Monday, 5 July 2010

glottal t in AmE

Jarek Weckwerth, commenting on Friday’s blog, said
There's a rather widespread misconception … that there's little (or in fact no) glottalisation in American English. This even extends to my fellow (NNS) pronunciation teachers. In my experience, this is blatantly untrue... But very little has been published on this -- probably fewer than five articles. The amount of attention in the literature that glottalisation in the UK has received is larger by several orders of magnitude. One reason is, of course, the social importance that is attached to it in the UK. Glottalisation seems to be far less sociophonetically marked in the US.
and added the kind invitation
maybe our host would be so kind as to write a whole separate post about it?

I don’t think I can really add much to what I said in the ‘language panel’ on Glottal stop in LPD, where I wrote
ʔ is found as an allophone of t only
• at the end of a syllable, and
• if the preceding sound is a vowel or sonorant

Provided these conditions are satisfied, it is widely used in both BrE and AmE where the following sound is an obstruent

football ˈfʊt bɔːl → ˈfʊʔ bɔːl
outside ˌaʊt ˈsaɪd → ˌaʊʔ ˈsaɪd
that faint buzz ˌðæt ˌfeɪnt ˈbʌz → ˌðæʔ ˌfeɪnʔ ˈbʌz

or a nasal

atmospheric ˌæt məs ˈfer ɪk → ˌæʔ məs ˈfer ɪk
button ˈbʌt ən → ˈbʌʔ n
that name ˌðæt ˈneɪm → ˌðæʔ ˈneɪm

or a semivowel or non-syllabic l

Gatwick ˈɡæt wɪk → ˈɡæʔ wɪk
quite well ˌkwaɪt ˈwel → ˌkwaɪʔ ˈwel
brightly ˈbraɪt li → ˈbraɪʔ li

Things are more complicated than that in real life, of course. In particular, you often get an alveolar gesture accompanying the glottal closure, so that in football the speaker can correctly report a contact between the tongue tip and the alveolar ridge, while the hearer can correctly report hearing a glottal stop.

Am I right in thinking this is the case in most AmE just as in most BrE?

An exploded alveolar plosive in football sounds “overarticulated” for my kind of English. Complete absence of glottalization here tends to sound South African or Welsh.


  1. As a young EFL student in New Jersey, long before any exposure to BrE, I picked up on the frequent use of glottal stops (perhaps combined with the alveolar gesture) in precisely those situations described in the 'language panel' above.

    The most obvious ones were for words like button. Mountain and fountain were actually the first words I picked up on. In AmE, these two are nearly always pronounced with syllabic nasals; my impression is that this isn't the case with BrE, hence the non-use of glottal stops for this pair. I do frequently use a fully exploded t in captain, though, probably because the two stops in a row feel like they could do with a satisfying release.

  2. I'm an AmEng speaker from Massachusetts, and I tend to glottalize in all the situations you've identified. However, utterance-final glottalization is rare in my speech; I almost always use an unreleased [t] in that position.

  3. I just realized that captain does not qualify as a candidate for a glottalized allophone of t since [p] which precedes it is not a sonorant. Explains why I don't generally use a glottal stop there. But I'm not quite sure what goes on when I don't explode the t and say cap'm.

  4. I agree that AmE glottal /t/ is a coarticulated stop [ʔ͡t], and that glottal utterance-final /t/ is not AmE. The famous opposition between nitrate /naɪtrɛɪt/, night rate /naɪt+rɛɪt/, and Nye trait /naɪ+trɛɪt/ is represented in my own speech by [naɪtrɛɪʔ͡t], [naɪʔ͡trɛɪʔ͡t], and [naːɪtrɛɪʔ͡t] respectively (presuming another word follows in each case).

  5. I've noticed (mostly in younger generations, but that's just impressionistic) that many people include a schwa, often tending to a higher variant, in the second syllable of words like "button" even if they change the /t/ to a glottal stop. It sounds odd to me, but many people I know use it all the time.

  6. Ryan, I think that might be an AAVE trait, like glottalizing "Broadway," which I hear regularly in our mixed-ethnic neighborhood.

    And I agree, it's normal AmE to glottalize t under the circumstances listed above. Not to do so pushes the t into the next syllable (as with the 'nitrate' example above.

  7. Is it an impression of mine, or syllabic /n/ and syllabic /m/ behave differently? In botton, a glottal stop would sound much less weird than in bottom to me, and vice versa for the flap.

  8. In my native dialect, 'mitten' and 'kitten' (and 'button') almost always involve a glottal stop in place of the t. When I use it as an example of a glottal stop to my English students, they think I'm hi-larious.

  9. I don't think it's a coincidence that Jonseong picked up on glottalizations in New Jersey--this could be a regional feature. I say my own first name, Emmet, with a glottal stop in place of utterance-final /t/, and without the alveolar component at that.

    That said, when trying to sound "formal" I do use the unreleased [t] that Lazar mentions--and also lower the 2nd vowel from ɪ to ɛ, but that's another story...

  10. @army1987,

    I think a glottal stop before syllabic /m/ would be perceived as /p/, not /t/. But then I don't recall hearing [hæʔm̩] for happen (or [rɛʔŋ̩] for reckon for that matter.)

  11. @Jongseong:

    Fountain and Mountain have the KIT vowel rather than schwa in the second syllable for many BrE speakers (including me), which prevents their being realized as syllabic nasals.

    In my own (near RP) speech I might use a glottal stop in any of the the examples listed in the Language Panel, except Button, where I would always use an alveolar stop with either nasal or alveolar release.

  12. That's interesting about the alveolar gesture. That explains why I thought it was an unreleased alveolar plosive because my tongue still touches the alveolar ridge.

  13. @army1987:
    Yeah, I agree except I believe I've heard an alveolar tap in words "button" and especially "important" in the South (of the U.S.), which sounds a bit unusual to me.

  14. @army1987: I think a glottal stop before syllabic /m/ would be interpreted as the coarticulate /p/. But I don't recall hearing a glottal stop in happen (or reckon for that matter)

  15. BTW, I think the glottalization with "social importance that is attached to it in the UK" is the one before vowels e.g. getting, where other speakers could use a flap, a "plain" alveolar plosive, a non-sibilant fricative, ...

  16. @army1987:
    I think the stigmatized glottalization is word-internal gloattalization, e.g., in "bottle" or "water" (or "getting"). Glottalization in phrases like "get out", "get in" or "not a lot" can be found in modern RP from what I've read.

  17. Thanks for the post, and for all the comments, commenters! There seems to be a general agreement, then, as to the environments where you get t-glottalisation in AmE.

    One more little ask: Any comments on t-glottalisation as performed by these two women? Pretty please? Marked/unmarked? Evidently regional?