Is any language known to contain a glottal stop [ʔ] that isn't tenuis? For example, an aspirated glottal stop [ʔʰ], a palatalized glottal stop [ʔʲ], or a labialized glottal stop [ʔʷ].

CORRECTION: It turns out that tenuis is not the right word here. I mean glottal stops with a secondary feature, such as a aspiration or labialization.

4 Answers 4


An aspirated glottal stop would be a fundamental contradiction (the vocal folds would have to be both spread apart and constricted). "Tenuis" does not preclude having secondary articulation, so [ʔʷ] wouldn't be an example -- tenuis is about phonation. This is a case where the wiki entry is in error, and the wiktionary has it right. There are languages with [ʔʷ], [ʔʲ] although they may be described as "glottalized w" etc -- there is no distinction. Examples are Yurok, Klamath, Lushootseed.

  • Yawelmani also has glottalized y and w. (No glottalized h, though I'm not sure that's impossible.) Though its glottalized oral stops are ejective, y' and w' are just said with laryngealization. I don't understand why y' and w' are the same as palatalized and labialized glottal stop.
    – Greg Lee
    Jan 26, 2015 at 16:00
  • (Somehow, I misparsed your comment, so I wiped out my response). Aspiration is the spreading of the glottis, and glottalization is the constriction of the glottis -- two contradictory states, which would have to be sequenced into two segments, not simultaneously into one, which is why glottalized h is impossible. The sameness of hʷ and w̥ (etc) deserves to be a separate question (suggestion...) with an answer that's longer that an enlarged tweet.
    – user6726
    Jan 26, 2015 at 20:44
  • Yeah, but similar reasoning seems to lead to the conclusion that there can't be voiced h's or voiced aspirates, because h requires spreading the vocal cords while voicing requires approximating them.
    – Greg Lee
    Jan 26, 2015 at 22:11
  • Breathy voicing (voiced h and voiced aspiration) does not have appreciable vocal fold contact compared to modal voice, due to slight abduction of the vocal folds -- there is approximation but not glottal closure. Glottalization OTOH involves complete closure and only the anterior portion of the folds vibrate. If your reference point for glottal stricture is modal voice, breathy voice is minimally more open (compared to h, voiceless aspiration) and glottalization is minimally more closed (compared to complete closure as in ʔ or ejectives).
    – user6726
    Jan 27, 2015 at 0:04
  • 2
    How would an aspirated glottal stop be contradictory? To my understanding, aspiration refers to the short period of voicelessness after the consonant's release, not the state of the glottis during the consonant's hold.
    – Zgialor
    Jan 28, 2015 at 0:58

This cites an article by Bessell (1992) arguing that Nlakapmxcin, a Northwest Coast language, has allophonically aspirated glottal stops.

Tinputz, a language of Papue New Guinea, is claimed here to have allophonic word-final aspirated glottal stops.

(user6726 is of course correct that strictly speaking a glottal stop can't be aspirated, but that doesn't preclude that a language could possess a sound which might nevertheless be reasonably described as an aspirated glottal stop -- i.e. a glottal release immediately followed by aspiration, which I assume is what's happening here.)


According to Wikipedia, Adyghe has labialized glottal stops in phonemic distinction to plain ones, and the Abdzakh dialect of Adyghe and Hausa have palatalized glottal stops.

  • The Hausa example is a case in point in the fungibility of "glottalized y" ~ "palatalized glottal stop", since <'y> is traditionally called a glottalized y. aflang.humnet.ucla.edu/Hausa/Pronunciation/consonants.html
    – user6726
    Mar 14, 2015 at 19:19
  • And I see no reason why it shouldn't be the same with Adyghe. So in the end it's a case of neither yes nor no but "depends on your definition".
    – user9315
    Mar 14, 2015 at 19:59

I know that I am a bit late, but there is an argument to be made that the underlying representation of Russian soft vowels involves /ʔʲ/. For example, according to the argument, the UR of ё (jo) is /ʔʲo/, and the UR of ю (ju) is /ʔʲu/.

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