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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, 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."[1] 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.[2] The Cambridge English Pronouncing Dictionary claims that t-glottalization is now most common in London, Leeds, Edinburgh and Glasgow.[3]

In GA, /t/ may be fully replaced by a glottal stop ([ʔ]) before a syllabic nasal, especially when also preceded by a nasal:

  • fountain [faʊnʔn̩]
  • button [bʌʔn̩]

In RP, /t/ replacement by a glottal stop is common pre-consonantally:[4][5]

  • not now [nɒʔ naʊ]
  • department [dəpʰɑːʔmn̩t]

Among younger speakers of RP, t-glottalization can also be heard finally before vowels or, in both RP and GA, in absolute final position:

  • pick it up [pʰɪk ɪtʔ ʌp] (though, in GA, this is more commonly [pʰɪkɪɾʌp])
  • let's start [lɛts stɑː(ɹ)ʔ], [lɛs stɑː(ɹ)ʔ] or [lɛʔs stɑː(ɹ)ʔ]
  • what [wɒ(t)ʔ]
  • but [bʌ(t)ʔ]
  • get [ɡɛ(t)ʔ]
  • foot [fʊ(t)ʔ]

In many dialects of British English, all unstressed intervocalic t's may be realized as a glottal stop, but usually not in careful speech. In Cockney this is generally the case. Such glottalization leads to pronunciations like the following:

  • batter [ˈbæʔə]
  • beater [ˈbiʔə]
  • biter [ˈbaɪʔə]
  • bitter [ˈbɪʔə]
  • butter ˈ[bʌʔə]
  • betting [ˈbɛʔɪŋ]
  • pity [ˈpʰɪʔi]

T-glottalization has been known to have been spreading in Southern England at a faster rate than th-fronting. Intervocalically within a word, t-glottalization remains excluded from RP, hence, RP has [ˈsɪti] rather than the [ˈsɪʔi] of Cockney. Nevertheless, 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).[6] 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."[7]

It also tends to be somewhat common in the United States, though heavier in the Rocky Mountain region. Furthermore, in almost all non-Southern-speaking states, there is somewhat of a parallel process, but nonetheless distinct. The t in coda position is changed to something somewhat similar to the glottal, but the tip of the tongue hits the roof of the mouth, but doesn't flap (there is no designated IPA symbol for this). In words where the T is not the first sound in the word and is followed by a short vowel, it may instead become an alveolar flap (for example, the intervocalic t in butter or neater). The coda T sound is distinct from this as no flap occurs, and the tongue hitting the top of the mouth is combined with the glottal stop (for example, the non-Southern American pronunciation of hit, cat, etc.). True glottalization occurs in American English only in the case of intervocalic t followed by a reduced vowel and an n (for example, American pronunciation of button, mitten, glutton, etc.). There are still notable exceptions to this rule as well: proper nouns seem to be exempt (Occitan is pronounced as if it were Occidan, with an alveolar flap, in American English; Canton is still pronounced with a true t, despite it being followed by a reduced vowel and an n); and intervocalic T-glottalization is largely absent in Hawaii.

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;[8] the Royal Family are traditionally considered to speak RP in the highest form.[citation needed] One study carried out by Anne Fabricius suggests that t-glottalization is increasing in RP, and 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.[9] 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.[10]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Wright, Peter (1981), The Lanky Twang: How it is spoke, Lancaster: Dalesman, p. 22 
  2. ^ Crystal, David (2005), The Stories of English, Penguin, p. 416 
  3. ^ Jones, Daniel (2004), Cambridge English Pronouncing Dictionary, Cambridge University Press, p. 216 
  4. ^ Roach, Peter (2004), "British English: Received Pronunciation", Journal of the International Phonetic Association 34 (2): 240, doi:10.1017/S0025100304001768 
  5. ^ Gimson, Alfred C. (1970), An Introduction to the pronunciation of English, London: Edward Arnold 
  6. ^ Petyt, K. M. (1985), Dialect and Accent in Industrial West Yorkshire, John Benjamins Publishing, pp. 146–147 
  7. ^ 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. 
  8. ^ 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
  9. ^ Fabricius, Anne (2000), T-glottalling between stigma and prestige: A sociolinguistic study of Modern RP (PDF) (Ph.D.), p. 141 
  10. ^ 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