Halfway through the seminar, though, most of the students and teachers present became incredulous and greatly surprised when I explained that in current RP the pronunciation of t in words like Britain tends to vary a lot. As my readers will know, some speakers realize the sound as alveolar t (not many, I think); others produce a glottal stop, ʔ: thus ˈbrɪtn̩ vs ˈbrɪʔn̩. Here t and ʔ are said to be in free variation, since the realisation of one allophone rather than the other appears to be a matter of pure chance.
To prove that this is true, here are two video clips from the BBC in which you can hear Nicholas Witchell, BBC News royal correspondent, pronounce Britain only with glottal stop:
i) listen here at 00.13, 00.15, and 03.24; and
ii) here at 00.52 and 01.17.
Here’s another video, with BBC technology correspondent Rory Cellan-Jones, in which Britain is realised as ˈbrɪʔn̩ (at about 00.15 seconds and 01.38 minutes into the clip), and Brighton is ˈbraɪʔn̩ (at 01.45 and 02.14).
And finally, here’s the Queen’s speech in Ireland in full, in which at around 06.01 one can hear her pronounce written as ˈrɪʔn̩.
The fact that both the Queen and not-so-young BBC correspondents like the ones mentioned above all use glottal replacement before syllabic nasals (also read here) is clear evidence that this phenomenon has been in RP for many years now and that it’s not a “new” pronunciation, as some people still claim.
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In other news, Arnold Zwicky, Visiting Professor of Linguistics at Stanford University and Distinguished University Professor Emeritus of Linguistics at Ohio State University, has recently posted a huge list of popular language blogs and web resources on his Arnold Zwicky’s Blog. And I’m extremely pleased to say that he included this blog, too. Thanks very much, Arnold!