University of Cambridge > > Cambridge Linguistics Forum > t-glottalling, flapping and pre-glottalisation in British Englishes: patterns in phonological and social variability

t-glottalling, flapping and pre-glottalisation in British Englishes: patterns in phonological and social variability

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In accents of British English, variants of the sound /t/ span many forms. Glottal stop replacement, whereby /t/ is replaced with a glottal stop [ʔ] in unstressed position (e.g. cat, water), is the most commonly studied (e.g. Foulkes & Docherty 1999) and is found across the British Isles. Flapping, whereby /t/ is reduced to an alveolar flap [ɾ], is more generally associated with American English but is found in various locations across the British Isles, albeit at very low rates, and has been shown to be a variant inherited from the mother country, rather than an American innovation (Minkova 2013). A third variant which resembles both of these is the glottalisation pattern found in Tyneside English spoken in Newcastle upon Tyne. Labelled glottal masking or pre-glottalisation, this process targets /t/s in intervocalic position (e.g. water, city; Docherty & Foulkes 1999, 2005). Phonologically, then, the process resembles American English flapping, but is phonetically closer to full glottal stop replacement.

This paper presents data from a range of varieties of English in England, including sociolinguistic corpora from Blackburn in Lancashire (Turton 2018), Manchester (Baranowski & Turton 2015) and Newcastle upon Tyne (Corrigan et al. 2014), comparing auditory and acoustic data of t-lenition processes in these accents. The phonological distribution of tlenition processes in each variety is compared, demonstrating that the target domain between varieties and between processes is not consistent, but the rates of application found in different contexts reflect the grammatical structure of the predicted rules. Overall, it is argued that the range of patterns makes perfect sense when considering the interaction of phonological structure and variable rules.

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