Glottalization is the complete or partial closure of the glottis during the articulation of another sound. Glottalization of vowels and other sonorants is most often realized as creaky voice (partial closure). Glottalization of obstruent consonants usually involves complete closure of the glottis; another way to describe this phenomenon is to say that a glottal stop is made simultaneously with another consonant. In certain cases, the glottal stop can even wholly replace the voiceless consonant. The term 'glottalized' is also used for ejective and implosive consonants; see glottalic consonant for examples.

There are two other ways to represent glottalization of sonorants in the IPA: (a) the same way as ejectives, with an apostrophe; or (b) with the under-tilde for creaky voice. For example, the Yapese word for "sick" with a glottalized m could be transcribed as either [mʼaar] or [m̰aar]. (In some typefaces, the apostrophe will occur above the m.)


Glottalization varies along three parameters, all of which are continuums. The degree of glottalization varies from none (modal voice, [d]) through stiff voice ([d̬]) and creaky voice ([d̰]) to full glottal closure (glottal reinforcement or glottal replacement, described below). The timing also varies, from a simultaneous single segment [d̰] to an onset or coda such as [ˀd] or [dˀ] to a sequence such as [ʔd] or [dʔ]. Full or partial closure of the glottis also allows glottalic airstream mechanisms to operate, producing ejective or implosive consonants; implosives may themselves have modal, stiff, or creaky voice. It is not always clear from linguistic descriptions if a language has a series of light ejectives or voiceless consonants with glottal reinforcement,[1] or similarly if it has a series of light implosives or voiced consonants with glottal reinforcement.[lower-alpha 1] The airstream parameter is only known to be relevant to obstruents, but the first two are involved with both obstruents and sonorants, including vowels.

Glottal replacement

When a phoneme is completely substituted by a glottal stop [ʔ], one speaks of glottaling or glottal replacement. This is, for instance, very common in Cockney and Estuary English. In these dialects, the glottal stop is an allophone of /p/, /t/ and /k/ word-finally, and when followed by an unstressed vowel (including syllabic /l/ /m/ and /n/) in a post-stress syllable.[2] 'Water' can be pronounced [ˈwɔːʔə] – the glottal stop has superseded the 't' sound. Other examples include "city" [ˈsɪʔi], "bottle" [ˈbɒʔo], "Britain" [ˈbɹɪʔən], "seniority" [sɪiniˈɒɹəʔi]. In some consonant clusters, glottal replacement of /t/ is common even among RP speakers.

Glottal replacement also occurs in Indonesian, where syllable final /k/ is produced as a glottal stop. In Hawaiian, the glottal stop is reconstructed to have come from other Proto-Polynesian consonants. The following table displays the shift /k//ʔ/ as well as the shift /t//k/.

Gloss man sea taboo octopus canoe
 Tongan taŋata tahi tapu feke vaka
 Samoan taŋata tai tapu feʔe vaʔa
 Māori taŋata tai tapʉ ɸeke waka
 Rapanui taŋata tai tapu heke vaka
 Rarotongan  taŋata tai tapu ʔeke vaka
 Hawaiian kanaka kai kapu heʔe waʔa

Glottal replacement is not purely a feature of consonants. Yanesha' has three vowel qualities (/a/, /e/, and /o/) that have phonemic contrasts between short, long, and "laryngeal" or glottalized forms. While the latter generally consists of creaky phonation, there is some allophony involved. In pre-final contexts, a variation occurs (especially before voiced consonants) ranging from creaky phonation throughout the vowel to a sequence of a vowel, glottal stop, and a slightly rearticulated vowel: /maˀˈnʲoʐ/ ('deer') → [maʔa̯ˈnʲoʂ].[3]

Glottal reinforcement

When a phoneme is accompanied (either sequentially or simultaneously) by a [ʔ], then one speaks of pre-glottalization or glottal reinforcement.


This is common in some varieties of English, RP included; /t/ and /tʃ/ are the most affected but /p/ and /k/ also regularly show pre-glottalization.[4] In the English dialects exhibiting pre-glottalization, the consonants in question are usually glottalized in the coda position: "what" [ˈwɒʔt], "fiction" [ˈfɪʔkʃən], "milkman" [ˈmɪɫʔkmən], "opera" [ˈɒʔpɹə]. To a certain extent, some varieties of English have free variation between glottal replacement and glottal reinforcement.[2]

Other languages

Glottal reinforcement may occasionally be observed in more conservative varieties of Tweants, a dialect of the Dutch Low Saxon language group. It almost exclusively concerns the /t/ consonant, and is sometimes orthographically represented by a double -t. It mostly occurs in monosyllabic verbs, such as "iej loatt" (you let) and "wie weett" (we know). Sometimes it may also occur in contracted words, such as in the phrase: "Wo geet t?" (lit. how goes it?), which is pronounced [ʋɔ ˈɣeːʔtˢ].

See also



  1. See Ladefoged and Maddieson (1996:74) for the case of Siona
  2. Sullivan (1992), p. 46.
  3. Fast (1953), p. 192.
  4. Roach (1973), p. 10.



  • Andrésen, B.S. (1968). Pre-glottalization in English Standard Pronunciation. Oslo: Norwegian University Press.
  • Christopherson, P. (1952). "The glottal stop in English". English Studies. 33: 156–163. doi:10.1080/00138385208596879.
  • Fast, Peter W. (1953). "Amuesha (Arawak) Phonemes". International Journal of American Linguistics. 19 (3): 191–194. doi:10.1086/464218.
  • Higginbottom, E. (1964). "Glottal reinforcement in English". Transactions of the Philological Society. 63: 129. doi:10.1111/j.1467-968X.1964.tb01010.x.
  • Ladefoged, Peter; Maddieson, Ian (1996). The Sounds of the World's Languages. Oxford: Blackwell. ISBN 978-0-631-19815-4.
  • O'Connor, J.D. (1952). "RP and the reinforcing glottal stop". English Studies. 33: 214–218.
  • Roach, P. (1973). "Glottalization of English /p/, /t/, /k/ and /tʃ/: a reexamination". Journal of the International Phonetic Association. 3.1: 10–21. doi:10.1017/S0025100300000633.
  • Sullivan, A.E. (1992). Sound Change in Progress: a study of phonological change and lexical diffusion, with reference to glottalization and r-loss in the speech of some Exeter schoolchildren. Exeter University Press.

English accents

  • Foulkes, P.; Docherty, G. (1999). Urban Voices: accent studies in the British Isles. London: Arnold.
  • Hughes, A.; Trudgill, P. (2005). English Accents and Dialects (fourth ed.). London: Arnold.
  • Wells, John C. (1982). Accents of English. Volume 1: An Introduction (pp. i–xx, 1–278), Volume 2: The British Isles (pp. i–xx, 279–466), Volume 3: Beyond the British Isles (pp. i–xx, 467–674). Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-52129719-2, 0-52128540-2, 0-52128541-0.
  • Kortlandt, Frederik. Glottalization, Preaspiration and Gemination in English and Scandinavian. Doc PDF.
  • Kortland, Frederik. How Old is the English Glottal Stop?. Doc PDF.
  • Docherty, G. et al. Descriptive Adequacy in Phonology: a variationist perspective. Doc PDF.
  • Kerswill, P. Dialect Levelling and Geographical Diffusion in British English. Doc PDF.
  • Przedlacka, J. Estuary English and RP: Some Recent Findings. Doc PDF.
  • Wells, J.C. Site of the UCL (University College of London) Department of Phonetics and Linguistics. Web documents relating to Estuary English.
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