LINGUIST List 2.200

Sunday, 5 May 1991

Disc: Initial Glottal Stop/Zero Contrast

Editor for this issue: <>


  • , Glottal Stop in Rarotongan
  • Sheldon Harrison, Initial Glottal Stop
  • , Re:Glottal Stop in Wu
  • , Glottal stop in Samoan
  • Joe Stemberger, Glottal Stop in Cambodian

    Message 1: Glottal Stop in Rarotongan

    Date: Mon, 6 May 91 18:11 +1000
    From: <>
    Subject: Glottal Stop in Rarotongan
    Bob Hoberman asks if there is a language in which glottal stop is in contrast with 0 in word initial position. Rarotongan (Cook Islands - Polynesian) is such a language. Rarotongan is also known as Cook Island Maori. The word for fish is 'ika'. The Rarotongans make a dish which they call 'ika mata' (raw fish), which is fish marinated in something like coconut milk and (maybe) lime juice, which has the effect of cooking it without heat. My wife and I visited Rarotonga some years ago and got quite hooked on it. Once she ordered '?ika mata' and got a shocked look followed by a very amused look from the Rarotongan waitress. '?ika' means vagina. Cook Island Maori /?/ corresponds to /h/ in New Zealand Maori, where the two words are 'ika' and 'hika' respectively. There are lots of pairs of words in Cook Island Maori which would meet his criterion.

    Monty Wilkinson, Department of German Studies and Slavic Studies, Monash University, Clayton, Victoria 3168 Australia

    Message 2: Initial Glottal Stop

    Date: Mon, 6 May 91 19:33:48 WST
    From: Sheldon Harrison <>
    Subject: Initial Glottal Stop
    If I understand what Bob Hoberman means by 'surfacy phonemic constrast', then the sort of contrast he's after can be found in some Polynesian languages (Hawaiian and, I think, Tongan and colloquial Samoan). I think the contrast is also found in some languages in the Philippines and in eastern Indonesia. (A colleague of mine here thinks that some languages on Flores have the constrast).

    Message 3: Re:Glottal Stop in Wu

    Date: Mon, 06 May 91 11:17:36 EDT
    From: <sduanmuATHENA.MIT.EDU>
    Subject: Re:Glottal Stop in Wu
    This is in reply to the query about onset contrast with or without glottal stop by R. D Hoberman <>.

    In the Wu family of Chinese, there is an onset contrast between [?] and [H]. [?] is a glottal stop ([+constricted glottis], to use SPE features) and [H] is voiced, unaspirated, glottal sound ([+spread glottis]). These two sounds are in complemetary distribution, however. [?] occurs with 'upper register' tones, and [H] with 'lower register' tones. I wonder if this is relevant to what you are looking for.

    San Duanmu []

    Message 4: Glottal stop in Samoan

    Date: 6 May 91 11:42 EST
    From: <>
    Subject: Glottal stop in Samoan
    In response to Bob Hoberman's query:

    Phonemic initial glottal stop before a vowel is not uncommon in Polynesian languages. A minimal pair in Samoan, e.g., is ?o 'topic marker' vs. o 'genitive particle'.

    Paul Chapin

    Message 5: Glottal Stop in Cambodian

    Date: Mon, 6 May 91 16:05 CDT
    From: Joe Stemberger <>
    Subject: Glottal Stop in Cambodian
    Bob Hoberman asked if there are any languages that phonetically contrast glottal-stop and 0 (a null onset) in word-initial position. Cambodian (Khmer) sort-of has a distinction like that. I say "sort-of" because it's very marginal. My experience with the language is limited to teaching a 10-week field methods course using the language. There are lots of words beginning with glottal-stop (like /?aw.i/ 'give'). We came across exactly one word that begins with a vowel (with a null onset): /a.Bay/ 'which' (the /B/ is a voiced bilabial fricative, but the word can be pronounced [a.wey] in some phrases). The lack of a glottal stop in /aBay/ is quite striking, obvious on spectrograms, leads to otherwise unattested allophones (like released word-final stops), etc. But it's the only word we came across that had a null onset. Further, the stress is on the second syllable in /aBay/, but on the first syllable in most of the words with glottal-stop that come to mind; it's been a long time since that class, and I don't remember well enough to say that the stress of /aBay/ is not relevant to the lack of glottal-stop. But, Cambodian is worth looking into.

    You sometimes get such a contrast in children learning English. My second daughter Morgan had a contrast between glottal-stop (corresponding to adult vowel-initial words) and a null onset (corresponding to adult words beginning to /h/) from ca. 14-17 months. There were minimal pairs like [?ap] 'up' vs. [ap] 'hop'.

    ---joe stemberger

    [End Linguist List, Vol. 2, No. 200]