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In English phonology, t-glottalization or t-glottaling is a sound change in certain English dialects and accents that causes the phoneme Listeni/t/ to be pronounced as the glottal stop [ʔ] in certain positions. It is never mandatory (especially in careful speech) and most often alternates with other allophones of /t/ such as [t], [tʰ], [tⁿ] (before a nasal), [tˡ] (before a lateral), or [ɾ].

As a sound change, it is a subtype of debuccalization. The pronunciation that it results in is called glottalization. Apparently, glottal reinforcement, which is quite common in English, is a stage preceding full replacement of the stop,[1] and indeed, reinforcement and replacement can be in free variation.

The earliest mentions of the process are in Scotland during the 19th century, when Henry Sweet commented on the phenomenon. The SED fieldworker Peter Wright found it in areas of Lancashire and said, "It is considered a lazy habit, but may have been in some dialects for hundreds of years."[2] David Crystal claims that the sound can be heard in RP speakers from the early 20th century such as Daniel Jones, Bertrand Russell and Ellen Terry.[3] The Cambridge English Pronouncing Dictionary claims that t-glottalization is now most common in London, Leeds, Edinburgh and Glasgow.[4]

Glottal reinforcement (pre-glottalization)[edit]

Pre-glottalization of /t/ is found in RP and GA when the consonant /t/ occurs before another consonant, or before a pause:

  • pre-consonantal: get some ['ɡeʔtsʌm] lightning ['laɪʔtnɪŋ] at last [əʔt'lɑːst]
  • final (pre-pausal): wait [weɪʔt] bat [bæʔt] about [ə'baʊʔt]

The glottal closure overlaps with the consonant that it precedes, but the articulatory movements involved can usually only be observed by using laboratory instruments.[5] In words such as 'eaten', 'button' pronounced with a glottal closure it is generally almost impossible to know whether the /t/ has been pronounced (e.g. ['i:ʔtn̩], ['bʌʔtn̩]) or omitted (e.g. ['i:ʔn̩], ['bʌʔn̩]).

In some accents of English, /t/ may be pre-glottalized intervocalically when it occurs finally in a stressed syllable. In the north-east of England and East Anglia pronunciations such as 'paper' ['peɪʔpə], 'happy' ['hæʔpi] are found.[6]

There is variation in the occurrence of glottalization within RP according to which consonant follows /t/: for example, some speakers do not glottalize /t/ when /r/ follows, in words such as 'petrol' /'petrəl/, 'mattress' /'mætrəs/.[7]

Glottal replacement[edit]

In RP, and in many accents such as Cockney complete /t/-replacement by a glottal stop is common pre-consonantally.[8][9] For example, 'not now' [nɒʔnaʊ] 'department' [dɪpʰɑːʔmən̩t].

Among younger speakers of RP, glottal replacement of /t/ can also be heard in syllable-final position before vowels. In both RP and GA, /t/-replacement is found in absolute final position in younger people's speech.

  • pick it up [pʰɪk ɪʔ ʌp] (though, in GA, this is more commonly [pʰɪkɪɾʌp])
  • let's start [lɛts stɑː(ɹ)ʔ] or [lɛʔs stɑː(ɹ)ʔ]
  • what [wɒʔ]
  • foot [fʊʔ]
  • getting better [ɡeʔɪŋ beʔə(ɹ)]

T-glottalization is believed to have been spreading in Southern England at a faster rate than th-fronting[citation needed]. Cruttenden comments that "Use of [ʔ] for /t/ word-medially intervocalically, as in water, still remains stigmatised in GB.[10]" (GB is his alternative term for RP). The increased use of glottal stops within RP is believed to be an influence from Cockney and other working-class urban speech.[citation needed] In a 1985 publication on the speech of West Yorkshire, KM Petyt found that t-glottalization was spreading from Bradford (where it had been reported in traditional dialect) to Halifax and Huddersfield (where it had not been reported in traditional dialect).[11] In 1999, Shorrocks noted the phenomenon amongst young people in Bolton, Greater Manchester: "It is not at all typical of the traditional vernacular, in contradistinction to some other varieties of English, but younger people use [ʔ] medially between vowels more than their elders."[12]

Recent studies (Milroy, Milroy & Walshaw 1994, Fabricius 2000) have suggested that t-glottalization is increasing in RP speech. Prince Harry frequently glottalizes his t's.[13] One study carried out by Anne Fabricius suggests that t-glottalization is increasing in RP, the reason for this being the dialect levelling of the Southeast. She has argued that a wave-like profile of t-glottalization has been going on through the regions, which has begun with speakers in London, due to the influence of Cockney. She says that this development is due to the population size of the capital, as well as London's dominance of the Southeast of England.[14] However, Miroslav Ježek has argued that linguists attribute changes to London too readily, and that the evidence suggests that t-glottalization began in Scotland and worked its way down gradually to London.[15]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Lodge, Ken (2009). A Critical Introduction to Phonetics. Continuum. p. 177. ISBN 978-0-8264-8874-9. 
  2. ^ Wright, Peter (1981), The Lanky Twang: How it is spoke, Lancaster: Dalesman, p. 22 
  3. ^ Crystal, David (2005), The Stories of English, Penguin, p. 416 
  4. ^ Jones, Daniel (2004), Cambridge English Pronouncing Dictionary, Cambridge University Press, p. 216 
  5. ^ Roach, P.J. (1979) `Laryngeal-oral coarticulation in glottalised English plosives', Journal of the International Phonetic Association , 9, pp. 1-6)
  6. ^ Lodge, Ken (2009). A Critical Introduction to Phonetics. Continuum. p. 177. 
  7. ^ Roach, P.J. `Glottalization of English /p,t,k,tʃ/ - a re-examination', Journal of the International Phonetic Association,3, 10-21. (1973)
  8. ^ Roach, Peter (2004), "British English: Received Pronunciation", Journal of the International Phonetic Association 34 (2): 240, doi:10.1017/S0025100304001768 
  9. ^ Gimson, Alfred C. (1970), An Introduction to the pronunciation of English, London: Edward Arnold 
  10. ^ Gimson, ed. A. Cruttenden (2014). Gimson's Pronunciation of English (8th ed.). Routledge. p. 184. 
  11. ^ Petyt, K. M. (1985), Dialect and Accent in Industrial West Yorkshire, John Benjamins Publishing, pp. 146–147 
  12. ^ Shorrocks, Graham (1999). A Grammar of the Dialect of the Bolton Area, Part 1. Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang. p. 319. ISBN 3-631-33066-9. 
  13. ^ Wells, John (29 February 2008), "Intonation idioms in the Germanic languages (ii)", John Wells's phonetic blog.  Also see The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language, p. 365
  14. ^ Fabricius, Anne (2000), T-glottalling between stigma and prestige: A sociolinguistic study of Modern RP (PDF) (Ph.D.), p. 141 
  15. ^ Ježek, Miroslav (2009), Upton's Model of RP: based on a research study into the current awareness of speakers and respondents of English (PDF) (M.A.), p. 27