of the most prominent ones within the English language.
Flap in other dialects
The flap is generally found more in some dialects of a given language than it is in other dialects. For example, in a dialect of English that insists on full and proper pronunciation of all sounds, it would be possible to actually avoid the flap and enunciate the "tt" sound in the middle of the word "butter". In several dialects of English, though, the flap is present. To an extent, this presence of the flap has the effect of adding a little character and a touch of informality to the relevant pronunciations. The flap makes it sound like the speaker is from a particular region or city, as opposed to speaking some form of abstract or generic form of the language.
One concept that is related to the flap is the trill. This is characterized by a tongue movement similar to the flap that produces a kind of vibration in the sound made by the speaker. For example, the "rr" sound in Spanish would be a trill and not a flap. The flap is much more common within English than is the trill, to the point that many English speakers may not even know how to form a proper trill. The flap is also related to the concept of the stop, except that the stop implies an alteration of airflow when making the sound whereas the flap does not.
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