The glottal plosive or stop is a type of consonantal sound used in many spoken languages, produced by obstructing airflow in the vocal tract or, more precisely, the glottis. The symbol in the International Phonetic Alphabet that represents this sound is ⟨ʔ⟩.
As a result of the obstruction of the airflow in the glottis, the glottal vibration either stops or becomes irregular with a low rate and sudden drop in intensity.
Features of the glottal stop:
- Its manner of articulation is occlusive, which means it is produced by obstructing airflow in the vocal tract. Since the consonant is also oral, with no nasal outlet, the airflow is blocked entirely, and the consonant is a plosive.
- Its place of articulation is glottal, which means it is articulated at and by the vocal cords (vocal folds).
- It has no phonation, as there is no airflow through the glottis.  It is voiceless, however, in the sense that it is produced without vibration of the vocal cords.
- It is an oral consonant, which means air is allowed to escape through the mouth only.
- Because the sound is not produced with airflow over the tongue, the central–lateral dichotomy does not apply.
- The airstream mechanism is pulmonic, which means it is articulated by pushing air solely with the lungs and diaphragm, as in most sounds.
In the traditional Romanization of many languages, such as Arabic, the glottal stop is transcribed with the apostrophe ⟨ʼ⟩ or the symbol ʾ, which is the source of the IPA character ⟨ʔ⟩. In many Polynesian languages that use the Latin alphabet, however, the glottal stop is written with a rotated apostrophe, ⟨ʻ⟩ (called ‘okina in Hawaiian and Samoan), which is commonly used to transcribe the Arabic ayin as well (also ⟨ʽ⟩) and is the source of the IPA character for the voiced pharyngeal fricative ⟨ʕ⟩. In Malay the glottal stop is represented by the letter ⟨k⟩, in Võro and Maltese by ⟨q⟩.
Other scripts also have letters used for representing the glottal stop, such as the Hebrew letter aleph ⟨א⟩ and the Cyrillic letter palochka ⟨Ӏ⟩, used in several Caucasian languages. Modern Latin alphabets for various Indigenous Languages of the Caucasus use the letter heng ('Ꜧ ꜧ'). In Tundra Nenets, it is represented by the letters apostrophe ⟨ʼ⟩ and double apostrophe ⟨ˮ⟩. In Japanese, glottal stops occur at the end of interjections of surprise or anger and are represented by the character ⟨っ⟩.
In the graphic representation of most Philippine languages, the glottal stop has no consistent symbolization. In most cases, however, a word that begins with a vowel-letter (e.g. Tagalog aso, "dog") is always pronounced with an unrepresented glottal stop before that vowel (as in Modern German and Hausa). Some orthographies use a hyphen instead of the reverse apostrophe if the glottal stop occurs in the middle of the word (e.g. Tagalog pag-ibig, "love"; or Visayan gabi-i, "night"). If it occurs in the end of a word, the last vowel is written with a circumflex accent (known as the pakupyâ) if both a stress and a glottal stop occur in the final vowel (e.g. basâ, "wet") or a grave accent (known as the paiwà) if the glottal stop occurs at the final vowel, but the stress occurs at the penultimate syllable (e.g. batà, "child").
Some Canadian indigenous languages, especially some of the Salishan languages, have adopted the phonetic symbol ʔ itself as part of their orthographies. In some of them, it occurs as a pair of uppercase and lowercase characters, Ɂ and ɂ. The numeral 7 or question mark is sometimes substituted for ʔ and is preferred in some languages such as Squamish. SENĆOŦEN – whose alphabet is mostly unique from other Salish languages – contrastly uses the comma ⟨,⟩ to represent the glottal stop, though it is optional.
In 2015, two women in the Northwest Territories challenged the territorial government over its refusal to permit them to use the ʔ character in their daughters' names: Sahaiʔa, a Chipewyan name, and Sakaeʔah, a Slavey name (the two names are actually cognates). The territory argued that territorial and federal identity documents were unable to accommodate the character. The women registered the names with hyphens instead of the ʔ, while continuing to challenge the policy.
Use of the glottal stop is a distinct characteristic of the Southern Mainland Argyll dialects of Scottish Gaelic. In such a dialect, the standard Gaelic phrase Tha Gàidhlig agam ("I speak Gaelic"), would be rendered Tha Gàidhlig a'am.
In English, the glottal stop occurs as an open juncture (for example, between the vowel sounds in uh-oh!,) and allophonically in t-glottalization. In British English, the glottal stop is most familiar in the Cockney pronunciation of "butter" as "bu'er". Additionally, there is the glottal stop as a null onset for English, in other words, it is the non-phonemic glottal stop occurring before isolated or initial vowels.
Although this segment is not a phoneme in English, it occurs phonetically in nearly all dialects of English, as an allophone of /t/ in the syllable coda. Speakers of Cockney, Scottish English and several other British dialects also pronounce an intervocalic /t/ between vowels as in city. In Received Pronunciation, a glottal stop is inserted before a tautosyllabic voiceless stop: stoʼp, thaʼt, knoʼck, waʼtch, also leaʼp, soaʼk, helʼp, pinʼch.
In many languages that do not allow a sequence of vowels, such as Persian, the glottal stop may be used epenthetically to prevent such a hiatus. There are intricate interactions between falling tone and the glottal stop in the histories of such languages as Danish (see stød), Chinese and Thai.
In many languages, the unstressed intervocalic allophone of the glottal stop is a creaky-voiced glottal approximant. It is known to be contrastive in only one language, Gimi, in which it is the voiced equivalent of the stop.
The table below demonstrates how widely the sound of glottal stop is found among the world's spoken languages:
|Abkhaz||аи/ai||[ʔaj]||'no'||See Abkhaz phonology.|
|Arabic||Modern Standard||أغاني/'a'ġani||[ʔaˈɣaːniː]||'songs'||See Arabic phonology, Hamza.|
|Levantine and Egyptian||شقة/ša''a||[ˈʃæʔʔæ]||'apartment'||Levantine and Egyptian dialects. Corresponds to /q/ or /g/ in other dialects.|
|Fasi and Tlemcenian||قال/'al||[ˈʔaːl]||'he said'||Fasi and Tlemcenian dialects. Corresponds to /q/ or /g/ in other dialects.|
|Burmese||မြစ်များ/rcī mya:||[mjiʔ mjà]||'rivers'|
|Ingush||кхоъ / qoʼ||[qoʔ]||'three'|
|Chinese||Cantonese||愛/oi3||[ʔɔːi˧]||'love'||See Cantonese phonology.|
|Wu||一级了/yi ji le||[ʔiɪʔ.tɕiɪʔ.ʔləʔ]||'superb'|
|Cook Islands Māori||taʻi||[taʔi]||'one'|
|Czech||používat||[poʔuʒiːvat]||'to use'||See Czech phonology.|
|Dahalo||'water'||see Dahalo phonology|
|Danish||hånd||[ˈhʌ̹nʔ]||'hand'||One of the possible realizations of stød. Depending on the dialect and style of speech, it can be instead realized as laryngealisation of the preceding sound. See Danish phonology.|
|Dutch||beamen||[bəʔˈaːmə(n)]||'to confirm'||See Dutch phonology.|
|Australian||cat||[kʰæʔ(t)]||'cat'||Allophone of /t/. See glottalization and English phonology.|
|RP and GA||button||[ˈbɐʔn̩] (help·info)||'button'|
|Finnish||sadeaamu||[ˈsɑdeʔˌɑ:mu]||'rainy morning'||See Finnish phonology.|
|German||Northern||Beamter||[bəˈʔamtɐ]||'civil servant'||Generally all vowel onsets. See Standard German phonology.|
|Guaraní||avañeʼẽ||[ãʋ̃ãɲẽˈʔẽ]||'Guaraní'||Occurs only between vowels.|
|Hawaiian||ʻeleʻele||[ˈʔɛlɛˈʔɛlɛ]||'black'||See Hawaiian phonology.|
|Hebrew||מַאֲמָר/ma'amar||[maʔămaʁ]||'article'||Often elided in casual speech. See Modern Hebrew phonology.|
|Icelandic||en||[ʔɛn]||'but'||Only used according to emphasis, never occurring in minimal pairs.|
|Iloko||nalab-ay||[nalabˈʔaj]||'bland tasting'||Hyphen when occurring within the word.|
|Indonesian||bakso||[ˌbäʔˈso]||'meatball'||Allophone of /k/ or /ɡ/ in the syllable coda.|
|Japanese||Kagoshima||学校 gakkō||[gaʔkoː]||'school'||Marked by 'っ' in Hiragana, and by 'ッ' in Katakana.|
|Javanese||ꦲꦤꦏ꧀||[änäʔ]||'child'||Allophone of /k/ in morpheme-final position.|
|Khmer||សិទ្ធិ / sĕtthĭ||[səttʰiʔ]||'rights'||See Khmer phonology|
|Korean||일/il||[ʔil]||'one'||In free variation with no glottal stop. Occurs only in initial position of a word.|
|Malay||Standard||tidak||[ˈtidäʔ]||'no'||Allophone of final /k/ in the syllable coda, pronounced before consonants and at end of the a word. In other positions, /ʔ/ has phonemic status only in loanwords from Arabic. See Malay phonology|
|Kelantan-Pattani||ikat||[ˌiˈkäʔ]||ˌ'to tie'||Allophone of final /k, p, t/ in the syllable coda. Pronounced before consonants and at the end of a word. See Kelantan-Pattani Malay and Terengganu Malay|
|Minangkabau||waʼang||[wäʔäŋ]||'you'||Sometimes written without an apostrophe.|
|Mutsun||tawkaʼli||[tawkaʔli]||'black gooseberry'||Ribes divaricatum|
|Nahuatl||tahtli||[taʔtɬi]||'father'||Often left unwritten.|
|Nez Perce||yáakaʔ||[ˈjaːkaʔ]||'black bear'|
|Nheengatu||ai||[aˈʔi]||'sloth'||Transcription (or absence thereof) varies.|
|Persian||معنی/ma'ni||[maʔni]||'meaning'||See Persian phonology.|
|Polish||era||[ʔɛra]||'era'||Most often occurs as an anlaut of an initial vowel (Ala ‒> [Ɂala]). See Polish phonology#Glottal stop.|
|Portuguese||Vernacular Brazilian||ê-ê||[ˌʔe̞ˈʔeː]||'yeah right'||Marginal sound. Does not occur after or before a consonant. In Brazilian casual speech, there is at least one [ʔ]–vowel length–pitch accent minimal pair (triply unusual, the ideophones short ih vs. long ih). See Portuguese phonology.|
|Some speakers||à aula||[ˈa ˈʔawlɐ]||'to the class'|
|Sardinian||Some dialects of Barbagia||unu pacu||[ˈuːnu paʔu]||'a little'||Intervocalic allophone of /n, k, l/.|
|Some dialects of Sarrabus||sa luna||[sa ʔuʔa]||'the moon'|
|Serbo-Croatian||i onda||[iː ʔô̞n̪d̪a̠]||'and then'||Optionally inserted between vowels across word boundaries. See Serbo-Croatian phonology|
|Somali||ba'||[baʔ]||'calamity'||though /ʔ/ occurs before all vowels, it is only written medially and finally. See Somali phonology|
|Spanish||Nicaraguan||más alto||[ˈma ˈʔal̻t̻o̞]||'higher'||Marginal sound or allophone of /s/ between vowels in different words. Does not occur after or before a consonant. See Spanish phonology.|
|Yucateco||cuatro años||[ˈkwatɾo̞ ˈʔãɲo̞s]||'four years'|
|Tagalog||oo||[oʔo]||'yes'||See Tagalog phonology.|
|Thai||อา/'ā||[ʔaː]||'uncle/aunt' (father's younger sibling)|
|Vietnamese||oi||[ʔɔj˧]||'sultry'||In free variation with no glottal stop. See Vietnamese phonology.|
|Võro||piniq||[ˈpinʲiʔ]||'dogs'||"q" is Võro plural marker (maa, kala, "land", "fish"; maaq, kalaq, "lands", "fishes").|
|Wagiman||jamh||[t̠ʲʌmʔ]||'to eat' (perf.)|
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Glottal stop.|
- List of languages with [ʔ] on PHOIBLE