Sound change in 19th century RP: FACE and GOAT

This post follows on from Sound change in 19th century RP: Monophthongs and deals with the diphthongs FACE and GOAT.

  1. Earlier RP FACE was [eː] or [ei]. Jones (1932) described [ei], noting that diphthongs starting with cardinal [ɛ] were regional. Gimson (1962) found both [ei] and [ɛi] in RP, while [æi] was regional and “socially unacceptable”.
  2. Jones always described RP GOAT as [ou]-like, while Gimson noted it had changed to [əʊ]. Wells (1982) suggests it started changing around 1914.
Gimson, A. C. 1962. An Introduction to the Pronunciation of English. London, Arnold.
Jones, Daniel. 1932. An Outline of English Phonetics. Leipzig, Teubner. 3rd edition.
Wells, J. C. 1982. Accents of English. Cambridge, CUP. Vol. 2.

Data is presented for five of the seven informants.

All the recordings have been subjected to lossy MP3 compression at some time during their lives. They were analysed using Praat, by LPC formant tracking where possible, by measuring directly on the spectrogram where that failed, or by measuring formant peaks on FFT slices. Some lower back vowels had to be abandoned and there are consequently fewer instances of FOOT, THOUGHT or LOT in some cases. Vowel formant frequencies were collected from fully focused syllables, to minimize spectral variation due to vowel reduction. Vowels were sampled at the moment where vowel articulation was least affected by surrounding consonant articulations, selected by comparing VC and CV formant transitions, to minimize spectral variation due to coarticulation.

Figure 1. F1/F2 diagram for FACE and TRAP by Robert Baden-Powell

Figure 2. F1/F2 diagram for FACE and TRAP by Stanley Baldwin

Figure 3. F1/F2 diagram for FACE and TRAP by Neville Chamberlain

Figure 4. F1/F2 diagram for FACE and TRAP by Daniel Jones

Figure 5. F1/F2 diagram for FACE and TRAP by Harold MacMillan


Only Robert Baden-Powell (Figure 1) had instances of the earlier [eː] for FACE, but he also had [ei] and [ɛi]. Neville Chamberlain and Daniel Jones had [ei] exclusively (Figures 3-4), exactly as Jones described it. Stanley Baldwin and Harold MacMillan had [ɛi] or [ɛɪ] exclusively (Figures 2, 5), anticipating Gimson’s observation but contradicting Jones.

Listen to examples of [eː], [ei] and [ɛi]-like FACE by Robert Baden-Powell:
(way played eighty games became say eighty game)

Listen to examples of [ɛɪ]-like FACE by Stanley Baldwin:
(face grave away taking privation nation)

Listen to [ei]-like FACE by Neville Chamberlain:
(stating they [undertaking] arrange today days faith)

Listen to the [ei]-like FACE by Daniel Jones:
(day Aquitania away cranes way)

Listen to examples of the [ɛɪ]-like FACE by Harold MacMillan:
(great came grateful ways made maintained)


None of these examples had the [ou]-like GOAT that Daniel Jones always described. They all start from a more central [ə]-like timbre as Gimson described it in 1962.

Listen to an example of the [əʊ]-like GOAT by Robert Baden Powel:

Listen to examples of the [əʊ]-like GOAT by Stanley Baldwin:
(voter going road post those)

Listen to examples of the [əʊ]-like GOAT by Neville Chamberlain:
(note Poland no blow shown no)

Listen to examples of the [əʊ]-like GOAT by Daniel Jones:
(no don’t boats over below don’t)

Listen to examples of the [əʊ]-like GOAT by Harold MacMillan:
(know moment ago)

Two examples had exclusively [ei] for FACE, two had exclusively [ɛɪ], while one had all possible variants. The variants [eː], [ei] and [eɪ] are expected for RP in this period. That 3 out of 5 had more open [ɛi] or [ɛɪ] exclusively or partially is surprising and indicates that this sound change was already happening by the 1850s while some were still acquiring the earlier variants.

All the examples had the new [əʊ]-like GOAT. This means that the change from [ou] to [əʊ] was already in progress by 1850 and few, if any, were still acquiring the earlier form.

These results for both diphthongs are surprising as the older forms were still being recommended as models in the 1950s and 1960s, one had just been recognized as new in 1962, and the new form [ɛɪ] was sill being discouraged as an undesirable regionalism.

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