STANDARD ENGLISH PRONUNCIATION
This document describes speech-sounds of English. The variety taught is Standard Southern British English (more loosely called RP), spoken by most inhabitants of the south of England.
2. INDIVIDUAL SOUNDS
The contrast between voiceless and voiced consonants that is described below is not always fully present in everyday speech: consonants described as voiced are often at least partly devoiced. (Likewise, some voiceless consonants can become voiced in some circumstances.) Some commentators therefore prefer to describe the contrast not as a voiceless/voiced one, but as a 'fortis/lenis' contrast ('fortis' means 'strongly articulated', 'lenis' means 'weakly articulated').
p Voiceless bilabial plosive, aspirated. pɑːθ path.
b Voiced bilabial plosive. bɑːθ bath.
t Voiceless alveolar plosive, aspirated. tæʊn town.
d Voiced alveolar plosive. dæʊn down.
k Voiceless velar plosive, aspirated. kɑːd card.
g Voiced velar plosive. gɑːd guard.
Plosives lose their aspiration after clusters beginning with s; so the t in top is aspirated, for example, but the t in stop is not.
Plosives are unreleased when followed by another consonant other than a fricative: the pressurised air is not pushed out of the mouth with force, or indeed at all. tɒp̚ˈkæt top cat, ɹɒb̚ˈdʒɔːdʒ rob George, kwɪk̚ˈlʊk quick look. (The symbol ̚ means that the plosive is not released.)
t d have nasal plosion when followed by n, lateral plosion when followed by l. 'Nasal plosion' means that the pressure in the mouth is released not through the lips but through the nose, by lowering the velum to allow a sharp, noisy outrush of air. 'Lateral plosion' means that the pressure in the mouth is released not through the full lip-opening, but round the sides of the tongue. The n and the l that arise in this position are syllabic (described below). ˈkɪtn̩ kitten, ˈɹɪdn̩ ridden, ˈkɛtl̩ kettle, ˈmɪdl̩ middle.
tʃ Voiceless post-alveolar affricate. tʃɜːtʃ church.
dʒ Voiced post-alveolar affricate. dʒʌdʒ judge.
m Voiced bilabial nasal. miː me.
n Voiced alveolar nasal. niː knee.
ŋ Voiced velar nasal. lɒŋ long.
f Voiceless labio-dental fricative. ˈfɛɹi ferry.
v Voiced labio-dental fricative. ˈvɛɹi very.
θ Voiceless interdental fricative. θɪk thick.
ð Voiced interdental fricative. ðɪs this.
s Voiceless alveolar fricative. hɪs hiss.
z Voiced alveolar fricative. ˈlɛɪzi lazy.
ʃ Voiceless post-alveolar fricative. ʃʌʃ shush.
ʒ Voiced post-alveolar fricative. ˈmɛʒə measure.
h Glottal fricative. hæt hat.
Many speakers make ʃ ʒ with rounded lips, and some speakers use the spread tip of the tongue instead of the part behind the tip.
Voiced plosives, affricates and fricatives are partly or wholly devoiced at the beginning or end of a phrase, and when they stand next to a voiceless sound. əb̥ˈsɜːd̥ absurd, ˈv̥ɛɹi very, piːz̥ peas. (The symbol̥ is used in these examples to mark the devoiced consonant.)
ɹ Voiced post-alveolar central-approximant. ˈɹɔːɹi Rory.
l Voiced alveolar lateral-approximant. lɛɪ lay.
w Voiced labial-velar approximant. wuː woo.
j Voiced palatal approximant. ˈjəʊjəʊ yoyo.
Approximants are devoiced when they follow a voiceless plosive. tɹ̥iː tree, pl̥ɛɪ play, kw̥ɪk quick. (The symbol̥ marks the voiceless consonant in these examples.)
l is 'clear' when it is followed by a vowel or is between vowels, 'dark' in other positions. With a 'clear' l, the tip of the tongue touches the alveolum, the body of tongue is not tensed and the back of the tongue is not drawn back or pressed down; with a 'dark' l, the back of the tongue is retracted and pressed down, and the tip does not necessarily touch the alveolum. lɪm limb, mɪlˠ mill. (The symbol ˠ means that the l is 'dark'.)
2.1.6. Treatment of ɹ
The treatment of ɹ in this variety of English requires special mention. Worldwide, varieties of English fall into two types: 'rhotic', in which an r in the spelling is pronounced wherever it appears, and 'non-rhotic', in which an r in the spelling is consistently omitted in particular circumstances. Standard Southern British English is non-rhotic. Non-rhotic varieties are also used in Australia and New Zealand; rhotic varieties are found in Canada, Scotland, Ireland and the USA.
The behaviour of ɹ in non-rhotic varieties of English is absolutely consistent:
- when ɹ falls before a consonant or at the end of the phrase, it is omitted. pɔːt port, æː ˈtiːtʃə our teacher.
- when it falls before a vowel within the word, or before a vowel in the following word, it is retained. əˈɹæʊnd around, fəɹ ɪˈfɛkt for effect.
- the two rules given above mean that ɹ can appear and disappear according to whether a word is at the end of the phrase or not. ˈhɪə Here!, ˈhɪəɹ ət ˈlɑːst Here at last!.
- when two vowels fall together - for example, at the end of one word and the start of another - then an 'intrusive r' is inserted, even though there is no r in the spelling. The vowel before the ɹ must be ɑː ɔː or ə. ˈʃɑːɹ əv ˈpɜːʃə Shah of Persia, ˈθɔːɹ ɔː ˈfɹiːz thaw or freeze, ˈpæstəɹ ən ˈtʃɪps pasta and chips. The correctness of this intrusive r is disputed by a few commentators.
2.2.1. Short vowels
ɪ Close front unrounded vowel, lowered. kɪt kit.
ɛ Open-mid front unrounded vowel. dɹɛs dress.
æ Open-mid front unrounded vowel, lowered. tɹæp trap.
ʌ Open-mid back unrounded vowel, advanced. stɹʌt strut.
ɒ Open back rounded vowel. lɒt lot.
ʊ Close back rounded vowel, lowered. fʊt foot.
ə Mid central unrounded vowel. əˈbæʊt about.
The short vowels are generally shorter than the long vowels, and (with the exception of ə) are always followed by a consonant.
2.2.2. Long vowels
The long vowels do not need to be followed by a consonant; this means that they can be found at the ends of words. The symbol ː means that the vowel is long:
iː Close front unrounded vowel, prolonged. fliː flee.
ɑː Open back unrounded vowel, prolonged. pɑːθ path.
ɜː Open-mid central unrounded vowel, prolonged. fɜː fur.
ɔː Open-mid back rounded vowel, prolonged. θɔːt thought.
uː Close back rounded vowel, prolonged. muːn moon.
The two vowels listed below are in fact short and weak; they are included with the long vowels because they too can be found at the ends of words:
i Close front unrounded vowel, short and weak. ˈhæpi happy.
u Close back rounded vowel, short and weak. ˈɪntu into.
Generally speaking, the long vowels are longer than the short vowels, but they do vary in length. They are longer before nasals, approximants and voiced fricatives, shorter before voiceless consonants. liːːn lean, liːːv leave, lif leaf. (The symbol ːː means that the vowel is extra long. The normal length-marker on lif has been omitted to show that it is short. These are variations to the standard length-marking, and are used for this example only.)
2.2.3. Closing diphthongs
ɛɪ Starts with open-mid front unrounded vowel;
ends with close front unrounded vowel, lowered. fɛɪs face.
aɪ Starts with open central unrounded vowel;
ends with close front unrounded vowel, lowered. pɹaɪs price.
ɔɪ Starts with open-mid back rounded vowel;
ends with close front unrounded vowel, lowered. tʃɔɪs choice.
əʊ Starts with mid central unrounded vowel;
ends with close back rounded vowel, lowered. gəʊt goat.
ɒʊ Starts with open back rounded vowel;
ends with close back rounded vowel, lowered. gɒʊl goal.
æʊ Starts with open-mid front unrounded vowel, lowered;
ends with close back rounded vowel, lowered. mæʊθ mouth.
The diphthong ɒʊ is used instead of əʊ when it is followed by l in the same syllable: həʊp hope but hɒʊl hole, ɹəʊg rogue but ɹɒʊl roll.
2.2.4. Centring diphthongs
ɪə Starts with close front unrounded vowel, lowered;
ends with mid central unrounded vowel. nɪə near.
ɛə Starts with open-mid front unrounded vowel;
ends with mid central unrounded vowel. skwɛə square.
ɔə Starts with open-mid back rounded vowel;
ends with mid central unrounded vowel. dɔə door.
ʊə Starts with close back rounded vowel, lowered;
ends with mid central unrounded vowel. kjʊə cure.
dɔə is an alternative for dɔː - in words where no consonant follows the vowel-sound, many speakers use sometimes one sound and sometimes the other. The second element of ɛə is often omitted, leaving a long monophthong.
Triphthongs such as aɪə and æʊə (fire, hour) occur in careful speech. They are often reduced to ɑː, æː, and are not dealt with in this module.
3. SOUNDS IN FLUENT SPEECH
3.1. Mouth position
All languages have a characteristic position of the mouth, a way of holding the vocal organs that colours the overall sound. For English, the focus is in the centre of the mouth, in the space behind the alveolum and below the hard palate. There is little tension in the muscles of the cheeks and lips, and not much lip-rounding. The jaw is slack, moves freely between half-open and open positions, and is often retracted.
English makes a strong contrast between stressed and unstressed syllables. It has a 'stress-timed' rhythm, which means that the intervals of time between stresses are approximately equal, irrespective of the number of syllables spoken during each interval. Some syllables are therefore considerably drawn out, while others are very short, barely articulated. This rhythm is very different from, for example, that of Cantonese or Punjabi, where the syllables are uttered at a steady rate.
Getting the stress on the right syllable is important if you are to understand and be understood. In English, one syllable of each word - and always the same syllable of that word - is stressed, but which syllable it will be is not predictable by rule; you therefore have to learn the stress with each word. In this course, stress is shown by the ˈ, which means that the immediately following syllable is stressed.
4. SOUND-CHANGES IN CONNECTED SPEECH ('SANDHI')
In all languages, sounds get changed when words are joined together: in English, for example, the final t of west is pronounced when the word stands alone, but not in such phrases as West Country. The linguistic term for such changes is 'sandhi'.
Sandhi changes can make the language unintelligible if you are not prepared for them.
The list below includes most of the changes made in Standard Southern British English. Not all speakers consistently make all the changes described here - people make fewer changes on more formal occasions, for example. In this course, these changes are made in some examples but not in others, as seems appropriate in the immediate context. This mimics what you will hear from native speakers.
4.1. Treatment of t, d and n
When t is at the end of the phrase or before another consonant, it may be reinforced by a simultaneous glottal stop. dɪˈpɑːʔt depart, fɔːʔt̚ ˈnɒks Fort Knox. (The symbol ʔ denotes a glottal stop.)
t d can change to p b or k g to match the place of articulation (bilabial, velar) of a following plosive. ˈfæk gɜːl fat girl, ˈɹəʊb bɪldɪŋ road building, ə bɪp pɪˈkjuːlɪə a bit peculiar, gʊb ˈpɹaɪs good price, ɹɛg ˈkɹɒs Red Cross. Similarly, n changes to m or ŋ to match a following plosive or nasal. θɪm ˈbʊks thin books, tɛŋ ˈkʌps ten cups, gɹæm ˈmɑːstə Grand Master.
t d can be omitted when they fall at the end of a syllable and have at least one preceding consonant, and are followed by a consonant (except h) at the start of the next syllable. wɛs ˈwɪnd west wind, bɹʌʃ ˈkɒtn̩ brushed cotton, bɒks ˈsɛt boxed set. Deletion is not possible in, for example, wet wind, round up, felt heavy.
4.2. Syllabic n̩ and l̩
Word-final unstressed ən and əl change to syllabic n̩ and l̩ under certain conditions. For syllabic n̩ to result, the final ən must be preceded by a single consonant, not a cluster; if the consonant is p b k g or m, then syllabic n̩ is rare, but after other consonants it is frequent. Syllabic l̩, by contrast, is frequent after all consonants and after clusters (and is 'dark'). ˈʌvn̩ oven, ˈgɹæpl̩ grapple, ˈfʌnl̩ funnel.
4.3. Dropping of h
h can be omitted; but only in function-words, only in unstressed syllables, and not at the start of a phrase. So it cannot be deleted in your handbag, that's hers, he's coming. It can, however, be deleted in that's her boss, when he comes.
Advanced: a vowel where the tense part of the tongue is further forward than usual; a consonant where the tongue touches or approaches the roof of the mouth at a point further forward than that specified.
Affricate: a plosive followed immediately by a fricative at the same point of articulation, the two sounds coming so close together that they sound like one sound.
Alveolar: the tip of the tongue touches or approaches the alveolum. See 'Alveolum'.
Alveolum: the bony ridge behind the upper front teeth.
Approximant: the tongue or lips, by shaping the air-stream through the mouth, create a resonance, but not a hiss.
Aspirated: followed by a strong puff of breath, as though blowing out a candle. See 'Unaspirated'.
Back: a vowel where the back part of the tongue is tense.
Bilabial: the upper and lower lips touch or aproach each other.
Central: a vowel where the centre of the tongue is tense.
Central-approximant: the sides of the tongue touch the molars.
Centring: a diphthong in which the tense part of the tongue moves towards the centre of the mouth.
Close: a vowel where the tense part of the tongue is near to the roof of the mouth.
Closing: a diphthong in which the tense part of the tongue moves towards the roof of the mouth.
Devoiced: changed from voiceless to voiced. See 'Voiceless'. See 'Voiced'.
Diphthong: one sound, but made up of two vowel-sounds, the tongue moving steadily from one position to the other. Some writers use the term to mean 'two vowel letters', which is not the same thing. See 'Monophthong'.
Fricative: the air-stream through the mouth is made sufficiently narrow to cause hiss, but not completely blocked.
Front: a vowel where the front part of the tongue is tense.
Glottal: the vocal chords come together to impede or block the airstream.
Interdental: the tongue is pushed forward between the front teeth.
Labial-velar: the sound is made with the two lips, but the back of the tongue is also raised.
Labio-dental: the upper front teeth touch or approach the lower lip.
Lateral-approximant: the centre of the tongue touches the roof of the mouth at the specified point; the sides of the tongue are retracted.
Long: a long vowel is one where the sound continues for a long time - in an extreme case, up to half-a-second.
Lowered: a vowel where the tense part of the tongue is lower than the specified position.
Mid: a vowel where the tense part of the tongue is halfway between the floor and the roof of the mouth.
Monophthong: a vowel that stays the same, and the tongue does not move to make another vowel. See 'Diphthong'.
Nasal: of a consonant, one in which the breath passes through the nose (the tongue or lips block the passage through the mouth). Of a vowel, one in which the breath passes partly through the nose and partly through the mouth. See 'Oral'.
Open: a vowel where the tense part of the tongue is near the floor of the mouth.
Open-mid: a vowel where the tense part of the tongue is lower than halfway between the roof and the floor of the mouth.
Oral: a vowel that is pronounced wholly through the mouth (i.e. no breath passes through the nose). See 'Nasal'.
Palatal: the tongue touches or approaches the palate, the hard middle part of the roof of the mouth.
Plosive: the air-stream through the mouth is blocked: pressure is built up and released suddenly.
Post-alveolar: the tongue touches or approaches the area behind the alveolum, where it joins the palate. See 'Alveolum'.
Retracted: a vowel where the tense part of the tongue is further back than the specified position.
Rounded: a vowel where the lips are rounded (by pulling in the corners of the mouth).
Short: a short vowel is one where the sound continues for only a brief period - say about one-fifth of a second.
Triphthong: like a diphthong, but with three vowel-sounds instead of two. See 'Diphthong'. See 'Monophthong'.
Unaspirated: an unaspirated plosive does not have the puff of breath that accompanies most plosives in English. See 'Aspirated'.
Unreleased: a plosive where the mouth is blocked and pressure built up, but the pressure is not released, so that there is no final burst of sound.
Unrounded: a vowel where the lips are spread, not rounded.
Velar: the tongue touches or approaches the velum. See 'Velum'.
Velum: the soft back part of the roof of the mouth.
Voiced: with a voiced sound, the vocal chords vibrate: the sound can be sung; if you put your hands over your ears, you can hear a buzz; if you touch your larynx lightly, you can feel vibrations. See 'Voiceless'.
Voiceless: with a voiceless sound, the vocal chords do not vibrate: the sound cannot be sung; if you put your hands over your ears, you do not hear a buzz; and if you touch your larynx lightly, you feel no vibrations. See 'Voiced'.