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The unstoppable glottal: tracking rapid change in an iconic British variable 1


This article presents a sociolinguistic investigation of a rapidly expanding innovation in the UK, glottal replacement, in a variety spoken in northeast Scotland. Quantitative analysis of the form shows a dramatic change in apparent time: from a minority variant in the older generation to a full 90 per cent use in the younger generation. Further analysis of the constraints on use provide a detailed snapshot of how this variant moves through social and linguistic space. Males use higher rates of the non-standard form in the older generations but this constraint is neutralised in the younger generations as the form increases. Styleshifting according to interlocutor also neutralises through time. While these results across the social constraints are in line with previous analyses, the linguistic constraints differ in this variety. In contrast to most other varieties, intervocalic contexts such as bottle show high rates of glottal replacement. Moreover, word-internal foot-initial contexts (e.g. sometimes) also frequently allow the non-standard variant, despite this being rare in other dialects. Although glottal replacement is largely considered to be a ‘torchbearer’ of geographical diffusion, this in-depth analysis suggests that different varieties may have different pathways of change in the rapid transition from [t] to [ʔ] throughout the UK.

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This work was supported by the Economic and Social Research Council (grant no. ES/K000861/1). We would like to thank the editor of ELL and two anonymous reviewers: their comments greatly improved this paper, although none but ourselves are responsible for its present content. We would also like to thank our speakers in Buckie without whose help this research would not exist.

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