Category Archives: English Phonetics

The phonetics of the English language.

Sick Speech

I had tonsillitis last week. Throat maladies tend to endow one with a strange temporary “accent,” and this one was no different; the illness rendered my voice unusually nasal in this case. Such an affliction contrasts with typical head cold … Continue reading

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Vowel Shifts in English and Dutch

As I recently discussed, English shares its penchant for r-variability with other languages. This got me thinking about another dialect marker common to English and other tongues, namely what might be called the “close diphthongs.” These are vowels typically found … Continue reading

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What Rhymes Tell Us About Changing English

One of the incidental pleasures of reading Shakespeare’s sonnets is finding rhymes that give us clues about Elizabethan English. One of these occurs in the first four lines of the entire collection: From fairest creatures we desire increase, That thereby … Continue reading

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A Strange Chapter in “Wog”s Hateful History

“Wog” is an offensive term in British English which refers to various immigrant groups. Its etymology is debated. One theory suggests acronymous origins, along the lines of “Worthy Oriental Gentleman” (which is less pejorative than contemporary usage would suggest). More … Continue reading

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Fella, Winder, Tomorrah: ‘-Ow’ Reduction

Back in my musical theatre days, I couldn’t get enough of Rogers and Hammerstein’s classic melodrama Carousel. I’m still a fan, but wish somebody would retool the libretto; many of the show’s lyrics and dialogue are penned in a goofy pseudo-New England … Continue reading

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Mother Goose Rhymes (When Accents Collide)

Years ago, I was in a pub discussing a subject I can’t recall. A Dublin acquaintance asked a question that sounded like ‘Was he in coat?’ ‘In coat?’ Was this a dialect term I’d never heard? Did he mean ‘Was he … Continue reading

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The ‘Near’ Monophthong or the ‘Near’ Diphthong

In non-rhotic accents, words like ‘near‘ and ‘fear‘ generally exhibit two pronunciation patterns: either a ‘centering’ diphthong (ɪə), which might crudely be transcribed ‘ih-uh;’ or as a monophthong, which is usually a lengthened version of the vowel in ‘kit‘ (ɪ:). … Continue reading

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Pronunciation Mysteries: ‘Cinema’ and ‘Theatre’

Today’s post can be filed in the ‘questions I don’t have answers to’ box.  Two words, closely related by subject, exhibit unusual variation in dialects of English. Both, incidentally, involve going to the movies: 1.) Theatre (or theater).* In General American English … Continue reading

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The Goose Room and the Foot Room

Some differences in pronunciation cross traditional dialect boundaries. One such curio is the word ‘room,’ which has two common variants: one with the vowel in ‘goose,’ and the other with the ‘lax’ vowel in ‘foot.’ I use the vowel in … Continue reading

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Sean Connery’s /s/

Reader Jason Reid wrote me recently with a thoughtful question about a notorious celebrity quirk of pronunciation: Comedians often imitate Sean Connery by pronouncing /s/ like /?/ (as in she). Does Sean Connery really not make a distinction between those … Continue reading

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