That “you should always pronounce your t’s” is commonly given advice, as regards speaking with a ‘posh’ accent. Not pronouncing your t’s inside words is a pronunciation feature that is called the ‘glottal stop’. In traditional accent training work, students are taught to always pronounce their t’s inside words and to avoid using glottal stops.
Not pronouncing the /t/ sound in the middle or final position of words is a pronunciation feature that is widely known to be associated with London accents. However, what most people aren’t aware of is that the glottal stop has spread far beyond London. These days, the glottal stop is even heard in some Scottish (Glaswegian) and Welsh regional accents!
Clear Speech Versus ‘Sloppy Speech’ in British English
When native speakers of British English work to improve their speech by taking elocution lessons, the main focus of such training is often learning the ‘correct’ pronunciation of /t/. This is because not pronouncing /t/ is regarded as being sloppy, by some some people.
Learning how to pronounce /t/ in the standard way is a central part of the speech training that actors undertake at the top British drama schools, like RADA. This is because actors must learn to speak ‘properly’ in order to act in the theatre or to get roles in television period dramas.
Listen to Greg Hicks, an actor from the Royal Shakespeare Company, performing as King Lear. Notice that he always pronounces his t’s…
‘Posh English’ and the Pronunciation of /t/
Pronouncing /t/ in all positions of a word, as in the above video, creates a refined impression. Since ‘t’ is present in the spelling of words, most people agree that it is ‘correct’ to pronounce words with a /t/ sound instead of using glottal stops.
Always pronouncing /t/ is the ideal form of the English language. However, most people do not speak this carefully in everyday life because it requires extra effort.
I take care to pronounce my t’s when giving poetry or literary readings. I also make an effort to pronounce my t’s in formal situations. The rest of the time, it is more natural for me to pronounce words using glottal stops.
“Always Pronounce Your t’s”: Is This Outdated Advice?
Non-native English speakers should always aim to pronounce /t/ inside words. There is no point learning to speak with glottal stops because they are a regional accent feature. Furthermore, most people would agree that it’s better for your pronunciation to sound refined, rather than sloppy!
The situation regarding the pronunciation of ‘t’ is different for native Britons. In the below video, I discuss why in relaxed speech (informal situations), I no longer make an effort to pronounce my t’s:
To conclude, whether or not you should always pronounce your t’s depends on your social milieu (the social circles that you move in) and whether you want to be perceived as posh, or not. It also depends on which part of the country you are from.
To create a ‘posh impression’ you should always pronounce your t’s.
To create an informal impression, some glottal stops are perfectly acceptable.
Not pronouncing your t’s isn’t socially frowned upon, as it was in the past.
That being said, most people agree that pronouncing /t in words sounds much better.
Finally, I’ll leave you with some food for thought (something to think about). Prince Harry often uses glottal stops in his speech. What does that suggest about him?
Recent studies (Milroy, Milroy & Walshaw 1994, Fabricius 2000) have suggested that t-glottalization is increasing in RP speech. Prince Harry frequently glottalizes his t’s.
Youtube star Zoella is from Lacock in Wiltshire (the county of Wiltshire is part of the West Country region of the UK) and currently lives in Brighton (South East of England). The most dominant pronunciation patterns in her accent reflect the standard southern British accent, which is spoken in the South East of England, for example in Brighton. However, certain pronunciations in her accent have a ‘country-ish’ West Country ring to them.
Zoella’s accent reflects a natural blend of influences picked up from the places where she has lived. For this reason she has a modern kind of regional accent, which reflects influences in pronunciation from more than one place.
To my ears, Zoella’s accent and way of speaking is the modern evolution of a broadcasting voice. Whereas before the mid-nineties BBC television presenters famously spoke with R.P. accents which were region-less (you couldn’t tell where the person was from as everybody sounded the same), these days it is much more common for television presenters to retain a slight regional influence in their pronunciations. Zoella’s accent takes this step away from standardisation a step further due to the strong influence of Estuary pronunciations in her speech. As a YouTube star who has created her own fame, there was no need nor pressure for her to adapt her voice in order to get media work. Instead, she speaks in her natural accent which is very much a modern way of speaking for British women in their mid-early twenties: it reflects a London-influence whilst maintaining a ‘middle class’ impression.
What is particularly interesting is the smattering of glottal stops which appear in her speech. These glottal stops replace about half of the /t/ sounds that occur at the end of words like ‘lot’ when said in the middle of a sentence. The presence of such glottal stops is interesting because it shows how Esturary pronunciation patterns are spreading out far beyond London. Additionally, the presence of glottal stops in Zoella’s speech is interesting because this pronunciation feature is still relatively infrequent to be heard in the accents of television presenters. My prediction is that within the next 5-10 years the glottal stop will creep its way in to be heard on the BBC as the next generation of young presenters rises to prominence. For the time being however, the BBC would seem to be somewhat behind the times or even conservative in terms of the standard southern accent of its presenters, which does not include the glottal stop as of yet.
In the clip below you can hear a sample of Zoella’s accent:
Voice and Manner of Speech
Zoella has a very distinctive rhythm of speech which varies between being extremely clippy (sharp and precise articulation) and staccato (clear space between her words). This gives an overall impression of very clear and articulate speech. She appears to be highly speech conscious (aware of her speech and the words she uses at the moment of speech).
What Accent Does Cara Delevingne Have? CLICK HERE.