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Review of  Gimson's Pronunciation of English

Reviewer: Stanimir V. Rakic
Book Title: Gimson's Pronunciation of English
Book Author: Alan Cruttenden
Publisher: Routledge (Taylor and Francis)
Linguistic Field(s): Phonetics
Subject Language(s): English
Issue Number: 26.30

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Review's Editor: Helen Aristar-Dry


“Gimson's Pronunciation of English” (GPE) is the classical introduction to English phonetics which, for decades, has been an indispensable source of information for English teachers and phoneticians. The work that was originally published in 1962 under the title “Introduction to the Pronunciation of English” and was immensely popular with English teachers around the world has now appeared in the 8th edition. Since the 4th edition, Cruttenden has taken on the huge responsibility of revising and updating this classical work. In the successive editions, Cruttenden found it necessary to rewrite and revise most chapters of the original book. Specifically, Cruttenden has applied his great expertise as a phonetician to update the description of Received Pronunciation (RP) and other major regional variants, as well as to incorporate new findings and techniques into the book.

The 7th edition saw the introduction of the companion website in which the technique of Magnetic Resonance Imaging has been used to show in video how the tongue moves to form different English vowels and consonants. In the 8th edition, the most important novelty is the change of the teaching model – this is no more Received Pronunciation, which the public has begun to regard as outdated and class-ridden, but General British (GB) which Cruttenden regards as a more tolerant and flexible model which nonetheless inherits some main properties of its predecessor. In the new edition, the chapter on the history of English language has been completely rewritten as well as the sections explaining the conditions which led to the demise of Received Pronunciation as a standard and the introduction of General British in its place. The structure of the book has remained almost the same and its spirit has been more or less preserved. Now it has four parts, instead of three - the 13th chapter is now separated as the 4th part under the title ‘Language teaching and learning’. The content of the four parts of the book is given briefly below.

Part I and Part II

As in the previous editions, Part I provides basic information about phonetics, acoustics, speech organs, speech sounds and their classification. Part II provides an overview of the historical development of the English sound system from the time of Old English to the time of Modern English in the 19th and 20th century. In the 7th chapter, Cruttenden updates the description of the basic features of different varieties of English, and promotes General British (GB) as a new teaching model. In connection with General British, Cruttenden also describes the features of Conspicuous General British (CGB), in fact the now outdated Received Pronunciation, and Regional General British (RGB). The 8th and 9th chapters contain systematic descriptions of English vowels and consonants with full details of their articulation, allophones, and regional variants, with separate boxes for spelling variants and historical sources followed by advice to foreign learners.

Part III and Part IV

Part III of the book deals with accent, intonation, phonotactics and the processes which take place in connected speech such as assimilation, elision, nasalization and liaison.

Part IV is devoted to the teaching and learning of English as a foreign language. Two simplified models are distinguished: Amalgam English which aims at intelligibility to native speakers, and International English which as a lingua franca should enable international communication in some restricted contexts.


The early twentieth century books by phonetician Daniel Jones, which continued to be published throughout the century, established the term Received Pronunciation as the name of the standard for spoken British English. The successive editions of GPE found welcome reception among English teachers, particularly because of the trustworthy reports on the trends in RP and other related accents. Now this has been changed – Cruttenden declares that instead of RP the main object of description is General British which should be understood as a more tolerant and flexible standard. This move comes as no surprise because the question of a new standard, or at least of its name, has been already present in public discussions for some time. Wells (1990: XII) notes in his introduction to the first edition of “Longman Pronunciation Dictionary” that the democratization of English society in the second half of the twentieth century means that RP must be defined 'in a rather broader way' than it has been done before. In many cases, Wells includes in the LPD pronunciations which differ from RP. Gimson (1980) himself in the third edition of the “Pronunciation” considers the term ‘General British’ as a convenient name which may ‘in time supersede…RP’ (Cruttenden 2014: 80).

Cruttenden rightly concludes that the time for this change has arrived. The expansion of schooling and education after the Second World War has contributed to the spreading of RP to wider layers of the population, although in somewhat diluted form in which occasional regional features are tolerated. Thus, a new, modern form of RP has developed, while the older one began to be regarded by many people as outdated, class-ridden and limited to a small minority in southeast England. Cruttenden dubs this older form of RP as ‘Conspicuous General British’. According to Cruttenden, the modern RP has a broader basis than the old RP, and therefore a greater number of speakers in almost all regions of Britain. He estimates that the modern RP has more speakers than any other variety of English, and further argues that the claim often repeated in the literature that only 3 per cent of the population use this variety could be true of the old version of RP in which no regional features are allowed. The speech of southeast England is the nearest to the modern RP, but it is also widely used in other regions, and may be heard spoken even in Cardiff or Edinburg. Nevertheless Cruttendon declares that the name of the standard has to be changed because many people persist in identifying the term RP with the old version of the standard and ‘object to the term in a variety of ways: either it is posh, it is an imposed standard, it is too regionally limited, or it is outdated’ (Cruttenden 2014: 79, cf. Wells 1990: XII, 1997, Roach 2004). Cruttenden considers the other names which have sometimes been used such as Queen’s (or King’s) English, Oxford English, BBC English or Southern English, and finds faults with each of these names. He concludes that the name ‘General British’ must be preferred over all the others assuming that ‘Britain is not normally taken to include Northern Ireland’. It seems that Cruttenden reluctantly accepts the new name of the standard, adding hastily that this is only ‘an evolved and evolving version’ of the standard under the new name.

A democratization of English society has brought a greater respect and tolerance towards regional accents and dialects. Cruttenden has done a marvelous job in reporting and comparing the changes of pronunciation in different accents. He notes that some characteristics of ‘broad London’ ‘may pass unnoticed’ by other GB speakers as, for example, vocalization of /l/ to /ʊ/ in such words as held [heʊd] əand ball [bɔʊ]. Yet some regional features are still not acceptable as, for example, realization of /t/ by a glottal stop word-medially between vowels as in [wɔ:ʔə] for water in ‘broad London' or the lack of distinction between /ʌ/ and /ʊ/ as in Northern English. Cruttenden further notes that GB speech with some regional markers is increasingly heard in different regions of Britain. He remarks that we should speak of RGBs in plural because all these speeches include a large number of GB features. A particular role belongs to London RGB, for which Cruttenden also uses the terms 'broad London' or 'popular London' – the speech of working people which includes Cockney pronunciation with possible exclusion of Cockney vocabulary. According to Cruttenden, popular London has historically greatly influenced the phonetic development of GB, and this influence is nowadays still very much alive. C. remarks that some features of popular London may be considered variants in GB, as for example the substitution of /əʊ/ with /ɒʊ/or the use of [ʔ] instead of /t/ before an accented vowel or a pause (e.g. ‘not even’ [nɒʔ ’i:vn], ‘need it’ [ni:d ɪʔ]). A kind of complication may be seen in the introduction of the name Estuary English for a hybrid between popular London and GB which Cruttenden also calls London RBE. Estuary English seems to differ from broad London in that it does not include some features of the former such as /h/ - dropping, monophthongization of /aʊ/, the wide diphthongue in /əʊ/, fronting of /ʌ/ and the replacement of /ð,ø/ with /v,f/. On the other hand, Estuary English has some recent trends common with GB as, for example, the replacement of /s/ with /ʃ/ in consonant clusters, e.g. ‘strain’, ‘industry’, ‘obstruct’. Estuary English seems to have been developed by people who looked for some middle ground between broad London and RP.

Like the previous editions, the book includes a section on the sound changes of the standard. The first subsection with the changes 'almost complete' contains 5 items which all were also present in the previous 7th edition which included six such changes. The only difference is that /tj,dj/ → /tʃ,dʒ/ has expanded so it now applies also to accented syllables. The only change which is missing in this subsection is the process of monophthongizing of /eə/ to /ɛ:/ which is now downgraded by being included in the list of well-established changes. This may be viewed as surprising because the sign /ɛ:/ as a novel transcription is motivated by this change. The lowering of /æ/ to /a/, which has also induced the introduction of a new transcription sign, is included in the list of well-established changes both in the 7th as well as in the 8th edition. Noting these details, one might wonder why Cruttenden claims that the changes which have brought about the new transcription signs are not ‘almost complete’ but only ‘well-established.’ In the list of recent trends Cruttenden notes that [ɒʊ] appears instead of /əʊ/ in words such as ‘goal’, ‘bold’, ‘mould’, the source of which may be located as popular London. In the book the sections on sound changes precede the sections on main accents and dialects, but the reverse ordering would make it easier for the reader to recognize what is the influence of particular dialects. The explanation that the lowering of /e/ followed the lowering of /æ/ does not sound convincing if we take into account that the monophthongizing of /eə/ to /ɛ/ has to fill the same space.

The change of notation of /æ/ to /a/ does not seems necessary because, for English learners, it makes no difference how the new pronunciation is marked, and native speakers normally do not learn pronunciation from textbooks. Furthermore, Cruttenden does not claim that the new pronunciation is equal to C.4[a] but only closer to it, i.e. still somewhere between C.3 and C.4, and for such a vowel the sign /æ/ may still be a better choice. In Wells (2008) and Roach (2009) the traditional sign /æ/ is further used for the vowel in ‘bad’, ‘back’, ‘hand’. Besides this, Roach (2009: 14) explicitly claims that /æ/ is ‘front, but not quite as open as a cardinal vowel no. 4 [a]’.

The use of the sign /a/ for the vowel in ‘bad’ and ‘land’ may be a problem for the speakers of the languages which have a central open vowel spelled with 'a' as they may wrongly interpret /a/ as the vowel of their native languages. To counteract this influence Cruttenden advises them to keep /a/ fully front and above C.[a]. The second part of this advice may be difficult to realize as it is well-known that speakers have problems identifying the position of the tongue in their mouth. Among a host of valuable pieces of advice to foreign learners with very different language backgrounds, there are some which are not very practical. Some speakers are, for example, advised to shorten the vowels preceding the voiceless plosive ‘remembering that vowels and sonorants are shortened before /p,t,k/’ (p. 166). To follow this advice speakers would have to know how many milliseconds vowels are shorter before voiceless plosives, and such knowledge is hardly possible to apply in normal speech.

The book is not errors free. Most of the errors are trivial as, for example, the word ‘inˈspired’ which should illustrate /ɪ/ remotely preceding the accent. Some may be more perplexing as, for example, the claim that the opposition between /ə/ and /ɛ:/ exists “solely in length” (p.100) which contradicts Table 1 on page 33. What is surprising is the fact that one error has survived since the 6th edition. Kaltenböck (2002: 434) remarked that it is not appropriate to note the realization of /r/ without a tongue tip contact as a recent innovation ‘when normally no tongue tip contact is involved in the production of /r/’. In the 8th edition, this pronunciation is still presented as a recent change.

The companion website contains a rich choice of materials for further learning. First, there are audio files with texts from Old English, Middle English and Early Modern English, and audio files for the practice of intonation of sentences given in Section 11.6. Second, there are valuable materials prepared by G.F. Arnold and A.C. Gimson, and revised by Cruttenden for Pronunciation Practice, as well as a rich choice of websites dealing with English pronunciation and phonetics from some renowned universities and distinguished phoneticians. The videos showing the articulation of English sounds with commentaries, which has been added to this edition, could be a great help to foreign learners. The problem is, however, that the animation scrolls too quickly for the reader to read the commentaries. Thus, the reader must first read the commentaries, and then activate the animation to be able to understand what is going on. The addition of these videos is a welcome novelty, although it may require too much persistence from some readers.

All in all, in spite of some minor problems, Cruttenden has again done an excellent job in updating GRP so that it remains the chief source of information on the pronunciation of standard English and related accents for English teachers and phoneticians around the world.


Gimson, A.C. 1980. Introduction to the Pronunciation of English. 3rd edition, London: Edward Arnold.

Kaltenböck, G. 2002 Gimson's Pronunciation of English. 6th edition. ELT Journal 56 (4): 431-434.

Roach, P. (2004) Illustrations of the IPA. British English: Received Pronunciation. Journal of the IPA, vol. 34.2, pp.239-245.

Roach, P. 2009 English Phonetics and Phonology. A practical course. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Wells, J.C. (1990) Longman Pronunciation Dictionary. Essex: Longman.

Wells, J.C. (1997) Whatever happened to Received Pronunciation? In Medina Casado, Carmelo and Soto Palomo, Concepción (eds.), II Jornadas de Estudios Ingleses. Universidad de Jaén, Spain. p.19-28.

Wells, J.C. (2008) Longman Pronunciation Dictionary. Third edition with CD. Harlow: Pearson Education Limited.
Dr Stanimir Rakic was a Professor at the Pedagogic Academy in Belgrade and at the University of East Sarajevo. He is interested in phonetics, phonology, morphology and semantics. He has published a number of papers in Serbian, Yugoslav and international journals. He is now retired.

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