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Have You Noticed People Not Pronouncing Their T's?

Dropping T's in words like "kitten," "Vermont" and "important" is a normal speech pattern, and there's even a name for it: T-glottalization!

By
Samantha Enslen, read by Mignon Fogarty,
Episode #682
The letter T, which people are pronouncing less often.

Is T-glottalization in American Speech Increasing?

The T-glottalization that our readers wrote in about wasn’t heard in Britain. It was heard in the United States. What’s the deal with that?

Our guest writer for this post, Samantha Enslen, says that she’s noticed this happening more and more over the past 10 years. She lives in Dayton, Ohio, and says that people regularly pronounce the city as “DAY-unh,” instead of “DAY-ton.” She’s also noticed her teenagers pronouncing words like “important” and “butter” as “im-POR-unh” and “BUH-er.”

And it seems that Sam isn’t the only person noticing this. A study in the journal “American Speech,” examining the dialect of Vermonters, noted that some traditional pronunciations were disappearing — “KEY-ow” for “cow,” for example is declining— but that the dropping T’s is increasing. The researcher spotted it in pronunciations like “MOUN-ain” for “mountain,” and “ver-MONH” for “Vermont.” (3,4)

In another study, conducted in the western United States, researchers found that young female speakers were more likely to use glottal stops than other groups they studied. (5, 6)

The researchers suggested their findings may indicate that a broader change in pronunciation is afoot. They note that “the literature on sociolinguistic change … is replete with studies in which young women are on the cutting edge of language change.”

That’s no surprise to people who borrowed phrases like “as if” and “way harsh” from movies like “Clueless” and “Legally Blonde.”

Why Is T-glottalization Happening?

In answer to the biggest question of all — why are people dropping their T’s? — we have a disappointing answer. Nobody really knows. (6)

Standard pronunciation across a region, even a country, changes gradually and is affected by countless untold causes. In the 400 years since English settlers first came to North America, what we call a “British accent” morphed into an “American accent.” And that accent, in turn, birthed countless others, from the distinct dialects we hear in New York City and Dallas to the ones we hear in New Orleans and Minneapolis. (7)

T-glottalization can sound grating or slangy to some listeners today. But someday, it may be the way all of us speak. And by that time, no doubt, there will be yet another new pronunciation tic that’s driving everyone to distraction. 

Samantha Enslen runs Dragonfly Editorial. You can find her at dragonflyeditorial.com or @DragonflyEdit.

Sources

  1. Encyclopedia Britannica Online. Glottal stop. Subscription only. Accessed April 18, 2019.
  2. Shariatmadari, David. Why have we got it in for the glottal stop? The Guardian, April 30, 2015.
  3. Roberts, Julie. As Old Becomes New: Glottalization in Vermont. American Speech, Vol. 81, No. 3, 2006.
  4. Peterson, Britt. Why are young Vermon’ers dropping their t’s? Boston Globe, November 22, 2015.
  5. Eddington, David, and Taylor, Michael. T-Glottalization in American English. American Speech, Vol. 84, No. 3, 2009.
  6. Yagoda, Ben. That Way They Talk II. The Chronical of Higher Education. March 12, 2012.
  7. Soniak, Matt. When did Americans lose their British Accents? Mental Floss, January 17, 2012. 
  8. English Pronunciation Roadmap. What is a Glottal Stop?

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