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Th-debuccalization is a process that occurs, for example, in many varieties of Scots and Scottish English where /θ/ becomes [h] word initially and intervocalically. It often makes part of the greater process of lenition.

Th-debuccalization occurs mainly in Glasgow and, more generally, occurs across the Central Belt (most typically, [hiŋk] for think). This feature is becoming more common in these places over time, but is still variable. In word final position, [θ] is used, as in standard English.

The existence of local [h] for /θ/ in Glasgow complicates the process of th-fronting there, a process which gives /f/ for historical /θ/. Unlike in the other dialects with th-fronting, where /f/ solely competes with /θ/, in Glasgow, the introduction of th-fronting there creates a three-way variant system of [h], [f] and [θ].

The [θ] variant is typical of local educated norms (the regional standard), while the use of [h] and [f] in place of standard English [θ] mark the local non-standard norms. [h] is well-known in Glasgow as a vernacular variant of /θ/ when it occurs word initially and intervocalically, while [f] has only recently risen above the level of social consciousness.

Given that th-fronting is a relatively recent innovation in Glasgow, it was expected that linguists might find evidence for lexical diffusion for [f] and the results found from Glasgow speakers confirm this. The existing and particular lexical distribution of th-debuccalization imposes special constraints on the progress of th-fronting in Glasgow.

In accents with th-debuccalization, the cluster /θr/ becomes [hr] giving these dialects a consonant cluster that doesn't occur in other dialects. The replacement of /θr/ with [hr] leads to pronunciations like:

  • three - [hri]
  • throw - [hro]
  • through - [hru]
  • thrash - [hræʃ]
  • thresh - [hrɛʃ]
  • threw - [hru]
  • thrown - [hron]
  • thread - [hrɛd]
  • threat - [hrɛt]
  • throne - [hron]

See also

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