19th century sound change in Kent: FACE


Figure 1. The distribution of FACE pronunciations. All the informants had acquired the new [ɛi]-like FACE diphthong, indicating this is the earliest of the 19th century sound changes in Kent.

All the informants have [ɛi], a new sound change that had spread completely all over the county by the time they were acquiring their speech in the period 1865-1895 (see the map), which makes this the earliest of the ten sound changes, originating perhaps before 1800 and complete by or soon after the 1860s.

This post continues from the introductory Nineteenth century sound change in Kent, where the informants are introduced and the background presented.

kentsoundchangetable03The numbers of informants with new pronunciations (N), partially new (P) and old (O), for each of the ten sound changes, ordered from the left by the total number of O acquired, assuming a progression from the earliest to the most recent. The grand total for each sound change is 8, the number of informants. FACE was acquired by all the informants.

Alexander Ellis (1889, On Early English Pronunciation, Vol. 5, Teubner) recorded the surviving dialect pronunciation of FACE in Kent and East Sussex, capturing examples that are relevant for the first half of the 19th century. His results were surprisingly variable, ranging from [ai] to [eː], [eə] to [iə]. Apart from [ai], there was no diphthong movement towards [i]. Here are some examples:

  1. [ai]: [sai maits swai wai strait] (say mates sway way straight).
  2. [eː]: [leː] (lay)
  3. [eə]: [meəts weək teək meək feəs treəs geət teəbl] (mates wake take make face trace gate table)
  4. [iə]: [miəts niəm kriədl] (mates name cradle)

The standard solution for the Great Vowel Shift (Patricia Wolfe, 1972, Linguistic Change and the Great Vowel Shift in English, University of California Press) states that FACE had progressed from mediaeval [aː] to [eː] by Shakespeare’s time, i.e. around 1600. The standard solution is most relevant for RP, while regional phonologies can vary locally. The [eː]~[eə]~[iə]-like variants recorded by Ellis might be related to the standard solution. The [ai]-like examples (and the similar [ai] still heard in London’s East End Cockney) possibly still reflect the original 15th century [aː]. This could point to a direct progression aː>ai>ɛi, rather than a roundabout progression like aː>æː>eː>ai>ɛi. However, none of the eight Kentish informants studied here, born between 1865 and 1895, have any of these earlier pronunciations for FACE.

F1/F2 diagrams for the FACE (and GOAT) diphthongs.

The F1/F2 diagrams show the FACE and GOAT diphthongs (the GOAT diphthongs are described and discussed elsewhere). All informants have F1 for the start zone of FACE in the range 500-600Hz, which is typical for an [ɛ]-like timbre.


Listen to examples of the new [ɛi]-like FACE diphthong by the eight informants:


Examples from contemporary RP for comparison

Henry Sweet (1877, Handbook of Phonetics, Oxford, Clarendon) and Daniel Jones (1918, Outline of English Phonetics, Teubner, later editions to 1968 by Heffer) agreed that RP FACE had been [ei] since the Victorian period, which means it had moved on a little since the long [eː] of Shakespeare’s days. Jones added that the start might be shifted towards [ɛ], but not as far as cardinal [ɛ] which was dialectal (London and the Eastern Counties). Gimson (1962, An Introduction to the Pronunciation of English, Arnold) accepted cardinal [ɛ] as a starting point in RP, while the regional variants to be avoided were [æi] or [ai]. However, Stanley Baldwin’s FACE ranged through [ei~ɛɪ], a century earlier (examples below).


F1/F2 diagrams for RP FACE (and GOAT) by
Stanley Baldwin (left) and Daniel Jones (right).

The formant diagrams show two examples of 19th century RP FACE, by politician Stanley Baldwin (1867-1947) and phonetics professor Daniel Jones (1881-1967), contemporaries of the Kentish informants, both recorded around 1930. Stanley Baldwin’s F1 start ranged between 400 and 600Hz, reflecting his [e~ɛ]-like timbre. Daniel Jones’ F1 start was 400-500Hz, reflecting his [e]-like timbre.

Listen to examples of late Victorian RP FACE diphthongs:

©Sidney Wood and SWPhonetics, 1994-2016


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