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Review of  English Pronunciation in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries

Reviewer: Stefan Dollinger
Book Title: English Pronunciation in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries
Book Author: Charles Jones
Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan
Linguistic Field(s): Historical Linguistics
Subject Language(s): English
Issue Number: 18.242

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AUTHOR: Jones, Charles
TITLE: English Pronunciation in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries
PUBLISHER: Palgrave Macmillan
YEAR: 2006
Stefan Dollinger, Department of English, University of British Columbia
This monograph aims to provide a comprehensive overview of the phonological
and phonetic developments of the English language in England and Scotland
in the Late Modern English (LModE) period, 1700-1900. As such, and as the
title suggests, the work must be seen as a continuation of Dobson's study
(1968) on English pronunciation 1500-1700, and the methodological approach
and presentation of a wide range of evidence from primary sources follow
the established pattern. It aims to provide authoritative information in
the form of a one-volume reference work.
The period is subdivided into three parts, the first and second halves of
the 18th century on the one hand and the 19th century on the other hand.
Each part first introduces the reader to the sociolinguistic situation of
the period before discussing the type of source materials available and,
especially for the 18th century, the relationship between sounds and
symbols used by the writers of the period. The phonological system of the
period is then reconstructed for both vowels (including diphthongs) and
non-vowels (consonants and approximants).
As can expected by the arrangement in three parts, roughly three quarters
of the phonetic description are devoted to the 18th century, while the
development of to the 19th century are discussed on roughly 50 pages. About
150 pages of the 350-page text deal with the sociolinguistic situation,
with a special focus on different attempts at orthographic reforms in each
period and the insights the various respellings provide into contemporary
pronunciation. Jones uses a substantial body of contemporary sources and
provides ample quotations to both illustrate his interpretation and to put
the readers in a position to judge for themselves as much as is possible
within the constraints of a one-volume work.
The volume provides a distinct focus on the Late Modern English period, and
here on England and Scotland, with occasional references to Ireland and
successfully occupies a niche in the literature, narrowing temporal scope
in comparison to other works (e.g. Horn and Lehnert 1954 on Early Modern
English and LModE) and geographical focus (McMahon 1998 on Britain and the
USA), while at the same time extending the base of evidence for the 18th
century from previous studies (Beal 1999). At the same time, Jones aims to
incorporate the social dimension of changes (Mugglestone 2003) in short
introductory sections to each of three subperiods and it is perhaps here
that the limitations of space prevent the presentation of the amount of
detail that the social dimension would deserve. The real strength of the
volume lies in the interpretation of the contemporary sources in the
descriptive part.
I would like to illustrate this aspect with three examples, the FOOT-STRUT
split, developments in the fricative system and the loss of syllable-final /r/.
A good example for the welcome addition of Jones's monograph to the
available standard descriptions of Modern English phonology is the case of
the split of ME short /u/, referred to by Wells (1982: 356) as the
FOOT-STRUT split. Dobson (1968: 585) cites orthoepistic evidence from
around 1640 onwards, as the vowels in CUT (more central) and PUT (high-back
lax), are first distinguished. In Northern English, it is generally assumed
that the unrounding (and lowering) did not take place, although in certain
dialects, such as the Jesmond accent in Newcastle, schwa-like vowels are
found in words that one would expect to be rounded, e.g. good, put, puss,
apart from mud, blood, pus (Beal 1999: 135, McMahon 1998: 410), and there
are indicators that the split may not have been as clear-cut even in
'polite' London speech, indicating that the split was still in progress in
the 19th century.
It is in cases such as these, that the clarity of Jones's accounts come to
light. Based on Tuite's treatise from 1726, for the early 18th century,
Jones distinguishes between two realizations of short u, a levelled,
unrounded close-mid back vowel (the shortening in BLOOD) and the (single)
rounded lax back vowel (BURST), and a ''nascent FOOT/STRUT split'' in the
early 18th century in form of what was often called 'short and obscure
(o)', approximating a central vowel, in BURY, BURIED, STUDY, as shown in a
1711 source, with more solid evidence for the split from the second half of
the 18th century (p. 85). For this change, Jones produces evidence for a
fudged, intermediate form, an *unrounded* close-mid back vowel (p. 209f),
for which the present-day sociolinguistic situation of the FOOT/STRUT split
in East Anglia provides some support (Chambers and Trudgill 1998: 113). In
the nineteenth century, finally, the split appears to be firmly established
at least in metropolitan usage, with a failure to lower and centralize in
''provincial, particularly Northern dialects'' (p. 320), but variation for
some speakers, e.g. BUTCHER with a central vowel, can still be found in the
For non-vowel phonology, changes in the pronunciation of alveolar stops
followed by high front vowels or a /j/-glide are one of the prime
consonantal changes of the period. Jones's impressive data allows him to
state that the numerous commentaries on the pronunciation of TI and DU in
words such as ACTION or DUKE in the eighteenth century ''seem to suggest
that an active an salient phonological change is taking place'' (p. 102). He
argues convincingly (p. 102f) that changes from [ti] to [tj] and the
conversion of the glide into a alveolo-palatal fricative with subsequent
loss of [t] would be in line with the tendency of overlapping segments
between syllables, as in CONDITION, and that the change can be seen as an
internal process. Discussions like these not only shed new light on the
phonological processes, but provide a wealth of information for the
motivation behind the changes, for which Jones provides appealing accounts.
For instance, in CON-DI-TI-ON, the consonants N, D, and T can be considered
part of two neighbouring syllables, and only the last two syllables do not
allow this on account of the hiatus. The 'ambisyllabicity constraint' is
invoked to prompt bracketing also for the final two syllables, which
results in the creation of the present-day fricative for TI. The reader
therefore can expect more than mere phonetic description of the changes of
the period.
One consonantal change, however, that one could expect to be there does not
figure prominently in the discussion. It is the change from medial
consonant found in *pleasure, measure,* that is often described as a merger
of /z/ and /j/ into the voiced alveolo-palatal fricative. Since textbooks
note this as an 18th-century change, partly due to borrowing from French
(McMahon, A. 1994: 29), one would expect to find more there. While Jones
mentions the fact that a 1726 source presumably discusses the voiced
fricative in the words EVASION, VISION, DELUSION (p. 105, also p. 252 for
[g] vs. alveolo-palatal voiced fricative), he focusses on the voiceless
counterpart instead in both chapters on the 18th century. If the data do
not allow a more thorough investigation, as it appears, one could a clear
The case of /r/
Retroflex /r/ received special attention from the late 18th century onwards
and the case of syllable-final /r/ deletion, and insertions of intrusive
/r/, shows the sociolinguistic dimension that is imminently involved in the
study of LModE. Jones details opinions on the 'rough-ness' and
'foreign-ness' (p. 259) of rhotic pronunciations in late 18th century
England, but likewise notices the decline of such statements in the
nineteenth century. This presentation complements existing ones (M. McMahon
1998: 473-7, Beal 1999: 163-71), by again, drawing on a large selection of
sources. Cases such as these show the variable treatment which individual
variables received and show the variability within the LModE period.
There are, of course, the staples of LModE phonology found and discussed in
the volume: Happy tensing in all three periods, the BATH/TRAP split, and
all forms of /h/ loss. Generally speaking, the chapters on vowel and
diphthongal changes are most detailed and comprise an enormous asset of the
volume. If one, however, is interested in lexical stress patterns, one will
not find them (while part of 'word-level phonology' [p. x]) and will have
to resort to McMahon (1998) for this kind of information. However, the
reader is given a clearly structured volume across the three subperiods,
which allows in many cases, the fairly accurate dating of developments in
segmental phonology.
Jones presentation belies the perhaps tacit assumption in the field of
English historical phonology that, as he puts it, ''the further removed the
linguistic data from the present day, the more revealing it is of the
general principles of language change'' (p. 349). The social commentary of
sound changes that are apparently lost in many earlier developmental stages
is well integrated into the presentation of the internal changes. Relying
mostly on what are usually termed 'prescriptivist' writers, Jones reaches
the conclusion that ''the 'prescriptive' label is not altogether justified
or deserved'' (p. 350). Jones's account sheds light on a variety of aspects,
which is only marginally compromised by minor issues such as an index and a
table of contents that both are not overly detailed and a missing IPA
chart, which, in the light of different transcription traditions, may have
been useful. Jones provides the first reference work on the phonology of
the entire period, which, is lucid in presentation, most successful in
capturing the sociohistorical dimension of the changes, yet still slim in
appearance (making it a prime candidate as a textbook for specialist LModE
phonology courses). The work is, beyond doubt, bound to have a lasting
influence on the study of LModE segmental phonology for some time to come.
Beal, J. C. 1999. English pronunciation in the eighteenth century: Thomas
Spence's Grand Repository of the English Language. Oxford: Clarendon.
Chambers, J. K. and P. Trudgill. 1998. Dialectology. 2nd ed. Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press.
Dobson, E. J. 1968. English pronunciation: 1500-1700. 2nd ed. Oxford:
Horn, W. and M. Lehnert. 1954. Laut und Leben: Englische Lautgeschichte der
neueren Zeit (1400-1950). 2 vols. Berlin: Deutscher Verlag der Wissenschaften.
McMahon, M. K. C. 1998. ''Phonology'' - in: Romaine, Suzanne (ed.) The
Cambridge History to the English Language. Volume IV 1776-1997. Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press, 373-535.
McMahon, A. M. S. 1994. Understanding language change. Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press.
Mugglestone, Lynda. 2003. 'Talking Proper': the rise of accent as a social
symbol. 2nd ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Wells, J. C. 1982. Accents of English. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Stefan Dollinger is a Postdoctoral Research and Teaching Fellow at the
University of British Columbia in Vancouver. He has published on the
development of English in the Late Modern period, with a focus on Canadian
English. He is editor-in-chief of the Dictionary of Canadianisms on
Historical Principles (2nd ed.),, and teaches courses with a
diachronic (history of English) and sociolinguistic focus.

Format: Hardback
ISBN: 1403947236
ISBN-13: N/A
Pages: 416
Prices: U.K. £ 90