The Glottal Stop [AKA: The Weird Apostrophe in That Word]

What do you call the apostrophe that appears in the middle of a word? Not one indicating possession, but one that is stuck in something for a reason that only seems discernible to the person who did it.

They’re called glottal stops, and not only do they appear in the names of real people, but they are common enough in fantasy writing to be considered a trope.

Now, full disclosure here–I use them in my writing. Specifically in my Atlantis: The Visionary Continent series. Why? To separate Native Atlantian [what the original Atlantians spoke] from Modern Atlantian, which is infused with all kinds of junk from other languages. [Notably Latin; to which I say… big surprise.] If you come across a glottal stop in my series then you know it’s an old word.

In American English they’re pronounced like a brief, stuttered pause–which is your vocal cords momentarily closing. This elongates the sound of the letter before the pause, often enough to overtake the letter after it. [As in “Mountain” {mount’in} or “Button” {butt’n}.] Most works of fantasy or sci-fi use them this way, though sometimes the rules of a specific series [or author] treat them as if they have their own sound–which is valid and happens in other real world languages as well. I treat them accordingly for Atlantian, which makes the name “I’nass” sound like ee-nass rather than eh-nass. Contrasting that is the other “I” name in my books, Idane, which has no glottal stop and is pronounced eh-dah-nay. [Allophones are fun, right?]

Not many people know what they’re called, and that they serve a purpose in language. More often than not they are filed under “Made-Up Fantasy and Sci-Fi BS“, or “Trying Too Hard to Be Creative” and left there to fester. Unfortunately this leads to the glottal stop getting a bad rap. I’ve heard everything from “lazy writers use them as a crutch to make names sound ‘exotic’,” to “If I see them in anything I’m reading, I will literally throw the book across the room and stop reading it.” Ouch, right? Why the visceral reaction? [Also, do those people throw their e-readers, or do they just delete the book in a rage? I imagine that is as anti-climatic as pressing the “End Call” button really hard on your phone’s screen.]

Though better than a broken e-reader every few books.

One guess would be overuse, despite the fact that recent negativity has made them uncommon again. I can’t figure out why a very vocal segment of readers respond to them the way they do. My first suspicion is that it’s become trendy to hate it. It happens to a lot of books and writing styles–if anything has ever been popular at one point, it will give rise to a counterculture that hates it simply for the sake of not wanting to follow the trend of enjoying it. [That was a mouthful, wasn’t it?]

Of course, overuse and misuse are both terrible things… but when a large group of people can’t even tolerate the thought of one, it raises questions. And no group is more polarized about it than other writers–you run the gamut of them thinking the glottal stop is whimsical, to acting like wanting to include one in your work constitutes some kind of war crime.

The battles are fierce, and not as verbose as you’d think.

It’s an innocent bit of punctuation! It has its time, and place. It’s like the Oxford Comma’s lesser known cousin; becoming more and more reviled as the years pass. Why all the hate for a tiny little mark between letters?

 

P.S: I am Pro-Oxford Comma.

P.S.S: I will officially declare my love of the super-versatile em dash. It is my favorite bit of punctuation, and has been ever since I can remember. [Even before I knew what it was officially called.] heart

 

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