RP and SBE MOUTH and GOAT diphthongs

Introduction

The pronunciations of the MOUTH and GOAT vowels, by RP speakers and by home counties and London SBE speakers, are compared as potential criteria for distinguishing these two accents. The MOUTH vowel is pronounced [aʊ]-[ao] in RP, while home counties and London SBE has [æɔ]-[æ:]. The GOAT vowel is pronounced [əʊ] in RP, while home counties and London SBE has [aʊ]-[ao]. These are not the only differences between RP and home counties SBE, they are examples studied now.

The comparison is based on recordings available online, mostly from YouTube. All the recordings had been degraded by an unknown number of MP3 compressions in the past, a procedure that does not affect formant frequencies directly. However, the frequency response is modified by MP3 compression, affecting formant levels and bandwidths, making it more difficult to identify and measure formant frequencies on spectrograms. Broadband spectrograms were indistinct, and LPC formant tracking was eratic. The best method was to work with narrowband slices selected from narrowband spectrograms.

There were five speakers in each group. The RP grouped consisted of prominent authors or politicians spanning the past 125 years. The home counties and London SBE group consisted of two entertainers, two professors and a photographer, all born in the 1950s (i.e. there is no generation history in this group).

Listen to the London and home counties regional SBE speakers:

Example 1: A sequence of five different London or home counties SBE speakers:

– The first two represent popular sociolects: an actor who grew up in the East End and north London, and a comedian who grew up in a Thames-side London suburb. Nevertheless, their accents sound very similar, a measure of the shared London features of the popular sociolects of London and the home counties. At the same time, accent is their hallmark, both having nurtured their popular accents for their performances.
– The next three exemplify an educated (Gimson) or standard (Wells) home counties sociolect of SBE, which is also my own accent. Professionally, they are a professor, a photographer, and a professor, in that order. All three have childhood links with the southeast.

Example 2: The London or home counties SBE MOUTH vowel: [æɔ]-[æ:]

Three examples each by five speakers, in the same order as Example 1:
work out, all about, I found; find out, thing about, towers ‘n; power, turnout, it out; how, out of, just now; counter, thousand, tried out.

Example 3: The London or home counties SBE GOAT vowel: [aʊ]-[ao]

Three examples each by five speakers, in the same order as Example 1:
get over it, so, process; emotion, go, know; most, prone, notice; focus, moments, chosen; so, approach, Estonia.

Listen to the RP speakers:

Example 4: A selection of RP speakers from the past 125 years:

W. Somerset Maugham (1874-1965), Harold MacMillan (1894-1986), Ian Fleming (1908-1964), Kingsley Amis (1922-1995), William Hague (1961-). This selection does not distinguish between original RP and adopted RP. There is at least one adopted RP speaker here, W. Somerset Maugham, whose first language was French according to his Wikipedia biography, and who was teased at King’s School (Canterbury) for the English he spoke there.

Example 5: The RP MOUTH vowel [aʊ]-[ao]

Three examples each by the five speakers, in the same order as Example 4:
round, now, out; mountains, town, founded; now, sit down, work out; now, Strauss, house; ground, about, power.

Example 6: The RP GOAT vowel [əʊ]-[əo]

Three examples each by the five speakers, in the same order as Example 4:
own, so, chosen; so, ago, ago; so, go, no; socialist, s’pose, poet; showed, hosted, over.

Comparing London or home counties SBE with RP: the MOUTH and GOAT diphthongs

rpsbemouth
Figure 1.
Comparison of the MOUTH diphthong in home counties and London SBE (red) and RP (blue), showing the start and end points of the diphthongs. The vowels were taken from stressed syllables in focally accented words in continuous speech (the words in sound Examples 2 and 5 above).

Figures 1 and 2 compare the formant frequencies of the start and end points of the MOUTH and GOAT diphthongs by the London or home counties regional SEB and RP speakers in the sound examples 2, 3, 5, 6 (above). Each vowel analysed is taken from stressed syllables in focally accented words selected as they occurred in about 5 minutes of continuous speech by each speaker, three words per speaker. For measuring formant frequencies, the diphthong start point was defined as the moment where the initial CV transition ended (indicated by various formants changing direction). Similarly, the endpoint was defined as the moment where the final VC transition commenced (indicated by various formants changing direction).

Taking the MOUTH diphthongs first, Fig. 1, the two accents were completely different, with different starting points and different endpoints, consistently for all speakers sampled for either accent. The starting F1 frequencies were all higher than 600Hz, indicating a low pharyngeal constriction location, and some sort of [a]-like timbre. They were differentiated by their F2 frequency. The home counties SEB examples started at an [æ]-like timbre with high F2, the RP examples started at an [a]-like timbre, with intermediate F2. The difference between home counties SBE [æɔ] and RP [aʊ] for the MOUTH diphthong might seem small, but it has a strong social signal value, enough to make it a shiboleth in the past. For example, Prime Minister Edward Heath (1916-2005, PM 1970-74) was mocked for his [æɔ]-like MOUTH vowel (he modified his regional SEB accent slightly towards RP, but didn’t alter the MOUTH vowel).

rpsbegoat
Figure 2.
Comparison of the GOAT diphthong in home counties and London SBE (red) and RP (blue), showing the start and end points of the diphthongs. The vowels were taken from stressed syllables in focally accented words in continuous speech (the words in sound Examples 3 and 6 above).

Turning to the GOAT diphthongs (Fig. 2), the London or home counties SEB examples (red) were straightforward, starting with an [a] timbre and closing towards an [ʊ] or [o] timbre. However, the RP samples (blue) revealed some surprising variations. The expected outcome was [əʊ] . Firstly, there were some RP instances starting at [a] (like home counties SBE) but darkening towards [ɑ] or [ɒ]; this was the sample from Ian Fleming. It’s impossible to say here if this is an atypical sample, or poor sound quality, or if he had his own idiolect in this respect, or if this indicates an unreported RP variant. All the other RP speakers started at [ə] and finished at [ʊ], [o], or [ɔ]. Despite the variation among these RP examples, it is still clear that there was a consistent difference between the sampled SEB and RP versions of the GOAT diphthong.

This comparison of MOUTH and GOAT diphthong renderings by speakers of the RP sociolect, and of home counties SBE, demonstrated consistent differences between the two accents.

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©Sidney Wood and SWPhonetics, 1994-2014

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