pronunciation: glottal stop in American English?

Ice-Kagen

New Member
French-Belgium
Hi everyone!
Can anybody help me with phonetics?

I used to study English with an RP accent and I'd like to switch to General American. So, I started to study American pronunciation. I already knew most of the differences like the flap t or the fact that the accent is rhotic(which makes it easier to pronounce in my opinion), but by watching videos I also discovered the existence of the glottal stop. I know it is also used a lot in many British accents, even though it is quite stigmatized. But I also know that most Brits do pronounce it from time to time even the ones who speak RP in a really posh way. As a non-native speaker, I even do it as well sometimes without realizing when it's at the end of words. But in the videos I saw about American pronunciation, they say the glottal t is used in words in which there's a syllable beginning with a "t" and ending with a "n" sound, after the stress(in words like founTaiN or buTToN, for instance). and also when it is at the end of the word when it follows a vowel or a n sound(as in nighT or accenT). But, the thing is that in some words, I hear native speakers of American English alternate between the glottal stop and a normal "t" sound" while in other words I hear them pronounce a glottal stop all the time. For example when the t is at the end of words as in "tonight", I often hear both pronunciations, While when it is at the middle of the words as in "mountain", "important" or "cotton", I always hear the glottal stop. Except for some words like "student" or "captain" for which I hear both pronunciations( I hear a normal "t" more often, though). So my questions are the following:
-Would pronouncing most of my t at the end of words sound unnatural or way too formal. Would it be an immediate tell that I'm not a native speaker?
-On the contrary, would always using a glottal t in final position after a vowel or an n sound sound too informal, careless and exaggerated?
-Are there other words in which the glottal stop is not necessarily used in the middle of words(as in captain or student)
-Are there native speakers(of American English of course, because I know RP speakers do it) who pronounce words like mountain, fountain or button with a normal t, or does it sound weird to your ears?

Thanks in advance!
 
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  • reno33

    Senior Member
    English - USA
    I doubt there are any "rules" as such. There is too much fluctuation depending on context, region, audience etc and too many "exceptions".

    There definitely are trends, regionalisms, descriptions and so on but I don't think one can say x is always pronounced in this way.......I know my own speech varies considerably throughout the day depending on who(m) I'm speaking to, what I'm saying and the mood I happen to be in.

    You say you always hear a glottal stop at the /tt/ in words such as /cotton/ and I do that often in my own speech.....but there also have been occasions where I pronounce the /tt/ fully as /tt/. No rule though that I can figure out. I just do it when "it needs to be done".
     
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    Ice-Kagen

    New Member
    French-Belgium
    Thanks for your reply reno33! So, I guess that if there are no real rules, I shouldn't worry too much about that. Yet, I still wonder if the glottal stop is perceived as more informal in certain positions. Does it have the same status as in British English? And really, would rarely glottalizing my t be an immediate tell that I'm not a native speaker?
     

    Hermione Golightly

    Senior Member
    British English
    Does it have the same status as in British English?
    I'm interested to know what that status might be. I would imagine there will be many aspects of pronunciation that will show you are not a native speaker to the experienced ear. Reno made some excellent points which I can identify with, coming as I do from an area where glottal stops are a common feature although I don't speak with a strong regional accent. There are so many varieties of English in the UK and the USA, reflecting the diversity of population, that I can't imagine that the presence or absence or inconsistency of a glottal stop will have any major importance.
     

    reno33

    Senior Member
    English - USA
    So, I guess that if there are no real rules, I shouldn't worry too much about that. Yet, I still wonder .....
    If you're trying to imitate and sound like a "real" American, the least of your problems will be the pronunciation of individual words. Rather, it is things the "cadence", pitch, stress, inflection, speed, usage (using one word instead of another), how you reply to a question, presence or non-presence of diphthongs and a myriad of other telltale language interstices that will trip you up the minute you open your mouth. (This is true of any language, of course, not just English).
    Listen to any "world leader" speaking English and though many can speak it fluently and correctly you know right away he isn't American.....not even close. But good luck in your efforts.
     

    dojibear

    Senior Member
    English - Northeast US
    Yet, I still wonder if the glottal stop is perceived as more informal in certain positions. Does it have the same status as in British English? And really, would rarely glottalizing my t be an immediate tell that I'm not a native speaker?
    Rarely glottalizing your T is good. In AE a glottal stop sometimes replaces a midword T sound (mountain, cotton), especially in rapid speech. But I don't think there is any word where a glottal stop is always used, by all AE speakers.

    I don't think glottal stops show up in word endings. Words that end in a stop (T/K/etc) are pronounced with that stop (not a glottal stop), but it is an unreleased stop, which may sound like a glottal stop to you.

    Note that English has no pause or break between words. So a "midword T before a vowel" is the same as an "endword T followed by a vowel sound starting the next word":

    mountain = count in
    cotton = hot in
    butter = butt 'er
    bitter = bit 'er
    fatten = fat 'n' (fat and)
     

    Myridon

    Senior Member
    English - US
    When you say "glottal stop", I think of the full glottal stop in the Cockney pronunciation of button - bu'nnn which has the same glottal stop as uh-oh which is no /t/ at all. I could put a full glottal stop in the word "pickle" and just say pih'uhl.
    I prefer the terminology "glottal t" for this sound as it appears after a /t/ and before a syllabic consonant. But'nnn not bu'nnn. If you asked most Americans, they'd say they were saying the /t/. If I put a glottal t in "pickle", the listener hear it as pittle (if that were a word) not "pickle with a glottal stop".
     

    kentix

    Senior Member
    English - U.S.
    I'm not an expert on terminology and sounds, but from what I've learned on this forum and elsewhere I don't think you're talking about real glottal stops in most of your discussion. I think the "unreleased t" is what it's called and is a better description. We don't talk like Cockneys. I've heard a few people use a full glottal stop, most memorably in the word "button", and it sounds incredibly weird to me. The number of people in my entire life who I've heard do that is just a handful.

    The unreleased t, on the other hand, is totally normal and used all day long, in button and other words. Unreleased means it's missing the little explosion of air at the end, but your tongue does move like it's a t. In the glottal stop version of button, your tongue doesn't move forward at all.
     

    Ice-Kagen

    New Member
    French-Belgium
    Rarely glottalizing your T is good. In AE a glottal stop sometimes replaces a midword T sound (mountain, cotton), especially in rapid speech. But I don't think there is any word where a glottal stop is always used, by all AE speakers.
    Thank you for clarifying :) That was all I needed to know^^
    I don't think glottal stops show up in word endings. Words that end in a stop (T/K/etc) are pronounced with that stop (not a glottal stop), but it is an unreleased stop, which may sound like a glottal stop to you.
    When you say "glottal stop", I think of the full glottal stop in the Cockney pronunciation of button - bu'nnn which has the same glottal stop as uh-oh which is no /t/ at all.
    Unreleased means it's missing the little explosion of air at the end, but your tongue does move like it's a t.
    Well, I probably used the wrong terminology. Sorry! Now that you mention it, it's true that they don't say "glottal stop" to refer to that sound in the videos I have watched. They actually refer to it as "stop t" or "glottal t" but not "glottal stop" and knowing about the glottal stop in British English, I think I just got confused. However, the sound I make when I inconsciously don't use a normal t sound at the end of words is definitely an unreleased t, because my tongue does move like it's a t.
    The unreleased t, on the other hand, is totally normal and used all day long, in button and other words.
    But does it sound more informal than a normal t sound?
    butter = butt 'er
    bitter = bit 'er
    It's quite fun because I pronounce all the words you listed above with an unreleased t except for these two. Here, I use a flap t, because it is the pronunciation I hear the most. But I guess it changes from one speaker to another according to region, context, mood and many other factors as reno33 pointed out earlier. I didn't know the unreleased t was used in that kind of words by some. It's really interesting :D. Thanks for the information^^
    Listen to any "world leader" speaking English and though many can speak it fluently and correctly you know right away he isn't American.....not even close. But good luck in your efforts.
    First of all, thank you for encouraging me :)! Many people, just as you, say it's impossible to speak a foreign language like a native speaker, but I don't really agree, sorry :/. My mother tongue is French and I've already met some foreigners who speak it as well as I do. The first example I can think of is an Argentinian friend of my father's who lived in Paris for some years and speaks with a strong Parisian accent. He could easily be mistaken for a native speaker. Some people even don't believe him when he says he's not French. Another person I can think of is a guy I met in Italy who went on an Erasmus exchange in Belgium for six months. He could easily be mistaken for a native speaker too. Indeed, there are also some people who can speak a language very well but still have a very light accent. My Russian teacher who comes from Belarus is good example. She has an excellent accent but you can still easily hear that she is not a native speaker because she sometimes palatalizes her consonants as they do in Russian. Also, there is a guy at my university who I think sounds EXACTLY like an American when he speaks. And, I can hear him speak English very often, because every week, at uni, I go to an English conversation table that he hosts. And if he hadn't told me that he was not a native speaker, I wouldn't know. Maybe I can't judge well because I'm not a native speaker myself, but I can recognize a bad accent when I hear one. And I'm even able to identify people who speak with a good accent as non-native speakers, because they really often mix up British English and American English(which is the case of my English teacher, for instance). So maybe a native speaker would immediately recognize that he is not an American, but at least, I'm almost sure he sounds really close to it. Maybe I should ask a teacher who is herself a native speaker of American English to get confirmation. Of course, I'm totally aware that reaching such a level is really difficult and requires a lot of training, practice and probably time in the country. Especially for a language as phonetically inconsistent as English in which spelling doesn't reflect pronunciation. And I know that I'm myself still really far from sounding like a native speaker and that it will take me years to reach that goal. But, I'm really motivated and I'll do my best!
     
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