The American glottal conspiracy revisited

My new video revisits a topic that I first discussed here in this article almost five years ago.

The conspiracy in the title refers to two very different processes in the speech of some younger Americans which ‘conspire’ (in phonological jargon) to manifest the consonant T as a glottal stop [ʔ] before vowels. Pre-vowel T-glottaling is something traditionally associated far more with British accents.

In the video I describe the two processes essentially as I did in the article; but the video presents a lot more exemplification, and some musings on who uses these glottal Ts, and why.

Ideally I’d like to get more real examples of this two-pronged phenomenon, so I’d be grateful if any of you could post links, in the comments below, to nice examples of North American pre-vowel T-glottaling that you may come across. It would be nice if you could include timings (unless it’s a speaker who does it frequently), and any information you can add about the speaker’s region/accent.

I’m especially interested in the sounds immediately preceding the glottal T when it occurs within a word. A preceding R is quite common, as in cer[ʔ]ain, impor[ʔ]ant, cur[ʔ]ain, shor[ʔ]en, Mar[ʔ]in. I’ve heard other preceding sounds only rarely, like bea[ʔ]en and co[ʔ]on. I’d also be interested in more examples of glottal T before -ing like figh[ʔ]ing. And do you ever hear North American glottal T inside words with no following /n/, like ci[ʔ]y or be[ʔ]er? Lastly, can you find any examples from D, like the prou[ʔ]of which I once heard?

Please remember that I’m not looking for glottal T before a traditional syllabic N, e.g. cer[ʔn̩] – only before a vowel, e.g. cer[ʔɪn] and righ[ʔ] angle.

Thank you!

59 replies
  1. Matt
    Matt says:

    I’m a 35yo American native English speaker (born in Georgia, raised in and currently live in North Carolina) and here are my thoughts on your questions:

    I actually do hear co[ʔ]on for “cotton” not infrequently, but never bi[ʔ]ing for “biting” or ci[ʔ]y for “city”. As far as I know glottalizing of final [d] is associated with African American English primarily. Most standard American dialects allow ba[ʔ] for “bat” but not for “bad” while AAE allows it for either (though I believe a vowel length distinction between the two is often still maintained). This is more general than just the intervocalic examples you were looking at, but could be a related phenomenon.

    Reply
  2. .
    . says:

    As an American, most words which would end in syllabic n, I pronounce as either “-in” or just a nasal i with the final n dropped. This goes for certain, cotton, beaten (my accent has no -en vs. -in distinction), and also fighting/biting (as I tend to drop the -g in -ing endings). In these words I always use glottal t, as well as before hard attacks. In the between vowels I always pronounce it as a flap (city =ciddy), but a t at the end of a word preceding a vowel I pronounce as either a flap or a glottal interchangeably. I think that most instances of of glottal t with hard attack have to do with just pausing the sentence to think or take a breath, although not always. I’ve never heard anyone glottalize a final d, although I have heard it dropped when at the end of a sentence. I’ve never heard anybody else do this, but I myself sometimes just drop the t when intervocalic (ie. Better =berr) I certainly don’t think any of what you’ve mentioned is a coordinated or intentional effort to sound a certain way; and I’m not sure most Americans would even notice the changes in our accent which you’ve pointed out.

    Reply
  3. Anja
    Anja says:

    I’m not a native English speaker, but I went to school in English for years and speak English with many of my friends. My accent is definitely American because of that. I’m 19 years old since you mentioned the young speakers. I have been noticing recently that I have been using a glottal stop after saying “that”. I was very surprised since that is something I generally associate with British accents, which I do not have much contact with. I hope this helps a bit!!

    Reply
  4. Jon V
    Jon V says:

    i posted a comment on your recent video – i live in New Mexico. i am glad (for many reasons) you got to visit this great area. it is definitely (imho) very interesting linguistically. to the point here, i have heard many (to my ear) *very* strong stops for example in “mountain”. i think this video, as much as it is being *emphasized* for comedic purposes really nails “mountain” at 0:28 approx.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N5Yy0iWVC00&t=28s (and perhaps “button” a few seconds later)

    Reply
  5. Daniel
    Daniel says:

    My wife (~40 years old) is from central New Jersey and uses a glottal stop in “cotton”. It’s always been very noticeable to me. She does not use glottal t’s otherwise as far as I’ve observed, however.

    Reply
  6. Lisa
    Lisa says:

    An amusing coincidence that this video cropped up the day after I was in a conference call where a team was training our staff on using a new website CMS. I don’t know where the main presenter lives, just that she’s American and probably Midwestern like myself. I was born in the mid 70s; she seemed about half a generation younger. This being a conference call, most of the presentation washed over my brain without making much impression — except when she said the word “button.” It was just like you describe: glottal stop for the T, followed by (or combined with) a hard attack on the last syllable, which had the KIT vowel and not schwa or ‘n : “bu’ – in.” To my ears it does sound like a bit of London randomly wandered over the pond into this lady’s speech, but as you point out, it is not really random at all. Phrases like “So then you would go to the drop-down menu, and choose the bu’ -in….” and “You can put any text on the bu’ -in you want….” always snagged my attention. Nothing else in her speech snagged my attention, though, because most of the other common forms of hard attack you describe are familiar to me and I often use them myself. I would, for instance, readily say “You can pu’ any text…” with a glottal stop/hard attack between those words.

    Aside from the prestige aspect of this usage, I’m wondering whether it is more likely to crop up in the context of particular speech acts. My presenter of yesterday was, well, presenting; and many of your examples are of people making an extemporaneous presentation or trying to explain or discuss something clearly over a remote connection. If I walk past someone and stumble over their outstretched foot, and they say, “Oh, I’m sorry! Did I hurt you?” I might easily say, “Nod ad all, don’ worry aboud it.” If someone asks me over a conference call if I plan to use a product, I might say: “I am no[‘] a[‘] ‘all likely to use this.” A discrete speech act like “Not at all” [don’t apologize, it’s fine] might call less for a staccato separation of syllables than a dialogue in which you want to be perceived as enunciating clearly. This is just my speculation, though.

    Reply
  7. Joseph
    Joseph says:

    I mentioned the song, “The Hardest Button to Button,” in my comment on your YouTube video. The song, by the American rock band The White Stripes, was released in 2003. The singer is a Caucasian male, Jack White. https://youtu.be/K4dx42YzQCE?si=n7if5GNa8H2oouq6. Listen to the way he pronounces “button” at 2:15 and 2:34 (an entire sequence of them). Again, this was a 2003 release!

    Reply
  8. Adam
    Adam says:

    I believe I’ve heard a lot of examples of T-glottalization in Joel Haver’s videos, especially when he’s not in character. The first example I was able to turn up is in https://youtu.be/aNWbI8T42II?si=ionPiBDo2UlLgfur around 3:43 (“Mar[ʔ]ens” for “Martens”). I want to say I’ve heard him do the same thing with “button”, but I can’t seem find an example.

    Reply
  9. Joseph
    Joseph says:

    Hello! 25 year old man from California here. This video revealed to me something I have done subconsciously my whole life without even knowing! Personally, I feel the letters preceding the t are mostly irrelevant, though ; I use the glottal t for all of carton, cotton, bitten, fatten, button, set in, gluten. I think the ending n encourages the glottal t because my tongue is already on the roof of my mouth, so to move it to enunciate a harder t sound would be less efficient. I think the vowels after the t aren’t true vowels in these cases since they are all basically excluded and instead pronounced as a glottal stop with an n tacked on. A great example is the Kitten Mittens bit in It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia (0:29): https://youtu.be/22O6Nmjt-mw?si=Azv0N3JzSY61N_yr
    Also this song, called “Whatcha Eatin'” features is very prominently: https://youtu.be/_aseJ3PtoCQ?si=XeV2XObf0LN3VV0J

    One thing I’m a little surprised that wasn’t mentioned is that the glottal t is used at the end of words all the time. For all of the above examples, if you take out the en/in/on, I pronounce the t exactly the same. Cart, cot, bit, fat, butt, set, glute. You can see this exemplified in this SpongeBob episode where he says “night” repeatedly: https://youtu.be/mKXWj1Pe8Fk?feature=shared

    Because of this tendency, in cases where there’s a separation between a word that ends in a t and another word that starts with a vowel, I believe you would see this often. For example, here with “night owl”: https://youtu.be/Amkg1cdDCpM?si=kZX__6q0vXRoWGPC

    I think it’s also worth noting that many American English speakers go back and forth between the glottal t sound and a hard t sound without thinking about it. In this reading of the Cat in the Hat, the reader (with a Midwestern American accent) shifts between the two with seemingly no consistency: https://youtu.be/-LL62u6-OjY?feature=shared

    I also think it’s interesting that you characterized this as a younger American phenomenon, because I hear it with people of all ages and all accents within the US. Even President Biden uses the glottal t when he says “Putin”: https://youtube.com/shorts/oBLs7TJiYiU?si=AQNOMOMeHpRCM9re

    And finally, my favorite example I found, the rootin’ tootin’ chicken hawk: https://youtu.be/NtEa1AlFTi0?si=ykrrsIClZPISGz_f

    Reply
  10. Egan Penney
    Egan Penney says:

    There’s a trend I’ve noticed in younger Americans where they do the stereotypical British working class glottal T to such a degree that it actually sounds like two separate words.

    For example, the word “certain”. Instead of just replacing the T with a glottal stop, it’s spoken as if it were two words, with the first word being pronounced fully rather than as a shortened weak form, and a hard attack on the second word. So instead of “certain”, it sounds like “sir N”. They almost pause and go completely silent between the two syllables.

    The first time I heard it was in a Collegehumor sketch called “Gluten free duck”, which portrays a duck complaining about the bread it’s being fed, saying things like “Does that bread have glue N? Because I can’t eat glue N.”

    It was exaggerated for the sketch, but after that I started hearing it everywhere.

    https://youtu.be/n5KpeRt-LmY?si=VDfSp-J-bGWnOufr

    Reply
  11. Mark Vincent
    Mark Vincent says:

    I believe the glottal stop not a completely new phenomenon – listen to Mamma Cass’ 1969 ‘It’s getting better’

    Reply
  12. Gustavobc
    Gustavobc says:

    I can give you a couple examples of an American speaker (36 y/o, male, NYC/Staten Island accent) who consistently pronounces “cotton” as [kɑʔɪn], [kɑʔən] and maybe even [kɑʔɪ̃ː]:
    https://youtu.be/EMpb6c04LWg?t=3010 (see also “button” as [bəʔɪn] at 55:46, beware questionable context)
    https://youtu.be/_tOlIazRL4o?t=2820
    He makes some use of hard attack (notably at the beginning of sentences), but generally flaps his Ts even at the ends of words preceding a vowel — perhaps unstressed [ʔən] is the exception here, but it *is* consistent. Please let me know if you’d like more information!

    Reply
  13. Amanda Hickie
    Amanda Hickie says:

    Just watched the video. Fascinating! It reminded me of a youtuber I used to watch who is no longer active. She was the first person I noticed adding back a vowel after the glottal stop, although I didn’t realise that’s what it was. At least I think that’s what I’m hearing.

    She uses a brand called Wilton. You can hear her saying it at 7:40 in the video – https://youtu.be/23uLxzzQOj0?si=gES_ZK_pbLGfDjQs

    Same youtuber saying ‘cotton’ at 0:11 in this video – https://youtu.be/X3xKLVYp-Mo?si=mpHbCryImqpN4rhk

    I hope these are relevant.

    Reply
  14. Karl
    Karl says:

    I’m having a hard time finding an example, but I have heard young New Yorkers pronounce the name Clinton with a hard glottal stop in place of both the N and the T in the middle of that word. I associate it in particular with young Latinas. Perhaps the New York dialect of Spanish is having an influence? That’s only a guess.

    Reply
    • Brenda F Bell
      Brenda F Bell says:

      It might have to do with enunciation of names, specifically. Consider “Long Island”, what my intro to linguistics proof called “the only place in the world where people pronounce a medial angma-g” – or, as Slanguage.com once transcribed it, “Lawn Guy Land” (although it sounds closer to “lind” than “land”). Also, the stereotypical (not that I can recall actually hearing it), “Toity-toyd in toyd” (33rd and Third)…

      Reply
  15. Jeff Reynolds
    Jeff Reynolds says:

    I’ve heard younger Americans pronounce “button” with a glottal stop and a short “i” sound instead the schwa I’m used to. An example is at 1:56 in this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=604M7x7CfoY
    A related thing you touched on: I’ve noticed is the short “i” sound in places where I’m used to hearing a schwa: person (per-sin), corporation (corpora-shin), etc.
    I’m fascinated by your videos. I can’t say I’m up to speed on all the sounds, but it’s very interesting – thanks!
    Jeff

    Reply
  16. Patrick Higgins
    Patrick Higgins says:

    I noticed this appearing some time ago distinctly by US band the White Stripes in their song “The Hardest Button to Button”. I regularly hear the word button pronounced like this by younger Americans – along with the glottal stop the pronunciation of the final vowel as “i” sounds strange / wrong to my ears.

    https://youtu.be/K4dx42YzQCE?si=jgZzgJl0x5hhQUxY

    Reply
  17. Stephen McCown
    Stephen McCown says:

    Dr. Lindsay,

    OK, this isn’t an example of glottal T but I ran into it right after I watched your video. It is an example of T-flapping turning into “hard T: (I’m not a lingquist so I don’t know the right terminology). I think it is interesting because it shows this change in the same person but over time.

    Bobby Vinton was a popular singer in the 1960s whose song “Mr. Lonely” was a big hit. It uses the word “letter” several times in the 2nd verse. Here he is singing it in 1964 with T-flapping:

    https://youtu.be/djU4Lq_5EaM?si=zOAu1JmTRo-ki4wW

    Here he is about 50 years later singing the same song but using a hard T:

    https://youtu.be/wS7hMR-Ea8c?si=KlODuajH-E2x00Ca

    But wait, I do have an example of American usage of a glottal T: my 15 y/o granddaughter uses it to pronounce her teachers name, “Payton,” which she pronounces “Pay[ʔ]on.” Is that what your looking for? Actually, I realize I pronounce it the same way.

    We live in Central Texas. I think most Central Texans would also use the glottal stop in the two words you mentioned, beaten and cotton.

    Reply
  18. Cynthia
    Cynthia says:

    Ezra Klein – For years I’ve been trying to figure out what makes his speech so unusual. Yes, he has a lisp but there’s been something else and this might be it. Plus, he’s talked like this for a long time. I remember it a lot from MCNBC circa 2012.

    Reply
  19. Catie Cotton
    Catie Cotton says:

    I work as telephone tech support advisor for a major tech company so I don’t have recorded examples but I do have 13 years of anecdotal experience listening to people in multiple areas of the US and more recently people in Europe and UK. I am from New Orleans originally but I do not have the distinct New Orleans accent, as it was mostly trained out of my speech by my socially aspiring parents.
    Most notably I have noticed the glottal T in words like cer[ʔ]ain, impor[ʔ]ant, cur[ʔ]ain, shor[ʔ]en from speakers in the Northeast of the US, like Philadelphia and New York City. It may be appearing as a function of those accents spreading through social media proliferation. Most notably anecdotally I had a friend who moved from Philadelphia to North Alabama where I live, whose Philadelphia accent was a noticeable contrast to the southern accents around us, so her glottal T was very distinct to me. This was in 2009.

    As far as the hard attack becoming more prevalent in male speakers, it may be that the male vs female discussion has to do with the number of male vs female YouTubers. It may be necessary to control for that because there are just more male YouTubers in general. It would be interesting to also look at Instagram and TikTok for gender prevalence.

    Reply
  20. Brenda F Bell
    Brenda F Bell says:

    Interestingly, I think more Americans morph interior “d” only to a flap, and interior “t” to either a flap or a glottal stop, depending on region and on speed of speech. (The faster the speed of speech, the more likely the pronounced sound will be the glottal stop rather than a flap or a breathed hard t (I’ve forgotten the correct term for the hard t that’s followed by a bit of a breath, t superscript-square-bracket h).)

    Reply
  21. Troobninge
    Troobninge says:

    I can’t provide links to examples right now, but I can talk about it in my own accent (NYC, AAVE-ish style) and provide speech samples if necessary (@Troobninge on Twitter is probably the best way to reach me). For me the preceding sound does not matter much, it can be any vowel or /r l n/, I would definitely say bea[ʔ]en and co[ʔ]on. As for what comes after, I not only say a vowel instead of a syllabic /n/ I would also usually elide the final /n/ and just say it with a nasal vowel, but its still definitely [ʔ]. Interestingly I can also use [ʔ] before a syllabic /l/, but only if its not vocalized, where it’d be tapped instead (so ba[ɾ]le, but ba[ʔ]ling). As for cases like prou[ʔ] of, even though I do debuccalize final /d/ to [ʔ] a lot of the time, this would be a case of me deleting the /d/ and then using hard attack, which for me happens a lot after any of /t d v n l r/, tho it might me different for others, southerners for example can say “sudden” as su[ʔ]en which I would never do.

    Reply
  22. Martin
    Martin says:

    My purely anecdotal evidence of hearing my name called out by baristas on a regular basis is that the glottal followed by a vowel is the most common pronunciation among this younger, and perhaps more progressive, crowd. It’s cer/ʔə/nly the one I adopt myself when I don’t want my name to be misunderstood in a noisy coffee shop.

    Reply
  23. Nuria Gavalda
    Nuria Gavalda says:

    Thank you for this video; it is brilliant as usual!

    I’ve been listening to Hamilton’s soundtrack a lot recently and I have noticed many instances of glottalised /t/ in -ing words like “shitting, getting” and the word “Britain”. And there are also many instances of t-glottalling in word final position and intervocalically across word boundaries. Here are some examples. I wonder whether this may be a common feature of rap songs, also related to the “street cred” you mentioned in the video.

    “my shot” (https://open.spotify.com/track/4cxvludVmQxryrnx1m9FqL?si=69f25349503b494b)

    (0:49) Meanwhile Bri[ʔ]ain keeps shi[ʔ]ing on us endlessly

    Cabinet Battle #1 (https://open.spotify.com/track/3TfKt8mPpdXfQTMfRjHzyz?si=9b866659185f4375)

    (1:03)

    And it’s too many damn pages fo(r) [ʔ] any man to [ʔ] understand
    Stand with me in the land of the free and pray to God we never see Hamilton’s candidacy. Look, when Bri[ʔ]ain taxed our tea, we got frisky
    Imagine what gon’ happen when you try to tax our whisky

    (2:00)
    And another thing, Mr. Age of Enligh[ʔ]enment
    Don’t lecture me about the war, you di[ʔ]n[ʔ] figh[ʔ] in i[ʔ].
    You think I’m fri[ʔ]ghened of you, man?
    We almost died in a trench
    While you were off ge[ʔ]ing high with the French
    Thomas Jefferson, always hesitant with the President
    Reticent there isn’t a plan he doesn’t jettison
    Madison, you’re mad as a hatter, son, take your medicine
    Damn, you’re in worse shape than the national deb[ʔ] is in
    Si[ʔ]in’ there useless as two shits
    Hey, turn around, bend over, I’ll show you where my shoe fits

    Reply
  24. Popeye
    Popeye says:

    I was just watching the video below and when this example jumped out to me I remembered your request. It’s just a single example, but it’s an example in that “ci[ʔ]y class” you asked after: the word “literally” at 11:48 in the video.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rPGXd8P5mm4&t=708s

    (I’m sure it probably stood out to me because it does seem unexpected to hear it in an American accent. From a fellow Brit it’d probably not even have registered!)

    Reply
  25. Patrick
    Patrick says:

    Hi, I (32 male) live on Vancouver Island off the west coast of Canada, and have friends and family on the mainland in the Vancouver area of British Columbia. I definitely do the hard attack, and occasionally drop the odd t or d at the end of words; and I do sound the vowels in word endings more than older people (for “certain” my dad (59) says cerd’n while I say certin), but not as often as my youngest sister (17yo). I also will use the full wh sound on the beginning of words (especially at the beginning of sentences) “[wh]ere [ʔ]and [w]en” and though while my 18 yo brother does too, my 17yo sister w (or very slightly aspirates it, I notice that she does it when speaking to someone else who does).

    Interestingly, I would say that there are two different modes of speech which I would call emphasised & relaxed. If I’m asking what someone is doing it can be “wut[ch]ya do[ʔ]n'” or “what [ʔ]are you do[w]ing”, or a common one in Vancouver is “have you heard” becoming “yerd”. There’s the casual, almost slurred, form that I will use with close friends, but an almost overly clear form that I will use with strangers and when talking on the phone or online, even with people who I would use the more relaxed mode with in person. There is a definite change happening here, and my little thought is that this generation has much more exposure to other dialects and accents than previously; so perhaps there is a little bit of synthesis going on between them through exposure, I don’t know. All this is fascinating to watch and here as a language nerd.

    Reply
  26. Emortin
    Emortin says:

    The song “Girls Day Out” from the Phineas and Ferb soundtrack, sung by Sarah Hudson, includes lots of hard attacks and T-glottaling. There’s even a D-glottaling in there too!

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k_bCQiGm14g

    (0:13)
    So ge[ʔ] ready, we can lay ou[ʔ] or ge[ʔ] a mani-pedi

    (0:36)
    It’s a girls’ day out, time to ge[ʔ] away
    From the hustle and bustle of the day-to-day
    We all nee[ʔ] a little time to play

    (0:45)
    We can just do brunch or catch a ma[ʔ]inéе

    Reply
  27. Sean Braemer
    Sean Braemer says:

    As a South Midwesterner (Cincinnati, Ohio) whose wife owns a clothing store, I hear “cotton” pronounced ˈkɑʔɪn or ˈkɔʔɪn all the time. Same with “gotten” and “rotten.”

    Reply
  28. Adam Anderson
    Adam Anderson says:

    For your example with cotton, I live in Arizona, (a place in which quite a lot of cotton is/was produced) and I’ve heard that particular word an unusually large amount of times. While pronunciation does vary, typically between ethnic and class lines, the glottal t is seen very frequently in the rural, primarily white, accent, something like /kɒ[ʔ]ɪn/ or /kæ[ʔ]ɪn/ if the accent is particularly strong (sometimes even more open, and the glottal stop almost mutes the ɪ). In the north towards the forests and mountains, you primarily hear /kɒ[ʔ]en/ in the older generations, and /kɒ[ʔ]ɘn/ in the younger generations. The urban areas like Phoenix generally have a broadly “standard American” pronunciation, mostly due to intranational immigration, with a great influence from California and the Northwest. For reference, I pronounce it /ːkɒtɪn/, but my pronunciation is somewhat unusual and uncommon. I am an amateur linguist, so please correct me if one of the IPA pronunciations looks incorrect!

    Reply
  29. Brandon Tyler Burt
    Brandon Tyler Burt says:

    Dear Dr. Lindsey,

    Greetings from Salt Lake City, Utah, a medium-size flyover city somewhere in the middle of North America, unremarkable except possibly for our connection to Mormons, relatively inexpensive ski resorts, and the XIX Olympic Winter Games. I hadn’t realized how keen I am on this topic until, in a moment when I was feverishly writing a comment about it on your YouTube channel, I suddenly remembered with a shock of dêjà vu having left an identical comment on a previous video several weeks before.

    So, naturally, when I heard your invitation for YouTube viewers to comment on your blog, which is a much swankier neighborhood as comments sections go, I arrived here ten seconds later, grinning breathlessly, wide-eyed, suitcase in hand and wearing an eager boutonnière.

    This is about a particular kind of T-glottalization which I had considered to be a uniquely Utah phenomenon, and one that carried a certain degree of undesirability, until I was given a tiny glimpse into the linguistic arcanum, slightly while helping a college roommate with his exam revision twenty-five years ago, but in large part by your YouTube channel in recent months.

    The first time I heard it was circa 1980 when my stepsister and I met. She lived in a remote town aptly named East Carbon, populated by coal miners mostly, along with some sheep and cattle ranchers and their womenfolk, more of whom held a firm belief in the literal truth of the Hollywood cowboy mythos than in the literal truth of any Bible. It was a pattern of speech most audible in words such as “button” and “cotton.” Although I loved her and I still do, I’m afraid I regarded this particular speech pattern as an affectation. I made it my personal crusade to help her eradicate it from her speech the way brothers often help their sisters in childhood: by ruthlessly mocking her.

    She eventually did adopt a pronunciation closer to our regional one: At age 10, then, I was a kind of prickish American Pygmalion.
    It was such a minor thing, it may not have stuck in my memory (nor, I hope, in hers) had it not been for the fact that, a few years later, many of us started to regard that dialect as a font of never-ending hilarity. I particular, we were certain it was in heavy use by the people of Layton, a town strategically established in a location with the uncanny topological property of being always at an inconvenient distance from wherever one is.

    It seemed safe to assume this pattern had been present in parts of Utah for two generations at least; the only terms in which we could conceive of discussing this linguistic curiosity were those of intensely self-conscious ridicule, and it became part of something we called “Utahspeak.”

    Utahspeak was a sensation for a while in my hometown in the 1980s and ’90s; it became a topic of conversation at parties and was featured in comedic local theatrical performances. Besides T glottalization, Utahspeak was also distinguished by features including: 1. Very broad vowels, such as the /ɑ:/ sound that rings forth in the pear-shaped tones of the sentence “Good Lord, Dorothy, that’s a gorgeous orange formal!”; and, 2. Three peculiar prepositions: “upta,” “downta” and “overta,” which are used to describe directions of travel, preferably at distances that keep one safely near home and away from any dreaded “fern influnces.”

    The pronunciation that 10-year-old tyrant was bent on instilling in a 9-year-old girl was based on the mild Salt Lake City dialect spoken in mild Salt Lake City suburbs, which the tyrant conceived of as both “correct English” and “the height of sophistication.”
    Today, as I pronounce them both slowly with an interested ear in an (probably unworthy) attempt to describe them in linguistic terms, I notice that, whereas the glottalized-T of “button” and “cotton” (and sometimes, unaccountably, “unforgotten”) was pronounced behind some kind of back rounded vowel, the SLCP version is pronounced with the exact same glottal gesture, only it’s performed just as a dental-alveolar consonant closes.

    There is a difference: it’s just a very slight one.

    Surprisingly slight when I think how large that difference loomed, at least for us, when we were exaggerating and ridiculing it to no end. The hilarity was so forced because, to us, the difference was all that separated us from the hicks from the sticks, who were obviously unenlightened, unsophisticated, superstitious and ignorant.

    Oh, and did I mention close-minded and judgmental?

    Looking back, my own hypocrisy is what’s obvious, as is my short-sightedness at not having been able to discuss a variation in dialect in neutral terms without assigning a positive or negative valence, and—let’s face it—my sheer insecurity that I would find it necessary to make a caricature of my neighbors so that I could draw a bright line between us.

    It’s common for 10-year-olds to be pricks and unrepentant tyrants—at least it seems to be in my part of the world.

    Then again, not all of us grow out of it. And now, as I watch what remains of a nation crumbling around my ears, I wish I had drawn that line a little more lightly, valued my countrymen a little bit more, and myself a little bit less.

    What a stroke of luck it is to stumble upon the kind of wisdom—some of it originating, perhaps, from the YouTube channel of a silver British linguist with quicksilver wit—that shakes us out of the remnants of our childhood tyranny and into a larger and more interesting world of adults and humanity.

    May we all have the opportunity.

    Reply
  30. Royce
    Royce says:

    Commented this on the video as well, but didn’t know if this was the better place to post.

    As an American thinking on how I unknowingly use these differing pronunciations, I feel like it can be driven by emphasis from meaning. I would say cer[ʔn] if the word was less important/emphasized in the context, such as in, “certain BAD situations.” And it seems to not only be when leading up to something emphasized; I would use the same in the passage, “the silken, sad, uncertain rustling of each purple curtain.”

    But if the word IS a stressed point of emphasis, a reinserted vowel almost seems to be part of the mechanic to actually do the emphasizing, despite not being in the stressed syllable – such as in, “no no, only in CERtain situations.” Then it’s a drastically different cer[ʔɪn].

    Reply
  31. Lauren B
    Lauren B says:

    My favorite example of all time! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tMGPoAq-pSY The clip is only 49 seconds and they use Mar[ʔ]in over and over throughout the theme song. It is from the 90s and he plays a man from Detroit, Michigan but (according to Wikipedia) the actor grew up in Washington DC and Maryland (not including his early years in Germany on a military base). <3

    Reply
  32. Dave
    Dave says:

    Thank you for taking the time to make the video on the American T “conspiracy”. I am a recently retired teacher from the suburbs outside of Philadelphia. I, too, noticed the recent spread of the glottal stop T & pronunciation of the following vowel. Previously, I had associated it with NYC and although I know we’re not supposed to have class consciousness in the US, it sounded lower-class to me. Imagine my surprise when in the mid-2000s, we hired a new young chemistry teacher who did the same thing. He was from rural Pennsylvania, which mystified me. It jarred my ear and sounded lower-class (and still does.) To me, it was as you speculated in your video – a case covert prestige: an imitation of the pop-culture hip-hop that emanated from NYC. As my teaching years went on, I noticed it more and more among the students and younger teachers. I believe it is part of a larger trend of the glorification of NYC hip-hop culture and (what seems to me) lower-class ideals among the kids. Possibly this may be racism on my part, although I have done my best throughout my career to notice and work against my internal biases. I really think, at least in my case, that my distaste for it is a class thing – a bias I didn’t realize I had. Strange, huh?

    Reply
  33. Dave
    Dave says:

    I almost forgot – one of the things that may have spread its use was the formerly popular meme: “Oh no you dih-int!” (didn’t)

    Reply
  34. Lauren B.
    Lauren B. says:

    https://www.tiktok.com/t/ZT87a5jq7/ In this example she says “student” like “stu’ent” @ the 0:05 mark. Trigger warning! The topic of the video is sensitive but it’s not too sensitive at that time stamp. I’m not sure exactly where she is from but she is a young, North American woman.

    Reply
  35. Grumpy old man
    Grumpy old man says:

    As a 56 year old American, I don’t think James Orgill from the Action Lab is representational of the American accent. I subscribe to him and watch most of his videos, but he sounds odd to my American ear, in that I can’t place his accent and I’ve never heard anyone else speak like him exactly.

    Reply
  36. Rob
    Rob says:

    Hi Geoff,

    My first thoughts on hearing about this phenomenon went to the streamer SaffronOlive – I found some examples from YouTube, mainly of the ‘hard attack’ variety, but there may be others that I missed.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5rCmv-kMW5E

    5:50 – Moun[ʔ]ain
    7:50 – Scoop i[ʔ] up
    17:44 – Ge[ʔ]in
    20:35 – hej[ʔ]in (hate in)

    In https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YaOEfigjTTA the word ‘Titan’ is pronounced ‘Ti[ʔɪn]’.
    And in https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g85QILbhJrs you can hear ‘Infini[ʔ]in’ at 5:07.

    Reply
  37. Andy
    Andy says:

    I know I’m late to the party, but found this video especially fascinating as someone who is a native speaker of New York/New Jersey English, who then lived in London and SE England for a couple of years, before settling in Berlin – my linguistic CV is all over the place. However, I vividly remember being new in England and everyone there being very amused that I used a glottal stop in the name Martin – something other North American students from other regions didn’t do. My native accent definitely also did this in words like mitten and important, though not in words like Saturday or potato. Now, after years away, I’ve noticed that my mother (still living in New Jersey) has started glottalising the T in Saturday, while I’m increasingly bewildered by the t-flapping/soft-d sound that seems to be taking over in the US for the internal T in important – thankfully not something that my family has adopted, though. Thanks for the video!

    Reply
  38. Kaisa
    Kaisa says:

    As far as I can tell, the t-glottalization occurs most frequently before an [In] sound.

    I have thus far not heard any instance of t being glottalized before -ing. It’s always been a t-flap or a pronounced t (as in “tin”).

    This is especially apparent between the words “rot”, “rotten”, and “rotting”. The first two are pronounced with glottal t, but the third is pronounced with a t-flap (sounding like “rodding”).

    I have also not heard any words with an ending -er pronounced with glottal t (ie. better, butter, hotter, matter, litter, loiter, etc.). I’ve heard it as a t-flap.

    Most of these words have: [glottal t + KIT vowel + n]
    mountain (https://youtu.be/NQYAv0QwKC4?si=DH7TSaPJ5Fe06qN_ and also sentinel),

    button (South AZ GenAm dialect)
    (https://youtu.be/Sj8x992G3fw?si=dZWWCbe2oMiAW3Z2),

    cotton (South AZ GenAm dialect) (https://youtu.be/CIyziVw6guk?si=ivE7K76HoLbYyeRz note another glottal t in “shortened” at 1:05 (also irrelevant but interesting to note he pronounces “mature” instead of the common American “machur” at 1:55)),

    satin, rotten, Latin, mutton, fountain, beaten, eaten (words like “eater” however have a t-flap), sweeten, Manhattan, flatten, titan, kitten, mitten, written, bitten, botany

    This video has many good examples: https://youtu.be/Vabg-EUHOQk?si=zNIlMbzU2DXqz55b

    I’ve not yet found any pattern in the preceding vowels of a glottal stop.

    Reply
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