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 7‐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, which should mean I'll have room to add 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, but we don't normally pay any attention to it.
tentshave in common is that both “count as” forms of one English phoneme, t: the phonetic space between them is never used for telling English words apart (so English‐speakers learn to disregard it). The difference between
dents, on the other hand, is that the first begins with t and the second with a voiced d – a subtle phonetic distinction that English does recognise as phonemically significant.
Norwich, quarter, valleyed.
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.
CURED– uncommon, often replaced by ɔː
glottal. Many US accents prescribe a “flapped D” there, and many UK accents use a “glottal stop”; JBR RP has a clearcut “T” in that particular context, but allows a glottalised t in a more limited family of words.
madeisn't one of stress or length – the two are simply different vowels (mæd, mɛɪd).
bought/bet– I take more time over the former; but other things very rarely are equal.
j(=dʒ) and diphthongs like
oy(=ɔɪ). A case could be made for splitting each of these into subcomponents, but at least for my own accent I find such analyses unnatural.
Qdo not correspond to single phonemes (the sounds are transcribed as the sequences ks, kw). Likewise, the sound of
unitis just “YOO” – j followed by uː – and needs no separate sign of its own.
ABstractand the verb
abSTRACTis shown in my transcriptions by ˈ marks before stressed syllables: ˈæbstrækt, æbˈstrækt. Secondary stress (not as emphatic as the word's main stress, but stronger than neighbouring syllables) receives a preceding ˌ mark – thus
abundance, əˈbəndəns. In phonetic terms, that's əˈbɐ̃ndn̩s; and for many accents it makes sense to consider the three forms as separate entities. However, they don't seem to be used contrastively as phonemes in my own speech: the pronunciation of ə is always predictable from the surrounding context. Accordingly, I am treating them as one phoneme, and standardising my phonemic notation here on the symbol for the neutral vowel known as the “schwa”.
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.
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 selection of words is enough to give a good general idea of
how an accent behaves, though it doesn't account for subtleties
like the Scots who put a KIT vowel in
birth but not
berth, or idiosyncrasies like the strange way I pronounce
eggplant; for details like that, see the
You might think I'd also need to say something here about which
words have which consonant phonemes, but this is an area where
English dialects are much less variable, so I can save my notes
newborn has a j and no r for
that extra material that's probably coming soon.
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”.