The function of this page has changed since it was first created in the nineties. Originally, it dealt with a transcription of my accent into Kirshenbaum ASCII‐IPA, the seven‐bit encoding I was using as a substitute for raw phonetic symbols back in the days when web browsers couldn't be trusted to handle Unicode characters like ə and ʃ, at least when they carried stacks of diacritics. By 2013 I was finally in a position to stop using ASCII‐IPA on any of my other pages, which meant I could retire it here as well.
The part that's still applicable is that this page is intended to
complement the rest of my site in two ways: for British
non‐linguists it's a rough guide to how a phonemic transcription
works, while for non‐British linguists it's an introduction to my
accent. If you are already familiar with both the
International Phonetic Alphabet and twentieth‐century RP you're
unlikely to find it very useful; and on the other hand if you
don't know what I mean either by “
O as in
by “ɒ as in ˈbɒðə” then there's no convenient
way I'm going to be able to get the leverage to explain
either – or at any rate, not without knowing whether
you're from Auckland, Kingston, or Chicago.
This page is fairly technical, but that can't be helped: attempts to explain details like this purely in terms of “hard TH” and “long A sounds” just spread confusion. You may imagine that all I would need to do is add some audio examples; and indeed I may some day get round to doing that, but it's not a high priority, because the sad fact is that they wouldn't help much. If you haven't been trained to listen, your ears wouldn't take in the unfamiliar features of my pronunciations any more than your eyes would be likely to notice a trivial typo you're not actively looking for – instead your mother‐tongue perceptual filters automatically reinterpret everything to fit the phonological categories you're used to.
The list of example words and sentences that used to be part of this file hypertrophied uncontrollably and has been broken out into an A to Z of JBR RP, leaving me room to fit in some extra material here.
Throughout this essay, example spellings and so forth are as usual marked out as follows… (The brackets won't be visible if your browser is ignoring my CSS.)
|Phonemic transcriptions:||slant‐bracketed IPA||lɑɪk ðɪs|
|Phonetic details:||square‐bracketed IPA||lɑɪk ðɪs|
And before I get started I'll need to explain some of the labels I'm sticking on things:
tentsis released with a little puff of breath as tʰ, while the second isn't. We can hear the difference if we listen carefully, but we don't normally notice it.
tentshave in common is that both are forms of one English phoneme, t: the phonetic distance between them is never used for telling English words apart (so anglophones learn to disregard it). The difference between
tents, on the other hand, is that the first begins with a voiced d and the second with a voiceless t – a subtle phonetic distinction that English does recognise as phonemically significant.
Norwich, quarter, valleyed.
bidereally did use minor variants of the same sound. What the IPA length diacritic ː marks is actual phonetic duration, which is complicated enough already thanks to the way vowels vary from their typical length depending on context:
badlyis phonemically ˈbædliː but can end up realised as something nearer to ˈbæːdli.
CHAracteRISticallyis ˌkærəktəˈrɪstɪkliː. The pattern of prominence inherent in each word is then overlaid with a stress contour for the utterance as a whole, possibly including contrastive emphasis that overrides the normal pattern: “I said CHAracteRIStically, not MILitaRIStically!”
JBR RP features the following supply of consonants and vowels, here listed in an order which is more or less “systematic” rather than quasi‐alphabetic.
triumph. Unstressed əm may be realised as a syllabic consonant m̩ as in
month) to postalveolar (
relationship). Unstressed ən may be a syllabic consonant n̩ as in
hangingas hanɡɪnɡ, with ŋ as a mere predictable allophone of n. For everyone else it qualifies as a phoneme, albeit one that's limited to appearing after one of a small set of vowels. Unstressed əŋ doesn't get many opportunities to be a syllabic consonant ŋ̍, but may in words like
ankleis a syllabic dark ɫ̩. Irish accents may use the “light” l everywhere, while many Americans stick to the “dark” one; meanwhile much of southern England (which includes most of my family) has adopted an even more modified pronunciation weakening any l at the end of a syllable into a back semivowel (so that
skilfulbecomes something like ˈskɪɤ̯fɵʊ̯).
bathed) to postalveolar (
dress). One variation I mostly don't have is the one that turns d or t into an alveolar tap ɾ, as routinely occurs in North American pronunciations of
ɡ, though this seems to be a misunderstanding: the official IPA Handbook is clear that the voiced velar plosive symbol is just a lowercase letter
G, and the typographic distinction between
actis pronounced æʔkt. The k there has no audible release; other fancy possibilities include nasal or lateral release (as in
witless) and of course affricated release (as in tʃ).
litmusI may entirely replace the t with a glottal stop even in careful speech; other accents in both England and Scotland take this to the point of regularly using a glottal stop in
cooedinvolve different areas of the soft palate, as well as different lip postures.
comfortablemay very rarely have a bilabial ɸ.
threemerger), and I don't mean just in the East End of London; for a start it turns up here in Scotland, and it's reaching the levels of acceptance where BBC presenters can get away with it.
speciesmay instead have an alveolo‐palatal ɕ, not that I can usually hear the difference.
court. Where it does occur it's usually plain ɹ̠. I don't have either the tongue‐bunching or retroflex colouring common in US accents; I don't use the labiodental approximant ʋ that a recent Cockney flatmate of mine consistently produced; and nor, despite the traditional lazy use of r to label this phoneme, do I ever use the trilled r sometimes heard here in Scotland. However, in words like
breakthroughI do very occasionally substitute the tap ɾ, which is the usual Scottish realisation of r (though in New World dialects it mainly appears as an allophone of d or t).
Üsound. The main kind of allophonic variation j displays is devoicing, as in words like
hue; but there's also major disagreement over which words have it at all. In my grandparents' day there was a j in the RP pronunciation of
suit, dropped in more modern versions (including mine); most Americans omit j generally after alveolar consonants, turning
dueinto homophones; but Norfolk dialect goes further and drops j after any consonant, merging
feud. Another option is for tj to fuse into tʃ and
June(a phenomenon known by the gloriously opaque name of “yod coalescence”); I sometimes find myself doing this in casual speech, but not systematically as Londoners do these days.
witchis long lost in England, but I still hear it from Scots – not that this means they have an extra voiceless labiovelar phoneme; it's just an unsimplified hw sequence.
abundance. Transcriptions traditionally distinguish the form that occurs in stressed syllables as a separate vowel ʌ, but in JBR RP the different sounds are entirely predictable allophonic variants of one phoneme. If I'm going to merge them and throw away one of the symbols then the one that gets priority is the commonest sound in the language: ə, known as the “schwa”. Besides, the label ʌ for the stressed variant is a century or more out of date; my own pronunciation is closer to ɐ.
fur ruffas a palindrome get to look down on them as only semi‐rhotic.
beesthis is a genuine long iː, but before a vowel as in
beingit breaks up into something more like ɪj, and in unstressed contexts it's just i. Other major branches of RP have a rule replacing unstressed iː with ɪ and thus merging
taxis, but mine retains that distinction.
goldas ɒʊ, but for me the first element stays unrounded.
executive, where it's particularly fronted by the preceding j. Accents that turn unstressed iː into ɪ often do something similar with uː (so
youcan become jʊ), but for me it either stays slightly tenser than that or reduces all the way to ə, my only simple vowel that can be word‐final.
unidentified flying objectis indistinguishable from
an identified flying objectunless I take care to stress them differently.
QU: English spelling may give kw a special digraph of its own, but it isn't a unit in English phonology.
U: likewise, juː is just a sequence of j and uː; if
X: ditto, ks. These aren't even particularly common sequences, compared to ən or st!
Okay, so I've told you what phonemes my accent uses, but what
words do I use which phonemes in? Originally, this was where
I included my wordlists, now broken out into the
A to Z; in their place I'm quoting a
standard system of phonological equivalence classes for English
dialectology. This table was devised by J. C. Wells
back in 1982, and in retrospect I should have been taking
advantage of it all along, but somehow I didn't notice how useful
it was until bloggers started using it in the noughties.
It should be enough to give a good general idea of how my accent
behaves, though it doesn't account for subtleties like the strange
way I pronounce
eggplant; for those
you'll need to check the wordlists.
ship, kid, limp, myth, build
step, ebb, tent, bread, friend
tap, rag, hand, lapse, plaid
stop, odd, box, swan, wash
cup, bud, lump, come, touch
|ə (=26, 27)|
put, bush, good, wolf, could
staff, class, ask, fasten, laugh
|ɑː (=12, 21)|
off, cross, soft, cough, Austin
hurt, birth, church, verb, word
creep, need, cheese, brief, field
tape, fade, waist, play, reign
calm, ma, hurrah, façade, Java
|ɑː (=07, 21)|
cause, taunt, hawk, chalk, broad
|ɔː (=22, 23)|
soap, joke, host, toe, mauve
loop, mood, tomb, two, fruit
ripe, side, child, try, eye
boy, noise, spoil, employ, hoist
out, crowd, cow, round, bough
beer, here, pier, fear, pierce
share, fair, bear, where, scarce
far, sharp, carve, heart, safari
|ɑː (=07, 12)|
for, orb, form, quart, cord
|ɔː (=13, 23)|
fore, soar, floor, court, sword
|ɔː (=13, 22)|
moor, your, sure, gourd, fury
copy, khaki, movie, coffee, money
paper, sugar, standard, anchor, martyr
|ə (=05, 27)|
quota, visa, panda, sofa, saga
|ə (=05, 26)|
This framework makes it much easier to describe the ways that dialects vary phonologically, so here are some summaries for comparison.
Wymondhamare hard to pronounce. What they mean is that centuries of erosion have left them so easy to pronounce that they're hard to spell!
nose. That last one used to be complicated by an extra
knowsdistinction, but that was on its last legs when I was young. As for the extra
paindistinction mentioned in some older sources, I've never encountered any evidence that it survived into my own lifetime.
clangour) is in reality a preserved feature of the Middle English phonological system. Then again, one northern innovation that has proved popular outside the UK is the reduction of unstressed ɪ to ə, so that
ferrous(and in a non‐rhotic accent this also implies
calm); LOT = THOUGHT (Edinburgh dialect adds GOAT to this set too for a full
coatmerger); and above all, FOOT = GOOSE (
pool). Scottish English is also usually fully rhotic, meaning the “‑R” sets from NURSE through to lettER are each pronounced as some other vowel off the list straightforwardly followed by r.
balm); the big divide is between the accents with a separate THOUGHT vowel and the ones with a full
caughtmerger. There are also plenty of conditional features that only affect particular phonetic contexts in particular regional accents, such as the
Recently, the people who write to me asking for audio versions have also started insisting I should answer the following list of questions, which apparently are part of a YouTube fad for amateur dialectology.
You may have gathered that I'm not hugely impressed by these questions. I grew up surrounded by people who spoke a genuinely obscure rural English dialect – one that gets so little media exposure that I can't think of a single celebrity or well‐known fictional character that I could suggest as an example of a Norfolk accent (or even of the dilute version common in Norwich). But there's only one question in this survey that would be answered interestingly by the broadest of East Anglian regional dialect speakers: that toype o' creepy‐crawly wut cull up in a ball, thass a “chaarleypig”.