19th century sound change in Kent: PRICE


The distribution of PRICE pronunciations by the seven informants. All but one had acquired the new pronunciation [ai] (N). The informant from Appledore in the south east still had the earlier pronunciation [ʌi] (O).

The earlier 19th century popular pronunciation in Kent for PRICE was [ʌi]. The target model brought by migrating Londoners to the Estuary towns was [ai] or [ɑi]. The map shows that seven informants spread almost over all the county had already acquired the new [ai]-like timbre for PRICE, and just one still had the earlier form [ʌi]. Clearly, the PRICE change was nearly complete in 1865-1895, suggesting it started around 1800, soon after the earliest of these ten changes, FACE.

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


The 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. The new PRICE was acquired by seven out of the eight informants.

Alexander Ellis (1889, On Early English Pronunciation, Vol. 5, Teubner) recorded the surviving dialect pronunciation of PRICE in Kent (and East Sussex) as [ʌi]. Two Great Vowel Shift solutions have been proposed for PRICE (Patricia Wolfe, 1972, Linguistic Change and the Great Vowel Shift in English, University of California Press), one running through the front vowels iː>ei>ɛi>æi>ai, and one going down the back iː>ʌi>ai. The argument against the first is that it would cross FACE moving from aː to eː, whereas FACE and PRICE have remained distinct throughout the Great Vowel Shift. The difficulty appears to be that that living memory knew only [ai] for standard pronunciation in the 19th century, while [ʌi] was only known in regional dialects. So Sweet and Jones gave only [ai] for RP, while Ellis recorded [ʌi] in Kent. One of the eight informants still acquired [ʌi] in the 1880s, indicating there was a smaller conservative pocket for PRICE in East Kent.

F1/F2 diagrams for the FACE (and MOUTH) diphthongs. One informant, (g) Appledore1880, still had the earlier [ʌi]-like PRICE, with F1 starting around 500-600Hz. The other seven had F1 starting at 600Hz or higher for their new [ai]-like PRICE.


Sound examples

Seven out of the eight informants had the new [ai]-like PRICE pronunciation, the eighth still had the earlier [ʌi]-like PRICE .

First, the earlier [ʌi]-like pronunciation:


The new [ai]-like pronunciation:


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 PRICE had been [ai] since the Victorian period. Gimson (An Introduction to the Pronunciation of English, 1962) and Wells (Accents of English, 1982) record that RP PRICE is still [ai]. The RP examples are Stanley Baldwin (1867-1947, Harrow School, Cambridge University, politician, Prime Minister 1923-24, earl), taken from a political broadcast (BBC Archive). The other is Daniel Jones (1881-1967, Radford College and University College School, Cambridge University and the Sorbonne, professor of phonetics), taken from published teaching material and the final (1956) cardinal vowel recording.

Formant diagram for Stanley Baldwin’s PRICE (and MOUTH)
Formant diagram for Daniel Jones’ PRICE (and MOUTH)


©Sidney Wood and SWPhonetics, 1994-2016


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