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Unit 10

British and American Pronunciation
Snezhina Dimitrova
In 1877, the British philologist Henry Sweet said that within a century “England, America, and Australia will be speaking mutually unintelligible languages owing to their independent changes of pronunciation.” Fortunately, this grim prediction did not come true. Still, more than 300 million people in the world today speak English as their mother tongue, and many differences between varieties of English do exist. But the differences in terms of vocabulary, grammar, or spelling are remarkably small compared with differences of accent. Accent is the term which linguists use when
they refer to the pronunciation features typical of people who belong to the same geographical region or social class; speakers’ accents may also reflect their age, sex, level of education, etc. It is difficult to say exactly how many accents of English there are. Even within the United Kingdom, there are accents as varied as Scottish English, Irish English, Welsh English, Cockney, a newly-emerged accent called Estuary English, and many others. But as far as the teaching of English pronunciation to foreign learners is concerned, the choice of a model accent has traditionally been limited to what can be considered the two “standard” accents in Great Britain and the In the United States, this is an accent called General American, or GA. In fact, the
label “General American” covers a range of accents which don’t exhibit any Eastern or Southern local colouring. General American is the pronunciation used by the majority of the population of the United States and by most US radio and TV announcers. It is also the model accent used in teaching English in such parts of the world as Central and South America, the Philippines, etc. In Britain, the accent traditionally considered to be the standard pronunciation model is known under the somewhat strange name Received Pronunciation, or RP (where
“Received” is interpreted as meaning “generally accepted”). It is regarded as the appropriate pronunciation model to be used in teaching English as a foreign language in those parts of the world where British rather than American English is traditionally taught. Although it is sometimes associated with the way educated people in the south-east of England speak, RP is generally considered to be regionally “neutral”: it is not an accent typical of any particular geographical region in Britain, and can be According to some authors1, about 10% of the English are speakers of Received Pronunciation. On the other hand, the Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language tells us that today less than 3% of the people in Britain speak RP in a pure form. At the same time, it could be argued what the features of such a “pure” form are, because at present several varieties of RP exist. An example of the one most widely used – “General RP”2 – is the accent which can be heard on the BBC. But there are at least two more varieties: a “conservative” form of RP spoken mostly by the older generation as well as in some professional circles, and often also associated with the “Establishment”, and “advanced” RP which is used predominantly by younger people belonging to certain professional and social groups, and is believed to In the last few years, however, a new term – BBC pronunciation has become
popular. There are several reasons for its emergence, the most important of which are the existing diversity within RP itself, and the fact that today the term “Received Pronunciation” often evokes negative attitudes in many younger people because of the connotations of high socio-economic status and superiority which RP still has for many people. The term “BBC pronunciation”, on the other hand, doesn’t carry any such implications of social superiority and prestige. There are many differences between British and American English which don’t concern pronunciation. For example, in England you live in a block of flats, take the underground and go on holiday. In the United States, you live in an apartment house, take the subway and go on vacation. These are examples of vocabulary differences. There are differences of grammar as well. In Britain you ask, “Have you got the time?” and receive an answer, “It’s ten past two.” In the United States you say, “Do you have the time?” and they tell you that “It’s ten after two.” British and American English also differ in terms of spelling. Thus, British English has colour and centre, where American English has color and center. Catalogue is spelt catalog, without -ue in the end in the United States, and so on. But it is in terms of pronunciation that British and American English differ most. There are several ways in which accents may differ. They may have different phonemic inventories, that is, different numbers of distinctive vowel or consonant sounds. They may differ in terms of the actual phonetic realisations of their phonemes in the flow of speech. Other differences may involve phonotactics – the positions in the word and the syllable in which the phonemes of a language can occur, the pronunciation of groups of common lexical words, patterns of word stress, rhythm, 1. BBC pronunciation and General American differ most in terms of their vowel 1.1 Long/tense and short/lax vowels
General American is usually described as having tense and lax monophthongs. The muscles of the lips and the tongue are tightened for the production of tense vowels and more relaxed for the articulation of lax vowels. Generally, long vowels are tense while short vowels are lax. But vowel length is relatively less important in GA than in BBC English: GA vowels differ in length, but these differences depend primarily on the environment in which the respective vowels occur. Nevertheless, most dictionaries which show the pronunciation differences between the two “standard” accents retain the length diacritic [:] in the transcription of the GA vowels, because in this way the relationship between the two vowel systems is shown more clearly. • BBC pronunciation is described as having 7 short relatively pure vowels: /ˆ, e, æ, √, Å, ¨, \/. These vowels can be found in GA as well, with the exception of the “short o” – the back rounded /Å/ vowel heard in BBC English in words such as not, lot, block, etc. In GA, this vowel sound is replaced with /å:/ - the back unrounded vowel that one hears in BBC pronunciation in last, part, fast, etc. So not is pronounced /nÅt/ in BBC English and /nå:t/ in General American, and lot is pronounced /lÅt/ and /lå:t/ respectively. Other examples of words the stressed vowels in which are subject to the same variation in the Notice, however, that there are also words which are pronounced with /å:/ in both accents, e.g., father, palm, balm, part, start, large, card, etc. • On the other hand, in a number of words in which BBC pronunciation has /å:/, General American has the front open /æ/ vowel, e.g. • The long back mid rounded vowel /ø:/ which in BBC English occurs in words such as thought, walk, law is usually opener and less rounded in GA. In fact, the General American vowels in the open back area are characterized by a considerable amount of variation. Some Americans pronounce the above words with a vowel quality which is lower than the BBC vowel but is still characterized by a certain amount of lip-rounding. Some dictionaries use the symbol /Å:/ to transcribe this GA vowel. But most words belonging to this large group have an alternative pronunciation in General American – one in which the vowel has lost its roundedness, thus becoming /å:/. For example, • All GA vowels are characterized by r-colouring when they are followed by the This r-colouring is particularly noticeable in the case of the mid central vowels /±:/ and /\/ as in bird, nurse, or in the last syllable of another. Dictionaries sometimes use special transcription symbols to show the pronunciation of these vowels in GA, e.g., /bɝ:d/, /nɝ:s/, /\«n√∂|/. In this book, the r-coloured mid central vowels of General American are transcribed with the symbols for the respective BBC vowels followed by /r/, e.g., /b±:rd/, /n±:rs/, /\«n√∂\r/. • The difference between unstressed /ˆ/ and /\/ is often lost in GA, e.g., 1.2 Diphthongs
• BBC pronunciation has 3 diphthongs ending in /\/ - /ˆ\, e\, ¨\/, as in here, there, poor. General American has no separate phonemic diphthongs which end in /\/. The vowels in the above three words are pronounced as sequences of ˆ + r, e + r, and ¨ + r, respectively. (But remember that /¨\/ is often replaced by /ø:/ in BBC pronunciation.) For example, • In BBC pronunciation the diphthong in words such as no, go, don’t has a central starting point - /\¨/. In General American, the starting point of this diphthong varies a great deal, but is generally more back and rounded - /o¨/, 2. Consonants
The consonantal systems of BBC pronunciation and General American do not differ considerably. The overall number of consonant phonemes in the two standard accents is the same. The differences concern their phonetic realization and their distribution. • One of the most typical features of GA concerns the realization of /t/ between vowels. In this position, both in individual words and across word boundaries, /t/ is pronounced as a quick tap and is accompanied by voicing, so that is sounds almost like a /d/. The symbol most frequently used in pronunciation dictionaries to show a voiced /t/ is /t¶/, for example, However, there is no t-voicing in attend, return, attack, etc., because the process of tapping and voicing the /t/ takes place in GA only when the first of the two vowels is stressed. Neither is the /t/ voiced in lightness /«laˆtn\s/, lighthouse /«laˆtha¨s/: in these words, /t/ is not immediately followed by a vowel. T-voicing also takes place when the stressed vowel is followed by /r/ or by /n/, e.g., party /«på:rt¶i/, reporter /rˆ«pø:rt¶\r/, twenty /«twent¶i/, hunter /«h√nt¶\r/. /t/ is also voiced when it is followed not by a vowel but by the syllabic lateral /l§/, e.g., battle /«bæt¶l/, little /«lˆt¶l/, frontal /«fr√nt¶l§/. • Probably the most important difference between the consonants of the two accents concerns the distribution of /r/. BBC English is a non-rhotic accent, and in it this consonant occurs only before vowels. There is no such constraint on its distribution in GA, which is a rhotic accent: in it, /r/ is pronounced everywhere there is an r letter in the spelling: before a vowel, after a vowel and in front of another consonant, e.g., • Many speakers of General American don’t pronounce /j/ in a stressed syllable after the alveolar consonants /t, d, n/, e.g., • The two variants (allophones) of /l/ - the “clear” [l] and the “dark” [˚] are very similar in General American, and to a speaker of BBC English both of them • The consonant /ß/ is voiced – pronounced as /Ω/ - in a number of words, e.g., 3. Other differences between BBC pronunciation and GA
• There are a number of suffixes the vowels in which are pronounced differently There is a tendency for the –ile suffix in hostile, fragile, futile, etc. (pronounced /-aˆl/ in BBC English) to have a weak vowel or a syllabic consonant and to be pronounced /\l/ or /l§/ in General American, e.g., The suffixes –ary, -ery, -ory, -mony usually have a weak vowel in BBC pronunciation • Some words have different stress patterns in the two accents. For example, detail is usually pronounced /«di:teˆl/ in BBC pronunciation and /dˆ«teˆl/ in GA, ballet is usually /«bæleˆ/ in BBC but /bæl«eˆ/ in GA, many two-syllable verbs ending in –ate have stress on the suffix in BBC pronunciation but on the first • Finally, there are a number of words the pronunciation differences in which don’t follow any predictable pattern, e.g., In conclusion, it must be said that there is a lot of accentual variation both within Britain and the United States. Also, some Eastern accents in the USA sound closer to BBC pronunciation than to General American, while some British accents resemble General American rather than BBC English. Nevertheless, BBC pronunciation and General American still are, and will most probably continue to be, the two accents which learners of English who wish to acquire (near) native-like pronunciation take as Exercises
Exercise I
Give examples of differences between British and American English in terms of: British English
American English
Exercise II
Put these words in one of the two columns below according to the pronunciation of part, calm, fast, grass, laugh, palm, last, bark, large, after, psalm, past, can’t, chance, Exercise III
Transcribe the vowels in the words below. The first one is done for you. Exercise IV
What is the vowel in the words below in BBC pronunciation and in General American sport, wrong, gas, task, advantage, spot, grasp, glance, raw, storm, map /Å/………………………………………………. /ø:/ sport, …………………………….………… /å:/……………………………………………… /æ/……………………………………………… /ø:/ sport, .……………………………………… /å:/……………………………………………… /æ/……………………………………………… Exercise V
Use phonemic transcription to show the pronunciation of these words in General Exercise VI
Underline the words in which /t/ will be voiced in General American. atom, re-sit, writer, atomic, attitude, attic, assertive, attach, potato, matter, pretty, Exercise VII
Read these words and arrange them in the columns below according to the customary, necessary, testimony, monastery, ordinary, category, futile, voluntary, matrimony, missile, hostile, territory, dictionary, melancholy BBC pronunciation
General American
-(\)rrii customary,
-øø:::rrrii
-(\)llii
-øø:::lllii
Exercise VIII
Use phonemic transcription to show the BBC and the GA pronunciation of the Exercise IX
What are the stress patterns of these words in BBC pronunciation and in General laboratory, advertisement, dictate (vb.), limousine, ballet, frontier, vibrate, address (noun), inquiry, magazine, weekend, premiere BBC pronunciation
General American
Exercise X
In order for two words to rhyme, they must have the same vowel followed by the same consonant(s) in their stressed syllables. Which of the following words rhyme in BBC pronunciation and in General American? Put a tick in the appropriate box below. Exercise XI
Diagnostic passage
Read and record the text below. Then compare your recording with the one on the I arrived in New South College on a Sunday afternoon. The porter at the lodge told me how to get to the central office block, where a clerk at the Accommodations Office gave me my keys. So I wandered about, looking for the pretty little cottage I had seen on the colour photograph in the prospectus. I hadn’t thought it necessary to ask the clerk for directions. But it was getting dark and there was just nobody around. The beautiful blonde girl I had momentarily seen a minute ago had disappeared in the direction of the car park. Everybody seemed to have gone to spend their leisure time in the city. The dark green bushes on both sides of the path were beginning to look hostile, and I couldn’t help thinking that I had got lost. Comments
The aim of your recording and these comments is to help you to determine which of the two standard accents your pronunciation is closer to – BBC English or General American. Listen to your recording of the diagnostic passage, compare it with the one on the cassette which accompanies this book, and read the comments below. Alternatively, before reading the comments, you could try to analyse the passage yourself, and then compare your analysis with the one given here. The superscripts have been added in the text below in order to help you find more easily the words and phrases which the comments refer to. I arrived in New1 South College2 on2 a Sunday afternoon 3,4. The porter4,5 at the lodge2 told6 me how to get to the central office2,12 block2, where a clerk7 at the Accommodations2 Office2,12 gave me my keys. So6 I wandered2,4 about, looking for4 the pretty5 little5 cottage2,5 I had seen on2 the colour4 photograph6,3 in the prospectus2. I hadn’t thought8,11 it necessary9 to ask3 the clerk7 for4 directions. But11 it was getting5 dark4 and there10 was just nobody6,2 around. The beautiful5 blonde2 girl4 I had momentarily6,9 seen a minute12 ago6 had disappeared10 in the direction of the car4 park4. Everybody2 seemed to have gone2 to spend their10 leisure7 time in the city5. The dark4 green bushes on2 both6 sides of the path3 were4 beginning to look hostile9, and I couldn’t help thinking that11 I had got2 lost2. 1 New is pronounced /nju:/ in BBC English, but usually /nu:/ in General American. 2 These words have the “short o” vowel /Å/ in BBC pronunciation, but /å:/ in General 3 These words are pronounced with /å:/ in BBC English and with /æ/ in General 4 In these words, the r comes after a vowel and before another consonant, or at the end of the word. General American is a rhotic accent, and in it all letters r from the spelling are pronounced. The words in which the r comes before a vowel and will be pronounced in both accents are not marked. 5 The consonant /t/ in these words is between vowels, the first of which is stressed. In General American, /t/ in this position is voiced and tapped. 6 The diphthong in these words is pronounced /\¨/ in BBC English, while in General American it has a back rounded starting point and is usually pronounced /o¨/. 7 Clerk is pronounced /klå:k/ in BBC English and /kl±:rk/ in General American. Leisure is pronounced /«leΩ\/ and /«li:Ω\r/, respectively. 8 These words, which in BBC pronunciation have the rounded /ø:/ vowel, are usually pronounced with an unrounded vowel in General American - /å:/. 9 The suffix vowels in these words are the other way about in the two standard accents: in necessary and momentarily, -ary and -arily have weak vowels in BBC pronunciation and strong vowels in General American. Hostile has a strong vowel in the suffix in BBC pronunciation and a weak one in General American. 10 The BBC centring diphthongs /ˆ\/ and /e\/ are replaced in GA pronunciation by a 11 The /t/ between vowels will most probably be voiced in the phrases thought it, but it, that I: t-voicing in General American occurs not only within words, but also across 12 The weak vowel in these words is usually /\/ in General American. Were you able to determine which of the two accents – BBC pronunciation or General American – your pronunciation is closer to? Try to be consistent and to adhere to the model you have chosen. Having understood the major ways in which the two accents differ, try to get rid of those features which are not typical of “your” pronunciation 1 According to Wells (1982:118), “Even with the more generous definitions … not more than about 10 percent of the population of England could be considered as RP 2 The terms “General”, “Conservative”, and “Advanced RP” were used by Gimson (1970), whereas Cruttenden (1994), following Wells (1982), prefers to talk about “3 main types of RP: General RP, Refined RP and Regional RP” (1994:81). 3 The term “BBC pronunciation” was first put forward in the Introduction to Jones (1997, ed. by Roach and Hartman) and is further discussed in Roach (2000).

Source: http://www.personal.rdg.ac.uk/~llsroach/phon2/sd10.pdf

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