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I first noticed certain video bloggers pronouncing button as "BUH-ehn", with a distinct glottal stop between syllables, sounding like an overt attempt to avoid enunciating the "t". While button is the most egregious example, I've heard t's dropped in other words as well. I've even noticed coworkers doing this now, so it seems to be catching on. To what can we attribute this phenomenon?

[Later note]: Maybe it has been around awhile, but maybe I wasn't clear about the exact sound. There is a marked effort to pronounce "ehn". Most people say "BUT'n": no release of the T-stop, with a glottal stop between the t and the n. The pronunciation I "recently" noticed (and am hearing more often) is "BUH-ehn" — no T-stop at all and minor emphasis on "ehn". It almost sounds labored, like extra effort to avoid the T for some reason.

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    I can't answer when, but the phenomenon you're describing is t-glottalization. May 23, 2019 at 20:01
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    I don’t think it’s a fashion thing at all. In my opinion it’s about how children hear the sounds and imitate them while learning to speak.
    – Jim
    May 23, 2019 at 20:01
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    ...a glottal stop. And I think you are a victim of recency fallacy. May 23, 2019 at 20:24
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    I blame it on the British.
    – Hot Licks
    May 23, 2019 at 22:30
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    @Cascabel Is that a glo'al stop?
    – BoldBen
    May 24, 2019 at 8:48

2 Answers 2

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Sometime in the 1500s.

"How to Pronounce 'Often'"

There’s a \t\ in often, but how often do you hear it? As you might guess, the \t\ was pronounced in the past, when the word began as a variant of oft (also spelled ofte in Middle English), which was the more common form until the 1500s. Oft is now archaic for most of the senses of often, but is still used in compound adjectives like oft-repeated and oft-quoted. Ofttimes and oftentimes both carry that archaic flavor but are still in active use. After the -en suffix was added to ¬oft, the \t\ fell away in pronunciation, but remained in the spelling.

Similarly, the medial \t\ in words like soften, hasten, and fasten was originally pronounced, as the -en was added to base words that were recognizable (soft, haste, fast). Listen is a bit different; although the archaic verb list exists, listen comes from the Middle English listnen, and evidence is that \t\ after \s\ and before \n\ was not pronounced.

https://www.merriam-webster.com/words-at-play/correct-pronunciation-of-often

But this is probably a different phenomenon than the t-glottalization you're noticing. According to the Wikipedia article, "The earliest mentions of the process are in Scotland during the 19th century" ("T-glottalization"). Most of the written materials I can find focus on British accents, but this paper about t-glottalization in American accents is interesting: "T-GLOTTALIZATION IN AMERICAN ENGLISH"

The authors cite a 2006 study that suggests that t-glottalization is most common among adolescents in America. They also suggest that it's more common on the West Coast, then the East.


Anecdotal

My own experience, having grown up on the West Coast and moving to the East Coast as an adult, actually suggests the opposite.

Actually, the t-glottalization in the Northeast may not be more frequent, but it seems somehow "stronger." That is, I and virtually everyone I know (including my parents, who are in their sixties) pronounce button with a glottal stop, not a /t/. However, I have met a number of twenty-somethings raised in the Northeast who pronounce button differently, as if their tongue tip doesn't touch the roof of the mouth until the n. I believe that when I say "button," my tongue tip rises to make an unreleased t, perhaps simultaneously with the glottal stop.

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  • Quite so; in this instance the tongue doesn't touch the roof of the mouth until the final n.
    – David Gish
    May 23, 2019 at 23:39
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    I would say the pronunciation of "often" around here (northern BrE) is "OFF-n". There is no glottal stop that I can tell - to do so feels somewhat awkward.
    – Steve
    May 24, 2019 at 8:29
  • Grammar Girl had a post about this in April 2019: "Have You Noticed People Not Pronouncing Their T's?" (quickanddirtytips.com/education/grammar/pronouncing-T)
    – Literalman
    May 24, 2019 at 14:25
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    I don't think there's a glottal stop in it, the way I pronounce and hear it is like @Steve mentions above - "OFF-n." Also it has another consonant to "hang on" - an F. The T just goes away and doesn't get replaced by another sound. Button, and many words like it (rotten, gotten, etc.) do not have anything other than the T sound and that T sound gets entirely replaced by a glottal stop as suggested by the question. Dec 29, 2020 at 15:11
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I have only noticed it also in the last 4-5 years more often in the word "important" pronounced [impor 'ehnt].

This is different than the 't' being pronounced as a 'd' [impor 'dant] which seems to be more a regional thing that I have heard in other areas when I travel.

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  • It's been going on a lot longer than that — we have a question about it from eight years ago, and it was well-established in certain regions of the U.S. by then. May 1, 2021 at 12:21

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