Thursday, 26 April 2012


Lipman asks about the possibilities of
syllable-initial (love that word) t-glottalisation. Also, on television, I heard somebody say nʌɪnʔɪjn nineteen. Where does this occur? The speaker didn't sound as if he artificially tried to sound folksy.

I don’t think anyone ever says *ʔiː for tea, *ˈʔɑːɡɪʔ for target, or *ʔreɪn for train, do they?

The best I can think of as slightly a less implausible candidate for down-market word-initial t-glottalling would be somethinɡ like ?ˈsiː jə ʔəˈmɒrə see you tomorrow. Has anyone ever heard that?

It’s not much different for word-internal, putatively syllable-initial t-glottalling. I don’t think anyone ever says *əˈʔæk for attack or *rɪˈʔɜːn for return (do they?). On the other hand I think I have heard ɡɪˈʔɑː for guitar, while ʔeɪʔiːn for eighteen (adjust the vowel qualities to please) is indeed widespread among the kind of speakers who use a glottal stop in words such as water and city.

Two of the teen numerals are obviously irregular: thirteen and fifteen do not fit the pattern of fourteen, sixteen, seventeen and nineteen.

The missing one, eighteen, is also irregular for RP speakers and many others, since it has single t, thus ˌeɪˈtiːn, despite the two ts of its transparent morphology (eight eɪt plus teen tiːn). On the other hand some speakers/accents, both British and American, have regularized the position by pronouncing it ˌeɪtˈtiːn.

(The teen numerals are all lexically double-stressed, and therefore susceptible to ‘stress shift’ in running speech. Let’s not get sidetracked into discussion of stress patterns, which is a different issue.)

The first t in this ˌeɪtˈtiːn is an obvious candidate for glottalling, just as the first t in nighttime. I suppose that if you manipulate the usual rule ordering so as to do glottal replacement before double consonant simplification you could explain the possibility of ˌeɪʔˈiːn. However, this would involve ordering a postlexical rule (glottalling) before a lexical rule (simplification), which cannot be right.

But then again there are speakers who have double tt (possibly realized as ʔt) in thirteen and fourteen. And, as you would then expect, there are some who reduce this cluster to a simple ʔ, giving ˌθɜːʔˈiːn, ˌfɔːʔˈiːn.

And, as Lipman noted, this can extend to nineteen, too. As well as ˌnaɪnˈtiːn, we can get ˌnaɪntˈtiːn ~ ˌnaɪnʔˈtiːn and even ˌnaɪnʔˈiːn.

With double tt ~ ʔt or bare ʔ I think you usually get pre-fortis clipping of the sonorant part of the first syllable (eɪ, ɜː, ɔː, aɪn), which might be taken to imply that there has been resyllabification, giving a fortis consonant as the coda of the first syllable, thus ˌeɪʔˈiːn, ˌnaɪnʔˈiːn etc.

I’m really not sure how to explain all this.


  1. In response to your questions, there is some evidence of morpheme-initial glottalisation in Petyt (1985). On page 219, he says that it occurred in several items that involved ''to'' somewhere, including today [?əde:] and tomorrow [?əmɒrə]. He also reports two instances of glottalisation in sometimes [sʊm?aɪmz], both from teenagers.

    Personally I have never heard such forms. Petyt's research was done in 1970-1. I speculate that T-glottalisation was becoming cool for young people around this time and there was a period where it was extremely widespread. The book also contains comments by older people who disapproved strongly of this modern trend (p.149).

    (As an aside, does anyone know whatever happened to KM Petyt? He wrote two extremely thorough books, and seems to have disappeared since)

    1. I'm attempting to make a link on Google Books to the part of the book that I'm talking about. Second result on a search for "tomorrow" here, page 219

    2. Of course there's also the glottalisation of the reduced definite article in some parts of Yorkshire (though I think its phonetics are quite complex).

  2. I know people from Tyneside who say see you [ʔ]omorrow, dinner[ʔ]ime and nine[ʔ]een. See also Docherty, Foulkes, Milroy, Milroy and Walshaw (1997) 'Descriptive adequacy in phonology' in Journal of Linguistics 33, 275-310 (especially p. 290).

  3. Resyllabification from eighteen etc. makes a lot of sense. I didn't think of the double-t issue at all.

  4. In my Scottish accent, I have this syllable-initial glottalization in some number words, namely:
    Seventeen: [sɛvn̩ʔin]
    Eighteen: [eʔin]
    Nineteen: [nəɪʔin]
    Twenty: [twɪʔi]
    There's also /n/-dropping in "nineteen" and "twenty", and of course the vowels look/sound strange if you're unfamiliar with Scottish dialects.

    1. "I think that, for me, /tr/ clusters are inseparable unless a morpheme boundary intervenes."

      Same here. I might glottalise both /t/s in "bitrate", but never the one in "petrol".

  5. I've also heard ʔɪ in Scotland for tae (i.e. "to") but not in other words.

    (Funnily enough, in the related accent of Northern Ireland the same word is pronounced , apparently violating a similar rule about syllable-initial T-voicing. On Facebook and in texts you sometimes see to spelt as "de" or "D".)

    1. Would you glottalise the second t in "constituency"? Gordon Brown used to do this.

      I don't recall hearing [kən'sti?juənsi] in England, even from those who glottalise most cases of non-initial /t/. However, I've just checked LPD and it turns out that this would not be morpheme-initial in RP.

  6. For this American, the initial /t/ in tomorrow is often flapped. I sometimes come near using it (or possibly [d]) even in isolation.

    Generally the set of /t/s that we flap are part of the set that that can be glottalized in the UK, right? (alongside the set that we ourselves glottalize).

  7. Where no man has glottal stopped before: how about Russell Brand's contribution to the Home Affairs Committee on drugs the other day?

  8. Kevin Maguire, who often presents "What the Papers Say", glottalizes the /t/ in "petrol", which I find very striking.. See the 15 April edition here:

    I think that, for me, /tr/ clusters are inseparable unless a morpheme boundary intervenes.

  9. Re to, I think I need to share one of my favourite lines with you lot:

    From Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels

  10. "Eighteen" and "fourteen" are the only two words in the entire language that I can think of this glottalization happening, at least in my idiolect. But even then, it's halfway between an italicized double consonant /tːt/ and a glottal stop followed by an alveolar stop /ʔt/. I don't say /eɪ.tiːn/ or /foɹ.tiːn/, and I probably wouldn't unless I wasn't rhotacizing (but even then...).

  11. I was listening to Lord Lawson on the radio today recalling what he did as Nigel Lawson, Chancellor of the Exchequer at various dates last century. He pronounced the nineteen part of a year once as ˌnaɪnˈtiːn but at least twice as ˌnaɪnʔˈiːn.

    Hardly a regional accent, still less a cutting-edge 'yoof' accent.

  12. Re: "there are speakers who have double tt ... in thirteen and fourteen." I've noticed this too. Double consonants signal # boundaries (e.g. cattail), so could this be a case where speakers create fake geminates to better signal inner # in thirteen and fourteen, perhaps to enhance the contrast with thirty and forty?