Sound change in RP 1901-1925: THOUGHT and GOOSE

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

RP THOUGHT is described by Jones (1932) and Gimson (1962) as [ɔː]. But Gimson also reported a possible on-going RP sound change to [oː], supported by Wells (1982). Not one of the seven 19th century examples had anything like this sound change. They all had only the [ɔː]-like THOUGHT as described by Jones and Gimson. Now these RP examples born in 1901-1925 will also be checked for any signs of this sound change. It is important to be aware that regional Home Counties and London SBE LOT and THOUGHT are [ɔ] and [oː] respectively, following sound changes that spread from 19th century Kent (Wood 2017 and here and here) and Essex. These accents are similar in many respects and easily confused. RP is distinguished from regional SBE at least by LOT, THOUGHT, GOAT and MOUTH.

RP GOOSE had a relatively dark timbre, although Jones noted an advanced variety following /j/, while Gimson noted increasing centralization. Henton (1983) reported higher instances of F2 since Wells (1962). The 19th century RP examples all had instances of darker [uː]-like GOOSE with F2 as low as 800-1000Hz, but at the same time the higher F2 limit extended to 1200-1300Hz, confirming Jones’ observation. These RP examples born in 1901-1925 will also be checked for any signs of more GOOSE fronting.

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.
Henton, C. 1983. Changes in the vowels of Received Pronunciation. Journal of Phonetics 11:353-371.
Wells, J. C. 1962. A Study of the Formants of the Pure Vowels of British English. MA thesis, University of London.
Wood, Sidney. 2017. 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.

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. They are very similar.

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


All these examples have the expected RP [ɔː] for THOUGHT, but they also show some variation extending towards [oː]. Roughly speaking, an [ɔ]-like timbre would have F1 around 500-600Hz, and [o] around 350-450Hz by adult male speakers. Three examples in particular have instances close to 400Hz: RP03, RP16, and RP17 (Figures 4, 5, 6), mostly in the younger half of this group. None of these is what Gimson was describing in (1962), an RP change to [oː]. But they possibly demonstrate a tendency starting in the early 20th century to extend the RP THOUGHT variation towards [oː] while still anchoring [ɔː].


A hallmark of earlier RP was a dark [u]-like GOOSE, with F2 below 1000Hz. Only one example in this group has all GOOSE F2 below 1000Hz, RP14 (Figure 1), the oldest member of the group. A second type has some F2 below 1000Hz and some above (RP03, RP17 and RP18, Figures 3-4, 6, 8). Finally, a third type has no instances with F2 below 1000Hz (RP15, RP16, RP04, Figures 2, 5, 7). These three types are themselves a measure of GOOSE fronting in RP, the gradual loss of dark [u] allophones. A further measure is the highest GOOSE F2 by each example: 1800Hz (RP16, Figure 5), 1500Hz (RP03, RP04, Figures 4, 7), 1200-1300Hz (RP15, RP17, RP18 Figures 2, 6, 8), representing the gradual acceptance of extreme fronted [u]-like allophones into RP in the early 20th century.