LINGUIST List 9.1053

Tue Jul 21 1998

Sum: Glottal Stop

Editor for this issue: Martin Jacobsen <>


  1. cpeust, Summary: Glottal Stop

Message 1: Summary: Glottal Stop

Date: Mon, 20 Jul 1998 11:06:53 +0000
From: cpeust <>
Subject: Summary: Glottal Stop

Dear linguists,

a few weeks ago, I put the following question on LINGUIST List:

>Whenever a word begins with a vowel in German orthography, a glottal
>stop is automatically added before in pronunciation. This is true
>also in connected speech. For example "Ich esse ein Ei" (I eat an
>egg) is pronounced something like: "?ic ?ese ?ain ?ai" (? = glottal

>While it is possible to omit some of these glottal stops in casual
>speech (there are also regional differences), it is actually very
>common to speak them. German has no glottal stops in other positions,
>so the glottal stop is usually not considered a phoneme in German.

>Now I am looking for other languages which behave similarly, i.e. in
>which words cannot usually begin with a vowel, but may begin with a
>glottal stop, whereas the glottal stop is not found in other

I got about 25 responses. My thanks go to:

Laurie Bauer, Wellington, New Zealand
Tim Beaslay, Los Angeles, USA
Ruth M. Brend, USA
Joseph Davis, New York, USA
Lance Eccles, Macquarie, Australia
James L. Fidelholtz, Mexico
Keith Goeringer, Berkeley, USA
Antony Dubach Green, Berlin, Germany
Heli Harrikari, Helsinki, Finland
David Harris, Herndon, USA(?)
Irmeli Helin, Helsinki, Finland
Earl Herrick, USA
Dennis Holt, USA
Vincent Jenkins, Salisbury, UK
John E Koontz, Boulder, USA
Rina Kreitman, Israel
Wen-Chao Li, USA
Waruno Mahdi, Berlin, Germany
Ineke Mennen, Edinburgh, UK 
Albert Ortmann, Duesseldorf, Germany
Robert Orr, Ottawa, Canada
Dirk den Ouden, Montreal, Canada
Tobias Scheer, Nice, France
Charles T. Scott, USA
Hana Skoumalova, Praha, Czech Republic

The answers roughly fall into two groups. Several people mentioned
languages which behave similarly to German, i.e. they automatically
insert a glottal stop before words beginning in a vowel. The following
languages were mentioned to me:

Arabic (which I personally would doubt; by my experience liaison is
quite common in Arabic at least within a sentence)

Baka (Niger-Kongo)

Chinese where I was referred to the following literature:

>>Li, Fang-Kuei. 1966. "The Zero Initial and the Zero Syllabic".
>>>LANGUAGE 42: 300-12.

>>Duanmu, San. 1990. "A Formal Study of Syllable, Tone, Stress and
>>>Domain in Chinese Languages". Ph.D. diss., MIT.

>>Wang, Jenny Zhijie. 1993. "The Geometry of Segmental Features in
>>>Beijing Mandarin". Ph.D. diss., University of Delaware.

Czech, especially the western dialects
Dakotan (aka Lakota)
Persian, but only in formal style
Sierra Miwok
Skagit (aka Lushootseed) (Salish)
Tamil (with reservations)

Others expressed doubts on whether my question was put correctly.
R. Kreitman wrote that phonetic lab tests may show that something like
a glottal stop is spoken even in languages in which glottal stops are
not necessarily easily heard, such as Russian or English. So it is not
a trivial question how to define a glottal stop.

Some indicated that the German glottal stop is not only used
word-initially, as I said, but also in words like "The?ater",
"Be?obachtung", "cha?otisch", "ver?eisen", "ent?eignen",
"ko?operieren", "Haus?aufgabe" etc. (I have inserted ? into the
normal orthography here). So the rule should probably be modified to
something like the following, which however is still tentative: "A
non-phonematic glottal stop tends to be spoken before a stress vowel
1) either if a vowel precedes, 2) or if a morpheme boundary precedes."

K. Goeringer referred me to a possible "minimal pair" in German: Er
ist schnell [?eristSnel] "he is quick", vs. Er isst schnell
[?er?istSnel] "he eats quickly", where the glottal stop is more likely
to be found before the full verb "isst" than before the unstressed
auxiliary "ist".

Carsten Peust
Seminar of Egyptology and Coptology
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