19th century sound change in Kent: GOAT


The distribution of GOAT pronunciations by the eight Kentish
informants (each denoted by the place and year of birth).

The timbre of GOAT was studied in the speech of eight informants, all born between 1865 and 1895. Seven informants exhibit two changed pronunciations. Four had the definitive new [au]-like GOAT (N) that was continued by future generations, see map. Three had an [ʌu]-like GOAT that was not continued by future generations and is consequently classed as partially new (P). This might be a local or idiosyncratic variant. However, it is possible the sound change was implemented systematically in two steps everywhere. Just one informant still had the earlier [ou]-like form, suggesting that the GOAT change, like PRICE, began around 1800 and had reached the state shown on the map by 1865-1895.

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 [au]-like GOAT was acquired by four out of the eight informants, and the partially new [ʌu]-like GOAT by three. One had the earlier [ou].

Alexander Ellis (1889, On Early English Pronunciation, Vol. 5, Teubner) recorded the surviving dialect pronunciation of GOAT in Kent (and East Sussex) as oo, explained as a glide or diphthong tending towards u at the end. His examples were collected in the 1870s from adults, whose speech was acquired in the 1850s or earlier. Henry Sweet (1877, Handbook of Phonetics, Oxford, Clarendon), gave ou as the corresponding RP pronunciation. These two accounts are clearly synonymous and describe the same timbre, the typographic differences simply reflecting theoretical differences between the authors (Ellis preferred to write oo, Sweet ou). This pronunciation was evidently the same in both regional and RP SBE, i.e. in all sociolects, during the early 19th century. Daniel Jones (1932, Outline of English Phonetics, or later) also stated explicitly that his diphthong started with rounded lips, i.e. the same [ou].

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

The formant diagrams illustrate the partially new [ʌu]-like GOAT diphthong by (dfg), with F1 starting around 500-600Hz. The final [au]-like GOAT is illustrated by (abce), with F1 starting higher than 600Hz for the initial open [a]-like timbre. The earlier [ou]-like GOAT is illustrated by (h) with F2 starting low around 1000Hz.  Phonologically, the progression appears to have been as follows. The first step was to unround the beginning from [o] to [ʌ] (or perhaps [ɤ]) for the partially new form, keeping the same upper pharyngeal location, raising F2 at the beginning by about 100-200Hz. The second step was to shift the constriction location of the beginning from the upper pharynx to the lower pharynx, raising F1 by at least 100Hz to above 600Hz.

Sound examples

The earlier [ou]-like GOAT


The partially new [ʌu]-like GOAT


The new [au]-like GOAT


Examples from contemporary RP for comparison

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), and 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.

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 GOAT was [ou]. Gimson (An Introduction to the Pronunciation of English, 1962) preferred [əʊ] for RP GOAT, which is generally seen as a mid 20th century sound change in RP (he wrote “become general in recent years”). However, Stanley Baldwin and Daniel Jones unexpectedly also had [əʊ], (see the formant diagrams below).

Based on narrowband spectrograms, measured from spectral slices.
F1/F2 diagram for the [əʊ]-like RP GOAT diphthong by Stanley Baldwin (1867-1947).
Based on narrowband spectrograms, measured from spectral slices.
F1/F2 diagram for the [əʊ]-like RP GOAT diphthong by Jones (1881-1967).

Both Baldwin and Jones start the diphthong with unrounded lips (shown by the F2 ranges, 1100-1600Hz by Baldwin, 1200-1500Hz by Jones). A rounded [o]-like start would have F2 lower than around 1000Hz. The only real difference between them is that Baldwin’s rendering ends on [ʊ], exactly as Gimson described RP GOAT (Baldwin’s final F1 is higher than 400Hz). But Jones’ rendering ends in [u], like the Kentish informants, with the final F1 lower than 400Hz. The main difference is that [ʌu] lasted only a few generations in Kent before they moved on to [au], while RP has kept [əʊ] to the present day (at least 150 years).

The [əʊ] transcription for RP is taken from Gimson, but in fact it sounds very similar to the partially new Kentish GOAT, transcribed above as [ʌu].

It’s quite possible that Alexander Ellis (born in 1814) and Henry Sweet (born in 1845) both had [ou] for GOAT. It’s also possible that Daniel Jones had heard [ou] from his grandparents, and maybe from his parents too, and from his mentor Henry Sweet. But it seems he said [əʊ] himself, whatever he wrote in his books, at least in 1929.


Examples of 20th century Kent GOAT for comparison

Four informants from 20th century Kent illustrate what are probably some of the first examples of a completed set of all ten sound changes in their respective areas. The first two, Gravesend1905 and Sheerness1909 (Professor, Lord, William Penney) grew up on the industrial estuary coast where the ten sound changes were complete around 1890-1900. Meopham1928 grew up near Farningham1881 (see map), and Dungeness1949 grew up near Appledore1881. All had acquired the [au]-like GOAT (the partially new [ʌu]-like GOAT did not persist into later generations in Kent).

©Sidney Wood and SWPhonetics, 1994-2016


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