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“Always Pronounce Your t’s”: Is This Outdated Advice?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.https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/T-glottalization
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