Sound change in 19th century RP: FACE and GOAT

Seven speakers of RP born in the latter half of the 19th century are examined for signs of reported sound changes in RP FACE and GOAT. They are described here. Data is presented for five of the seven informants (there was no information on Richard Paget’s diphthongs, while Somerset Maugham’s sample was too short to include any).

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”.

Jones always described RP GOAT as [ou]-like (always with a rounded start), while Gimson noted it had changed to [əʊ] (with a centered unrounded start and a more open end). Wells (1982) suggests this change dates from 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.

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 GOAT by Robert Baden-Powell

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

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

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

Figure 5. F1/F2 diagram for FACE and GOAT 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 mostly had [ei] with some [ɛi] (Figures 3, 4). Stanley Baldwin and Harold MacMillan had [ɛi] or [ɛɪ] exclusively (Figures 2, 5), anticipating Gimson’s observation but contradicting Jones.

Listen to the [eː], [ei] and [ɛi]-like FACE by Robert Baden-Powell (Figure 1):
(way played eighty games became say eighty game)

Listen to the [ei] and [ɛi]-like FACE by Daniel Jones (Figure 4):
(day Aquitania away cranes way)

Listen to the [ei] and [ɛi]-like FACE by Neville Chamberlain (Figure 3):
(stating they [undertaking] arrange today days faith)

Listen to examples of [ɛɪ]-like FACE by Stanley Baldwin (Figure 2):
(face grave away taking privation nation)

Listen to the [ɛɪ]-like FACE by Harold MacMillan (Figure 5):
(great came grateful ways made maintained)


None of these examples had the [ou]-like GOAT that Daniel Jones always described, not even Jones himself (he always wrote that his lips were rounded from the beginning). All these examples start from a more central [ə]-like timbre as Gimson described it in 1962.

Nevill Chamberlain and Daniel Jones (Figures 3, 4) had a closer [u]-like ending, while the others were more open, as described by Gimson.

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

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

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

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

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


The variants [eː], [ei] and [eɪ] are expected for RP FACE in this period, but [ɛi] or [ɛɪ] are not. That so many had a more open [ɛi] or [ɛɪ], exclusively or partially, is surprising and indicates that this sound change was already happening by the 1850s in RP, 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. Not one of these five had the [ou] for GOAT, that Jones always described, while [əʊ] had just been recognized as new in the 1960s. The new form [ɛɪ] for FACE was evidently already in progress in RP in the 1850s.