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>I don't understand you, people...  It seems that my ideas on English are
>a bit skewed...  I believed that English aspirates a voiceless plosive
>if and only if it is the first consonant in the word and is followed by
>a vowel.  I don't know whether it also happens to the voiced plosives, I
>think not.  So if I am right, it doesn't have any distinctive function,
>and replaces its unaspirated pair only in one special case:
>kill [k'ill] vs. gill [gill],
>leak [li:k] vs. league [li:g],
>plot [plot] vs. blot [blot],
>staple [steipl] vs. stable [steibl]
>(apostrophe here signifying aspiration). paupei?

English has aspiration more often than not with stops, and in medial (eg
"compete", where the latter two stops are more aspirated than the first
one.  I think that stops in unstressed syllables may be the only ones
not aspirated (and all monosyllables are by definition stressed).

But I don't know the formal description of when English aspirates.  (I
think "leak" is sometimes aspirated k; league has aspirated 'g' only at
the end of sentence, and perhaps in careful speech before another stop.
Staple - I always aspirate the 't', but I am not sure that I ever
aspirate t in "stable".)