Sound change in RP 1901-1925: STRUT

Seven examples of 20th century RP (born 1901-1925) are examined for signs of some reported sound changes to RP STRUT. This post follows on from the similar study for 19th century RP.

Daniel Jones (1918) continued to describe the earlier [ʌ]-like variety for STRUT (“fronted unrounded [ɔ]”). In late editions (1950s or 1960s) he noted that [a]-like and [ɑ]-like variants also occurred in RP. Gimson (1962) noted that the pronunciation [ʌ] had changed to centralized and raised [a] (he wrote [ä]) except in conservative RP. Gimson did not mention an [ɑ]-like variant in (1962). Wells (1982 §4.1.7) noted that “fronted realizations of /ʌ/” had existed in RP for rather longer than the 1960s or 1970s. Fabricius (2007) studied this sound change in a set of published data from RP speakers born in the first half of the 20th century, and concluded it was complete by 1900 (everyone in her corpus had the new peripheral STRUT). All seven 19th century examples in the 19th century group had the open STRUT and the conclusion there was that this sound change had commenced at least by 1850 and was possibly complete by then. Consequently, all these RP examples born in 1901-1930 are expected to have the open STRUT, none are expected to have the earlier [ʌ].

Fabricius, Anne H. 2007. Variation and change in the TRAP and STRUT vowels of RP: a real time comparison of five acoustic data sets. Journal of the International Phonetic Association 37:293-320.
Gimson, A. C. 1962. An Introduction to the Pronunciation of English. London, Arnold.
Jones, Daniel. 1918. An Outline of English Phonetics. Leipzig, Teubner.
Wells, John C. 1982. Accents of English. Cambridge University Press. Vol. 2.

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.

General comments on Figures 1-8

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

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


All the examples had high F1 and an [a-ɑ]-like timbre, confirming Fabricius’ conclusion that this sound change was complete by 1900. There is possibly a second sound change here from a brighter [a]-like timbre (F2 roughly 1250-1500Hz, Figures 2, 5) to a darker [ɑ]-like timbre (F2 roughly 1000-1250Hz, Figures 1, 3-4, 6, 7, 8), as reported by Jones in the latest editions of (1918), acknowledged by him as observations by colleagues. Only one informant had the darker variety in the 19th century examples, the youngest born in the 1890s. Now, this group born in 1901-1930 was divided between the two timbres. This is something to look out for in even more recent examples of RP.

Listen to the brighter [a]-like STRUT by RP15 (Figure 2):
“much month other sun suddenly subject luck subject something”

Listen to the brighter [a]-like STRUT by RP16 (Figure 5):
“husband result some discovered young another discuss”

Listen to the darker [ɑ]-like STRUT by RP14 (Figure 1):
“trump become done touch doesn’t”

Listen to the darker [ɑ]-like STRUT by RP03 (Figure 3):
“does love guns glove tough blunt”

Listen to the darker [ɑ]-like STRUT by RP17 (Figure 6):
others up other”

Listen to the darker [ɑ]-like STRUT by RP04 (Figure 7):
“lucky but countryside”

Listen to the darker [ɑ]-like STRUT by RP18 (Figure 8):
“interrupted discovery sun sometimes such another”