19th century sound change in Kent: LOT

The distribution of LOT pronunciations by the seven informants. Most still had [a~ɑ]-like earlier pronunciations (O). Only two had as yet acquired the new pronunciation [ɔ] (N).

The earlier 19th century popular pronunciation in Kent for LOT was [a~ɑ]. The map shows that only two had acquired the new [ɔ]-like timbre for LOT. Their location indicates this sound change was spreading from the Medway towns and Sittingbourne (between them). The table below suggests that 75% of the county were still acquiring the earlier [a~ɑ]-like form in 1865-1895. This means that the origin of this change is decidedly more recent than MOUTH, starting perhaps around 1860.

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) and old pronunciations (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 open [ɔ]-like LOT was acquired by two out of the eight informants.
F1/F2 diagrams for LOT in 19th century Kent
showing older (O) and new (N) pronunciations

The formant diagrams show the new [ɔ]-like LOT by two informants (a,d), with low F2 (about 1000Hz) and F1 500-600Hz. The remainder had the earlier open [a~ɑ]-like form with F1 above 600Hz (and  F2 around 1300-1500Hz for [a] and 1000-1200Hz for [ɑ]).


Sound examples

The earlier [a~ɑ]-like LOT


The new [ɔ]-like LOT

Examples from contemporary RP

For comparison, here are two RP examples, contemporaries of the Kentish informants. One is a political broadcast recorded by the BBC in 1931 by politician Stanley Baldwin (1867-1947), and the other is a Linguaphone recording (British Library) made in 1929 by Professor Daniel Jones (1881-1967).


F1/F2 diagram for the RP monophthongs, showing the location of LOT

Sweet. Jones, Gimson and Wells all report an [ɒ]-like timbre for RP LOT, so this pronunciation has been stable since the early 19th century at least. The formant diagrams show that F1 for RP LOT was above 600Hz, higher than for [ɔ:]-like THOUGHT. Wikström (2013, An acoustic study of the RP LOT and THOUGHT vowels, Journal of the International Phonetic Association 43) reported RP LOT approaching cardinal 6 a few decades ago. However, his informants were mixed RP and near-RP, and the latter would have an [ɔ]-like LOT anyway (Home Counties or London SBE) which would bias his results. Apart from that, there is no suggestion that RP is changing its LOT. This is still a criterion for distinguishing RP from earlier or new Kentish, and indeed from Home Counties SBE today, a slight difference but typical enough for a shibboleth. The difference between RP LOT and earlier Kentish LOT is lip rounding, RP [ɒ] versus earlier Kentish [a~ɑ]. The difference between RP LOT and new Kentish LOT is tongue location, a low pharyngeal constriction for RP [ɒ] versus an upper pharyngeal constriction for new Kentish [ɔ].

Examples from 20th century Kent

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, grew up on the industrial estuary coast where the ten sound changes were complete around 1890-1900 (Sheerness1909, described and parodied as cockney by Sir Harold MacMillan, is Professor Lord William Penney, mathematician and nuclear physicist, whose one concession to RP is his HAPPY vowel). Meopham1928 grew up near Farningham1881 (see map), and Dungeness1949 grew up near Appledore1881.

F1/F2 diagrams for the monophthongs of 20th century Kentish informants.

The formant diagrams show that all the 20th century informants had acquired the new [ɔ]-like LOT, with the LOT zone between the THOUGHT and BATH zones and F1 around 500-600HZ.

©Sidney Wood and SWPhonetics, 1994-2016


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