My recent musings about the whole Turin/Torino affair got me thinking about a related matter: the pronunciation of Italy. A few years ago I started noticing people pronouncing the /t/ in Italy as a full-on devoiced aspirated English /t/. This was interesting because, even though that /t/ is a typically English sound, the natural American tendency is to "flap" the /t/ in this situation (before unstressed vowels), making it sound more like a /d/. Okay, technically it's a [ɾ], but you get my point. This means that when an American pronounces Italy with a /t/, it can't be explained away as the speaker adapting the word to the phonetics of their own language, since, if anything, it violates the phonetics of American English. My initial thought was that this was yet another instance of hyperforeignism -- that is, a manifestation of an instinct that a flapped /t/ doesn't "belong" in a foreign word -- never mind that Italy isn't a foreign word.
Then I noticed that the onset of me noticing this pronunciation coincided with my moving to New York, and that the people who I heard saying this were all non-young (50+) native New Yorkers. This is the same group of people who still have a lovely but fading trait of New York English: the pronunciation of the /t/ in "bottle" not as a flap, but as a glottal stop. You know, like a parody of a Cockney accent: 'Ow many bo'les, Guv?
I'll admit that I don't know why New Yorkers say (said?) this, whether it was at one point a generalized Cockney-like tendency to turn flaps into glottal stops (glo'al stops?). I could research it, but I don't have time. So instead I'll offer the following theory, based on nothing at all. There's nothing like mucking up an empirical science by making up theories without any evidence. The mind, when encumbered by data, is free to go many wondeful, strange, factually incorrect places.
My theory is that in New York at some point the glottal stop/t/ occured more often than only in the word "bottle." How widespread I don't know. I know that in London there is a fundamental sociolinguistic between those who turn their /t/s into glottal stops, and those who leave them as devoiced, aspirated /t/s -- flapping isn't an option in that area. Perhaps such a distinction once existed in New York as well, perhaps even borrowed directly from London. Thus "bottle," a humdrum everyday word, preserved a basolectal pronunciation with a glottal stop, while "Italy," a word associated with high culture (Europe! What could be fancier?) retained an acrolectal /t/. As I have said on many occasions, I just made that up, but I think it might be true.
Lest you mourn the passing of "Italy" with a /t/ and "bottle" with a /ʔ/, there are plenty of other New Yorkisms which are thriving. Some of my favorites include using the word "Spanish" to refer to anyone of Spanish-speaking heritage, which New Yorkers of all ages and social/ethnic backgrounds do. In fact, a chapter in the Yiddish textbook I use in my classes lists "shpanish" as one of the main ethnic groups in New York. Another striking New Yorkism is calling any surface you walk on "the floor," indoor or out. This is more limited sociolinguistically, but still widespread among all age groups. But the absolute winner is "standing on line." I think for New Yorkers this is like "pop" is for me (as opposed to soda/coke): although New Yorkers claim that they can say "on line" or "in line," in reality they only say the former. Since "in line" is ubiquitous everywhere else, New Yorkers are misled into thinking they say it too. Furthermore, just as us "pop" sayers have no problem with "soda," while "soda" sayers can't stand "pop," so New Yorkers are deaf to "in line," but many of us immigrants to New York passionately hate "on line." Me, I love it. Not that I'd ever say it.