One aspect of American and British English pronunciation differences is differences in accent. The General American (GA) and the British Received Pronunciation (RP) accents have some significant points of difference, described in this article. However, other regional accents in each country may show greater still differences, for which see regional accents of English speakers.
Although the Received Pronunciation dialect is the subject of many academic studies, and is frequently used as a model for teaching English to foreign learners, only about two percent of Britons speak RP, because there are many other dialects spoken in Britain.
Change of Diphthong /əʊ/ to /oʊ/
The shift from the British diphthong /əʊ/ to /oʊ/ is also very distinguishing. The shift consisted in the change of the mid central unrounded vowel /ə/ to the close-mid back rounded vowel /o/ in the ﬁrst vowel of the diphthong. This shift is considered to be systematic. Look at these examples:
Change of Vowel /ɒ/
The letter “o” is pronounced in many diﬀerent ways in English. Here we have a few illustrative examples of such diversity: Hot /hɒt/ in RP, but /hɑt/ in GA; corn /kɔ:n/ in RP, but /kɔrn/ in GA; continue /kənˈtɪnju:/; moon /mu:n/; coast /kəʊst/ in RP, but /koʊst/ in GA; house /haʊs/. The so-called “short o”, which often appears in a stressed syllable with one letter o such as in dog or model, underwent a change in American English. In British English that sound is pronounced as an open back rounded short sound /ɒ/, as in hot /hɒt/, or possible /ˈpɒsəbəl/. In American English it is pronounced either as an open back unrounded long sound /ɑ/, as in hot /hɑt/, or as an open-mid back rounded long vowel /ɔ/, as in dog /dɔg/. Note that British English prefers a short sound as opposed to American English, which prefers a
long sound in all cases.
Change from [ju:] to [u:]
Around the beginning of twentieth century several changes took place in the English vowels. One of them was the so-called yod-dropping, the omission of sound /j/ before /u:/. The change is named after the Hebrew letter yod, which represents the sound /j/. Both RP and GA embraced the change, although GA extended the cases in which yod-dropping was applied.
Yod-dropping before /u:/ takes place in RP and GA in the following cases.
• After the post-alveolar aﬀricates /tʃ/ and /dʒ/, as in chew /tʃu:/, juice /dʒu:s/, and Jew /dʒu:/.
• After /r/, as in rude /ru:d/, prude /pru:d/, shrewd /ʃru:d/, and extrude /Ik”stru:d/.
• After clusters formed by a consonant followed by /l/, as in blue /blu:/, ﬂu /ﬂu:/, and
Apart from this common corpus of words, in GA as well as in many other varieties of English we observe yod-dropping in further cases.
• After /s/ and /z/, as in suit /sut/, Zeus /zus/, and assume /əˈsum/
• After /l/, as in lute /lut/, and pollute /pəˈlut/ .
• Especially in GA, after /t/, /d/, and /n/, as in tune /tun/, stew /stu/, student /ˈstudnt/
dew /du/, duty /ˈduti/, produce/prəˈdus/, and new /nu/.
Notice that spellings eu, ue, ui, ew, and u followed by consonant plus vowel frequently correspond to sounds /ju/, or just /u/ if yod-dropping has taken eﬀect. The lists above provide instances of this observation.
Change of /ɪ/ and /aɪ/
In some cases the pronunciation of lax vowel /ɪ/ in RP becomes other vowels, mainly diphthong /aɪ/ and /ə/ in the suﬃx -ization.
• For the change to /aɪ/, here we have a few examples: dynasty, privacy, simultaneously,
• In the suﬃx -ization, pronounced as /aɪˈzeɪʃən/ in RP, the diphthong /aɪ/ is transformed into the unstressed and neutral vowel sound /ə/, resulting in the pronunciation /əˈzeɪʃən/ in GA. Examples of this change are: authorization, centralization, civilization, colonization, dramatization, fertilization, globalization, hybridization, legalization, localization, mobilization, modernization, neutralization, normalization, optimization, organization, privatization, specialization, synchronization, urbanization, visualization
Changes of /i/ and /ɛ/
Sometimes, swaps between vowels /i/ and /ɛ/ are also found. Here we have a few instances.
• Change of /i:/ in RP to /ɛ/ in GA: aesthetic, devolution, epoch, evolution, febrile,
• Change of /e/ in RP to /i/ in GA: cretin, depot, leisure, medieval, zebra.