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In English phonology, t-glottalization or t-glottalling is a sound change in certain English dialects and accents that causes the phoneme /t/ to be pronounced as the glottal stop [ʔ] (listen) in certain positions, particularly in accents of the United Kingdom. It is never universal, especially in careful speech, and it 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. Peter Trudgill has argued that it began in Norfolk, based on studies of rural dialects of those born in the 1870s.[2] 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."[3]

Most early English dialectology focussed on rural areas, so it is hard to establish how long the process has existed in urban areas. It has long been seen as a feature of Cockney dialect,[4] and a 1955 study on Leeds dialect wrote that it occurred with "monotonous regularity" before consonants and often between vowel sounds.[5] David Crystal claims that the sound can be heard in Received Pronunciation (RP) speakers from the early 20th century such as Daniel Jones, Bertrand Russell and Ellen Terry.[6] The Cambridge English Pronouncing Dictionary claims that t-glottalization is now most common in London, Leeds, Edinburgh, and Glasgow.[7]

Uniquely for English in the West Indies, Barbadian English uses a glottal allophone for /t/, and also less frequently for /k/ and /p/.[8]

Glottal reinforcement (pre-glottalization)

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

The glottal closure overlaps with the consonant that it precedes, but the articulatory movements involved can usually be observed only by using laboratory instruments.[9] In words such as 'eaten' and 'button', pronounced with a glottal closure, it is generally almost impossible to know whether the /t/ has been pronounced (e.g. [ˈiːʔtn̩], [ˈbʌʔtn̩]) or omitted (e.g. [ˈiːʔn̩], [ˈbʌʔn̩]).

However, in the same syllable coda position, /t/ may instead be analyzed as an unreleased stop.[10]

In some accents of English, /t/ may be pre-glottalized intervocalically if it occurs finally in a stressed syllable. In the north-east of England and East Anglia, pronunciations such as 'paper' [ˈpeɪʔpə], 'happy' [ˈhæʔpi] are found.[1]

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' /ˈpɛtrəl/, 'mattress' /ˈmætrəs/.[11]

T-glottalization rarely occurs syllable-initially in English but has been reported in some words that begin /tə/ in some northern dialects.[12][13]

Glottal replacement

In RP, and in many accents such as Cockney, it is common for /t/ to be completely replaced by a glottal stop before another consonant,[14][15] as in not now [nɒʔnaʊ] and department [dɪpɑː(ɹ)ʔmənʔ]. This replacement also happens before a syllabic /n/, as in button (representable as [ˈbʌʔn̩]).

Among speakers of Britain, especially younger ones, glottal replacement of /t/ is frequently heard in intervocalic position before an unstressed vowel. It is most common between a stressed vowel and a reduced vowel (/ə/, /ɪ/):

In both RP and GA, /t/-replacement is found in absolute final position:

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.[16]" (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).[17] 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."[18]

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.[19] 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.[20] 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.[21]

American dialects

While not as common as in British accents, various American accents feature t-glottalization. This is particularly more common amongst younger western American speakers.[22] In some varieties of Californian English (particularly the variety spoken amongst San Francisco Bay Area youth) t-glottalization can be heard in words (typically between vowels) where a flapped-t is common in General American speech. These examples stand out particularly from most other American accents:

See also


  1. ^ a b Lodge, Ken (2009). A Critical Introduction to Phonetics. Continuum International Publishing Group. p. 177. ISBN 978-0-8264-8873-2.
  2. ^ Trudgill, Peter (2016). Dialect Matters: Respecting Vernacular Language. UK: Cambridge University Press. p. 132. ISBN 9781107130470.
  3. ^ Wright, Peter (1981), The Lanky Twang: How it is spoke, Lancaster: Dalesman, p. 22
  4. ^ Wells, John C. (1982). Accents of English. Volume 2: The British Isles (pp. 323-327). Cambridge University Press. 0-52128540-2.
  5. ^ Courtney, Maureen R (1955), The Living Dialect of Leeds in the West Riding of Yorkshire, page 7. Available in the Leeds Archive of Vernacular Culture.
  6. ^ Crystal, David (2005), The Stories of English, Penguin, p. 416
  7. ^ Jones, Daniel (2004), Cambridge English Pronouncing Dictionary, Cambridge University Press, p. 216
  8. ^ Wells, John C. (1982), Accents of English 3: Beyond the British Isles, page 584, Cambridge, New York: Cambridge University Press, ISBN 0-521-28541-0
  9. ^ Roach, P.J. (1979) `Laryngeal-oral coarticulation in glottalised English plosives', Journal of the International Phonetic Association , 9, pp. 1-6)
  10. ^ Odden, David (2005). Introduction to Phonology. Page 32.
  11. ^ Roach, P.J. `Glottalization of English /p,t,k,tʃ/ - a re-examination', Journal of the International Phonetic Association,3, 10-21. (1973)
  12. ^ KM Petyt, Dialect' and Accent in Industrial West Yorkshire, John Benjamins Publishing Company, 1985, p. 219
  13. ^ Docherty, Foulkes, Milroy, Milroy and Walshaw (1997) Descriptive adequacy in phonology in Journal of Linguistics 33, p. 290
  14. ^ Roach, Peter (2004), "British English: Received Pronunciation", Journal of the International Phonetic Association, 34 (2): 240, doi:10.1017/S0025100304001768
  15. ^ Gimson, Alfred C. (1970), An Introduction to the pronunciation of English, London: Edward Arnold
  16. ^ Gimson, ed. A. Cruttenden (2014). Gimson's Pronunciation of English (8th ed.). Routledge. p. 184.
  17. ^ Petyt, K. M. (1985), Dialect and Accent in Industrial West Yorkshire, John Benjamins Publishing, pp. 146–147
  18. ^ 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.
  19. ^ 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
  20. ^ Fabricius, Anne (2000), T-glottalling between stigma and prestige: A sociolinguistic study of Modern RP (PDF) (Ph.D.), p. 141, archived from the original (PDF) on 2011-03-04
  21. ^ 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
  22. ^ EDDINGTON, DAVID; TAYLOR, MICHAEL (2009-08-01). "T-Glottalization IN AMERICAN ENGLISH". American Speech. 84 (3): 298–314. doi:10.1215/00031283-2009-023. ISSN 0003-1283.