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If I hadn't written they ideas on that jotter as they come to me I'd've forgotten 'em all b'now. . . . . .Actually now you can pass me that jotter.
(BBC. The Archers. 2013-06-17, 2:00~2:49)
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Clarrie in the soap opera doesn’t seem to pronounce /t/ in jotter. Where does this pronunciation - t omission - used in UK?

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    It sounds like t-glottalization to me, not t-dropping. In t-glottalization, the /t/ is realized as a glottal stop [ʔ]. In other words, it's still there, but it's pronounced differently than you're expecting.
    – user230
    Commented Jun 18, 2013 at 8:38
  • @snailboat Do you mean something similar to the way Americans pronounce Italy?
    – apaderno
    Commented Jun 18, 2013 at 13:24
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    @kiamlaluno No, that's an alveolar 'tap' performed with the tip of the tongue and really the same thing as a /d/ in the same phonetic context. The glottal stop is articulated at the glottis, the very back of the mouth. Commented Jun 18, 2013 at 15:05
  • @snailboat I think you're exactly right. Post this as an answer and I'll upvote. There are also useful observations at Wikipedia's articles on English phonology and the glottal stop. Commented Jun 21, 2013 at 4:25
  • @snailboat Those Wikipedia articles discuss distribution. And I think correctly describing the phenomenon (perhaps less technically than Wikipedia!) is of very considerable value to learners, too. Commented Jun 21, 2013 at 4:32

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Native speakers do sometimes omit /t/ sounds. For example, some native speakers pronounce act as /ækt/, but acts as /æks/.

In your examples, however, the /t/ is still there, but it's not pronounced [t]. Instead, it's pronounced as a glottal stop [ʔ]. This is called t-glottalization, and you can read more about it on Wikipedia.


What is t-glottalization?

  1. The basic /t/ sound is a voiceless alveolar stop [t]. Let's break that down into two parts:

    • Voiceless means your voice box doesn't vibrate when you make this sound. Place your hand over your throat and say [t] and [d] sounds. You shouldn't feel any vibration for [t], but you should for [d].
    • Alveolar stop means you stop the flow of air by placing your tongue on the roof of your mouth, specifically on the ridge behind the upper teeth. (This is called the alveolar ridge; "alveolar" refers to the sockets of your teeth).
  2. The glottal stop [ʔ] is a somewhat different sound, made by constricting the flow of air through the "glottis", meaning roughly the vocal cords. This stops the flow of air, which is why it's called a stop. This is the sound in-between "uh" and "oh" in "uh-oh" [ʔəʔo].

  3. Since [t] and [ʔ] are both stops, they're somewhat similar sounds. When you say either one, you hear a very short sound as the stop begins, followed by silence. The stop can then be released, in the case of [t] by moving the tongue out of the way, and in the case of [ʔ] by relaxing the vocal cords. If the speaker stops breathing out before they release the stop, no sound is made.

  4. The sound /t/ is sometimes pronounced [tʔ]. In this combination, the two sounds are made roughly at the same time, so not only do you place the tongue on the roof of your mouth, but you also stop the flow of air through the vocal cords. This is called glottal reinforcement, because the [ʔ] sound reinforces the regular [t] sound.

  5. But making both sounds takes extra effort on the part of the speaker. Since both [t] and [ʔ] halt the flow of air, you really only need one or the other. So, for many speakers, it's natural to pronounce /t/ as [ʔ] instead of [tʔ]. This is called glottal replacement, because the original [t] sound is gone.

So our whole sequence looks something like [t] → [tʔ] → [ʔ].


Where is t-glottalization found in the UK?

This is an example of sound change in progress. It's spread quite rapidly over the past hundred years, though it was observed before that time, as well. According to Miroslav Jezek's Glottalisations in Today’s London English (2006), it began in Scotland in the 1850s and was first mentioned as a feature of Cockney English in 1909. Jezek believes that Cockney was one of the last varieties of UK English to be affected by this change; however, in the Survey of English Dialects, conducted between 1950 and 1961, t-glottalization was noted only in the London and East Anglia areas. However it spread, today it's a feature of many dialects, and has even been spotted in Received Pronunciation (RP). According to the Cambridge English Pronouncing Dictionary, it is now most common in London, Leeds, Edinburgh and Glasgow. However, it's certainly not limited to those areas, and it's likely that you'll hear speakers of other dialects use it as well.

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