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A spectrographic study of sound changes in nineteenth century Kent. 2017. In Tsudzuki, Masaki & Masaki Taniguchi (eds), A Festschrift for Jack Windsor Lewis on the occasion of his 90th Birthday 215-246, Journal of the English Phonetic Society of Japan 21
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Rural locations and years of birth of the seven SED Kentish informants and H G Wells (each in bold italics), and other locations referred to in the text. The Medway Towns have always included at least Rochester, Chatham and Gillingham, and today they are amalgamated in the Medway Unitary Authority, along with surrounding rural areas like the Thameside marshland of the Hoo peninsula to the north (Stoke1868). The Hoo peninsula was one of the rural areas excluded by Ellis (1889), having already lost the earlier accent.


The speech of eight rural Kentish informants, including the author H. G. Wells, all born in the closing decades of the 19th century, is reviewed with respect to ten on-going sound changes present in varying combinations in their regional Kentish speech. The recordings have caught moments in the period 1865-95, the birth years of the informants, when a modified accent was crossing rural Kent from industrial towns along the shores of the Thames and its estuary, each informant exhibiting new and earlier Kentish pronunciations in fascinating individual mixes related to their age and location. The results indicate that the sound changes started at different times, each commencing from the north and northwest, and diffusing towards the east and south over several generations. The earliest of these particular changes seem to be FACE, PRICE and GOAT, estimated appearing around 1800 in estuary towns and spreading to most of Kent by 1865-1895. MOUTH and LOT were the most recent changes, having spread to about a quarter of rural Kent by 1895. The BATH change had not been acquired by any of these informants and did not emerge until around 1900, spreading during the 20th century. The FACE, PRICE, GOAT and MOUTH changes were some of the most recent steps of the Great Vowel Shift in Kent. It is also very likely that shifting TRAP away from DRESS was not exclusive to the changed accent, and a suggested explanation is that a residue effect of the BATH-TRAP split was being resolved across several variants of Southern British English, including RP. Finally, similar sound changes were occurring throughout the home counties, although their precise progress was not within the scope of this chapter. It is concluded that these 19th century sound changes in Kent, and indeed in the home counties, are relevant for the debate about Estuary English.

Note: Expressions like FACE, BATH, TRAP, LOT etc. are keywords (J. C. Wells 1982, Chapt. 2.2) representing the stressed vowels of words in lexical sets that have participated in various dialect sound changes. They are useful for referring to specific vowels when comparing accents and sound changes (where phoneme notation might be ambiguous since phoneme pronunciations are different or are being modified)
©Sidney Wood and SWPhonetics, 1994-2017
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