There’s a Youtube clip that has been going the rounds in Britain recently. It is of the American voice teacher Tracy Goodwin purporting to teach the British LOT vowel, ɒ.
Scroll down here to read some reactions to it from the British general public. The consensus is that it is utterly hilarious. On Facebook I have seen reactions ranging from LOL to OMG, WTF, and ROTFL.
Here is a reply from a young lady in London, demonstrating how we really say coffee and dog.
Several commentators are bemused at Tracy’s American use of the term dialect (where we would say ‘accent’). Americans really do need to be aware of this difference in usage when communicating with the British: it’s only us linguists and phoneticians who are likely to have come across dialect in this sense before, because we read American textbooks and interact with American professionals.
I don’t like to criticize a fellow professional, but we do need to ask why Tracy’s demo is such a disaster. Here are some of the reasons, as I see it.
1. Her “British” LOT vowel is not open enough. It is in the mid ɔ area rather than the open ɒ area. So to us it sounds working-class Scottish rather than English.
2. She doesn’t realize that all of us English (though not all Scots) distinguish the LOT and THOUGHT sets. Her first two examples, hot and coffee, are LOT words, but her third example, fought, is a THOUGHT word and ought therefore to have ɔː, not ɒ. Her attempts at dog and fog sound particularly ludicrous. (They are both LOT words.)
3. Her happY vowel (at the end of coffee) is much too open. It approaches ɛ or perhaps more precisely [ɛ̝̈], which in England is highly marked both socially and regionally. Socially, it belongs in a variety of U-RP which is probably now entirely obsolete, a subvariety of what Cruttenden calls “Refined RP”. Alternatively, geographically it is associated with (the working-class accent of) central Northern places such as Leeds. No actor should use this kind of happY vowel for “British” unless playing an upper-class character in a play set a hundred years ago or more.
4. Putting these points together, we can say that Tracy’s version of BrE represents an impossible mixture of different social classes and different geographical locations. Bits [= conscious Briticism] of it are Scottish, bits of it are northern English, bits are RP/southern. Some of it is caricature-upper-class, some of it is working-class. Nobody, but nobody, talks like that in real life.
I expect Tracy thinks that we call policemen ‘bobbies’, too. But then that’s what most Americans believe.
Tracy’s own website says she has a Masters and ten years experience. She is the author of Be Delicious: The Art of Voice & Movement Integration.
I do hope my own attempts at AmE sound better than this.