Phonetics: Differences between British and American English During the late seventeenth century


During the late seventeenth century while James, Duke of York, was renaming New Amsterdam. The vowel ' as in 'man' was lenghtening in certain contexts. In words like 'laugh' and 'path' and 'pass' wich end in unvoiced fricatives, in words like 'dance'and 'plant', which end in a nasal and an s or t, and in words where the ' was followed by r, that short vowel began to grow long. The older pronunciation of 'dance was d'ns, wholly acceptable today to english speakers outside the cultural area dominated by London, then it became d':ns. It was not until the nineteenth century, that this long ' decided to migrate to the back of the mout and become the α: which is charachteristic of southern speech today. It is a source of mockery, or reluctant admiration, among provincials and ex-colonials. In his novel Goodby Mickey Mouse, Len Deighton has a US Airforce base in England during World War ІІ. A dance is held, with a fine simulacrum of a bigband on the Glenn Miller model and a singing group with acceptable renders 'That Old Black Magic'. The situation seems totally American until the singers enuciate 'witchcraft'- not wІtςkr'ft but wІtςkrα:ft. Then the exiled airmen become aware of their serving abroad.

The late changes in British English which produced a contrast between cat (k't) and cast (k':st/, later kα:st) never touched America exept perhaps the upperclass off Boston. Nor has the diphthong of 'oh' and 'ld' turned, except in mockery of the british, to əű . A feature which british English is losing ' a contrast between 'whales and 'Wales' м versus w ' is still to be heard in America. The British 'give it to 'im' must seem careless, on the other hand, American English has lost the aspirate in 'herb'and its deravatives. How to Plant an Herb garden must be the sole New York book title incapable of transfer across the Atlantic. A general feature of most brands of United States English is a 'dark' quality which does not apply solely to te lateral consonants in words like 'lilly'and 'lull'. It is as tough the whole American phonetic system is pushed back futher in the mouth then is the case in Britain. 'None'or 'nunn is palatal rather then alveolar. If the American voice sounds darker, richer than the British, this may serve the national imageof virility (woman`s voices do not sound, by european standards, all that feminine); Americans concider the British educated voice as higher pitched when, in fact, the voice is placed further forward.

Another noticable difference between British and American usage is to be found in words like 'do' and 'dew'. The semi-vowel j makes it on different from the other in most varietys of British English 'du: versus dju: . In America there has been a merger. The j is retained after labials and velars, so that 'music'and 'cute' are pronounced in the British manner, but initial dental sounds ' t, d, n ' permit the loss of the semi-vowel. Americans sing toons and eat stoo while reading toosdays newspapers with doo reserve. In Britain ther is a certain dubiety about wheater to wear a suit or a soot, or a string a lute or a loot. America shows no dubiety. The British have a round short α for words like 'wasp'and 'wash' , 'log' and 'hog' buth the American will not have lip-rounding and ussually have α as in 'calm' . 'Pot' and 'cot' with there unvoiced terminal consonants, have a sound pushed somewhat forward, rather like the Lancashire a of 'that' but arrestes in mid-channel as ' (the 2 dots signifying that the sound is central). Get away from the costal area, and travel to towns like Buffalo, Chicago, and Detroit, and you will find a phenomenon called the 'Northern Cities Shift' in operation. Words like 'bat' contain not ' but εə as in 'bear' or even Іə as in 'beer' , and words like 'pot' have undergone vocalic fronting.

A generalisation that the British sometimes make about American discourse refers to an apparent inability to contrive a neutral mode. That the Americans use a great deal of slang has been regarded as endearing, expressive of the high spirits of a youthfull country and their fondness for the language of technology(in all fields) has been interpreted as a love for the striking, the unusual and the unexpected.

Referationguides: a mouthfull of air - Anthony Burgess Internet TEFLcourse