What Is a Glottal Stop?

by | Feb 5, 2021 | Technique | 3 comments

Have you ever wondered “What is a glottal stop?” Or maybe you’ve never heard the term “glottal stop” before, don’t worry, because I had no idea before I took a webinar with James Andrews at Edge Studio all about the “science of speaking like a pro”. I highly recommend a session with James if you want to work on sounding more polished, he has a background in speech-language pathology. You can find him at edgestudio.com


1. So… just What is a glottal stop? 

No, a glottal stop is not a form of yodeling… it is when you fully close your vocal folds in the middle of a word or sentence. Think of the word “uh-oh” and pay attention to what the back of your throat is doing.

Miriam Webster defines it as “the interruption of the breath stream during speech by closure of the glottis”

Often we want to use certain kinds of glottal stops because it’s something we do naturally all the time in conversation and if we never used them we would sound robotic. However, if we want to sound more formal and the script calls for it, we want to avoid some glottal stops too. It is another tool in our toolbox we need to understand so we have the power to decide when we want to use it or not and make an informed choice. 



2. Examples of a glottal stop:

The following are some examples of common glottal stops.

A) Bypassing “t”s

Say the word “important” – are you pronouncing both “t”s? Not if you are talking to someone in a totally conversational way. Say the sentence:

“The Matterhorn is an impor[t]an[t] moun[t]ain.” 

With this type of mid-word glottal stop you are bypassing the “t” and saying “mou-n”. This is a standard glottal stop. A non-standard glottal stop is to say “mou-in”. My favorite YouTuber Stephanie Harlowe is from Rochester New York and she days these kinds of glottal stops all the time. 

B) Vowels

When you have a vowel at the end of one word, and a vowel at the beginning of another word, it is common to completely close the back of the throat between the two words: 

  • “The apple”
  • “To everyone” 
  • “Amy eats almonds.”
  • “Take all the things” 
  • “The university of art & design”

3. When to use glottal stops: 

While this is up to your judgment and what feels natural, the standard glottal stops that I mentioned are used in conversational speech all the time, and this is the type that you can feel free to use in conversational reads.

If the job requires a more formal read, you may want to pronounce some of the t’s, probably at the end of the word. Take “important” – maybe you want to pronounce the last ‘t’ sound. Use your judgment.

4. When Not to use a glottal stop:  

We never want to use the “non-standard” choppy glottal stops like “impor-in”. If you notice your coach saying “you sound choppy”, or “smooth out your read”, chances are you are getting caught on vowels with hard glottal attacks. Not only does this impede your sound, but it can also damage your vocal cords. 

5. How to eliminate glottal stops: 

a) Put an “H” before A Vowel.

We want to eliminate the hard glottal attacks from vowels to smooth out our reads. You can take a sentence like “Amy eats almonds” and imagine putting an “h” in front of the vowels. Pronounce it again and again while you slowly remove the “h” sound.

“Hamy heats halmonds” 

B) Sing it as a melody

You want to bridge the words together so the back of your throat doesn’t close between them. Another way to bridge the words together is to think of your sentence as a melody. Take the sentence: 

“The university of art and design.” 

If I speak it I can hear where I have a hard time with the “art” word. But if I sing it, it flows completely. I take note of how the back of my throat feels and then I apply that to the sentence. 

With the examples of “to anyone” and “take all the things” you can also use that trick. Sing it as one line of a song that should not be choppy. It will also help you with “to” to pronounce it like “two” instead of “ta”

C) Say “thee” instead of “the”

When you have something like “the apple” with the word “the” going into a vowel, change the pronunciation to “thee”. “Thee apple”

In Conclusion…

Hopefully that gives you an idea of what glottal stops are, when and when not to use them and how to avoid them. Use your judgement and ultimately speak however it feels natural to you. Now you can mark up your scripts with glottal stops in mind!

Happy recording!!

Katelyn Dawn
www.katelyndawnvo.com

3 Comments

  1. James Andrews

    Great analysis! I agree singing (recruiting the brain’s knowledge of musical prososdy) can help us with those articulation traps in scripts. Sing it a few times then punch record and presto! Substituting /h/ sounds works great too as you point out.

    Native speakers of any language will substitute glottal stops all over the place for the same reason the schwa vowel is the most common of all vowel sounds: the path of least resistance! Speaking takes energy and these phonemes use the least amount possible.

    Thanks for the kind words! Glad you liked the webinar and are spreading the word to other voice actors. Let’s all embrace our inner linguistics nerd!
    Cheers
    J

    Reply
    • Katelyn Dawn

      Thanks James! So sweet of you to comment on my first ever blog post! I really enjoyed your class! Glad I could discuss this topic thanks to your awesome instruction!

      Reply
      • James Andrews

        My pleasure and good luck with the blog!

        Reply

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