LINGUIST List 13.405

Wed Feb 13 2002

Sum: Phonology of British and American English

Editor for this issue: Marie Klopfenstein <>


  1. Alain Th�riault, British vs American English pronunciation

Message 1: British vs American English pronunciation

Date: Mon, 11 Feb 2002 17:41:58 -0500 (EST)
From: Alain Th�riault <alain.theriaultUMontreal.CA>
Subject: British vs American English pronunciation

Dear List members
	Earlier this week (Linguist 13-222) I aked you all the following question: 

Would any of you know of papers, or web pages, that give a complete, or partial, 
comparative description of the phonology of British and American English. I want 
to make a speech sythetyser speek like CNN from a list of BBC like pronunciations 
and I have a feeling that there are regular conversions that can be made.

I received answers fromm the following people : 

Richard Coates <>
Michael Tjalve <>
Marc Picard <>
Raphael Mercado HBA <>
Antony Dubach Green <>
Caroline Reul <>

They suggested the following :

Bauer, Laurie et al., 1980, American English pronunciation, Gyldendal 
Contains comparisons section by section with British English. (Hard to find)

Wells, John C., 1982, Accents of English, CUP (3 volumes) 
A classic

Jones, Daniel,1997, English Pronouncing Dictionary, Cambridge University Press .

Trudgill et Hannah, International English: A Guide to Varieties of Standard 
English, OUP (4rth edition due in April 2002)

In addition, Antony Green tells me:

Of course, there are lots of regular correspondences between the two, but I'm not 
sure to what extent a speech synthesizer armed only with the RP pronunciation 
will be able to predict GenAm pronunciation. If it has access to orthography, it 
may be able to predict that 'court / caught' and 'parse / pass' are not 
homophonous in GenAm although they are in RP; but if all it knows is the RP 
pronunciations [kO:t] and [pa:s] it will be very difficult.

 Another problem will be to decide which GenAm you want to synthesize.The 
variety described by Wells includes a contrast between [Or] and[or], so that 
"horse" and "hoarse" are distinct, but in fact only asmall minority of GenAm 
speakers still make this distinction. (It seems to have been much more widespread 
in the beginning of the 20th century than it is now.) What about the "which/
witch" distinction? That's also losing ground in America, but it's still much more 
common than it is in England. The "caught/cot" distinction has been lost among 
your anglophone countrymen as well as in the western half of the US and in some 
areas of the eastern US (upper Ohio valley, eastern New England) but it still 
quite robust around the Great Lakes ,NYC, Philadelphia, and the South. So the 
problem is that GenAm isn't anywhere near as homogeneous as RP is, and you need to 
decide *whose* GenAm you want to take as your basis. I'm sure you won't find 
consistency even among CNN announcers as far "which/witch" and "caught/cot" are 

Thanks again to all who answered

Alain Th�riault
Ph.D. Student (Linguistics)
Universit� de Montr�al
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