RP 1901-1925

Seven examples of 20th century RP (born 1901-1925) are examined for signs of some reported sound changes to RP. This page follows on from the similar study for 19th century RP. The speech samples will be examined for signs of reported sound changes with a view to dating them.

All the examples are distinguished people in their own fields – literature, theatre or science. They are anonymous here as some are still living, all personal information being withheld for the sake of privacy. These are the generations that were old enough to participate in WW2 1939-1945, and who were becoming middle-aged adults after 1950-1960.

This RP is essentially that described by Henry Sweet (1877) and Daniel Jones (1932), updated by Gimson (1962) and Wells (1982). But the accent was already undergoing change before and during this period, although not always recognised until later in the 20th century. Examples of open STRUT and open TRAP were found in the 19th century set by people born as early as the 1850s and 1860s, confirming these sound changes had commenced at least by then.   These same sound changes and possible changes to THOUGHT, GOOSE, FACE, GOAT and MOUTH are examined in the next pages for people born in the early 20th century, 1901-1925.

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.
Henry Sweet. 1877. Handbook of Phonetics. London, Macmillan.
Wells, J. C. 1982. Accents of English. Cambridge, CUP. Vol. 2.

All the recordings were found on the web, mostly from the BBC program archive or the British Library. All had been subjected to lossy MP3 compression at some time during their lives and were saved at once in WAV format to prevent further degradation. 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 instances of lower back vowels had to be abandoned and there are consequently fewer examples 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. Instances for each phoneme are enclosed in ellipses, fitted freehand, ignoring outliers (that are plotted and can be seen).

The spectral criterion for an open vowel is F1 higher than about 600 or 650 Hz, depending on the individual speaker, even higher for shorter vocal tracts. This would be achieved with a low pharyngeal constriction with a large mouth-opening (Wood 1979).

Wood, Sidney. 1979. A radiographic analysis of constriction locations for vowels. Journal of Phonetics 7, 25-43.

Speakers born in 1901-1910:

Figure 1. F1/F2 diagram for RP14 born 1901-1910; the arrow
shows one instance of an [ɛæ]-like diphthong for TRAP.

Figure 2. F1/F2 diagram for RP15 born 1901-1910; the arrow
shows one instance of an [ɛæ]-like diphthong for TRAP.

Figure 3. F1/F2 diagram for RP03 born 1901-1910. Recording (a).

Figure 4. F1/F2 diagram for RP03 born 1901-1910.
Recording (b) five years later than Figure 3.

Speakers born in 1911-1920:

Figure 5. F1/F2 diagram for RP16 born in 1911-1920.

Figure 6. F1/F2 diagram for RP17 born 1911-1920; the arrow
shows one instance of an [ɛæ]-like diphthong for TRAP.

Speakers born in 1921-1925:

Figure 7. F1/F2 diagram for RP04 born 1921-1925.
Figure 8. F1/F2 diagram for RP018 born 1921-1925

All seven are definitely examples of RP (LOT is [ɒ] partly overlapping BATH or very close to  it, while THOUGHT is [ɔː]). There is no other accent of British English that has this particular combination of vowel timbres for LOT and THOUGHT.

There are two recordings for RP03 (Figures 3-4) made five years apart. They are very similar.

Example RP04 (Figure 7) stands out because his F1 frequencies are generally lower than expected, and hardly extend to 700Hz at most. This is possibly due to a less energetic style of delivery, resulting in smaller mouth openings and generally lower F1 (the extreme case of this would be mumbling, but RP04’s speech was reasonably clear). One consequence of this is that his open vowel boundary is shifted to 550Hz. An alternative explanation might be that his vocal tract was longer than average, but his F2 for FLEECE (2250-2400Hz) suggest instead that his vocal tract was slightly shorter than average. In contrast, RP03 (Figures 3-4) appears to have stretched his F1 range to 900 Hz, although his F2 range for FLEECE was low (1800-2200Hz) reflecting a longer vocal tract. This is presumably an example of energetic delivery with larger mouth-openings generally and higher F1 frequencies.