Tuesday, 3 May 2011

the evidence of the vows

Things change. Or perhaps I was just wrong. In 1982 I wrote that for the GOAT vowel
RP characteristically lacks the pre-/l/ allophone [ɒʊ] of many other {British} accents. (AofE p. 237)

Twenty-five years later I was able to report that Bente Hannisdal, in her admirable PhD thesis (blog, 25 April 2007), had found that in her investigation of the pronunciation used by British television newsreaders,

A correspondent wrote to me ten days ago asking for advice on suitable sound clips to demonstrate this change. I replied as best I could at the time.

Now, though, last week’s royal wedding has furnished us with an iconic example of before and after. Watch it here (at 1:25 into the clip), here (4:05 in), or below.

In the Abbey, as the bridegroom makes his vows, first the archbishop of Canterbury and then Prince William utter the words
to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death us do part …

The archbishop, as is appropriate for an RP speaker of his age (born 1950), pronounces hold as həʊɫd. William repeats the word, but as hɒʊɫd, which is what is now arguably appropriate for an RP speaker of his age (born 21 June 1982). Here they are.

video

Hannisdal’s newsreaders constitute one kind of evidence for current RP — RP seen as the model of widely acceptable non-regional English-of-England pronunciation. The royal family provide evidence of a different kind — of RP seen as the de facto pronunciation of those at the very top of the traditional social hierarchy. Either way, it’s clear that the ɒʊ allophone before dark l is now a regular part of proper, pukka, echt, RP.

At least for those born, like the Duke of Cambridge, since those far-off days when I typed the manuscript of Accents of English.

17 comments:

  1. I really don't hear that any opener than ɔo. At any rate, of course, his hold and holy are clearly different from his troth.

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  2. Does the Archbishop being Welsh, born into a Welsh speaking family in a south Wales valley, himself still Welsh speaking, have anything to do with his current pronunciation?

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  3. For additional sound clips on the wedding vows see here:
    http://matters-phonetic.blogspot.com/2011/05/william-arthur-philip-louis-royal.html

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  4. As the boundaries of RP are subjective. The use of a pronunciation by a young royal is as close as you can get to a declaration of RP status.

    Do we know where this GOAT-GOAL split originates from? It says on the Wikipedia article for Yorkshire dialect:

    Several Yorkshire accents have the GOAT-GOAL split, in which GOAT takes a monophthong and GOAL takes a diphthong. This is evident in several placenames in the Huddersfield area that have lost the phonetic [l] yet are still pronounced with a diphthong: for example, Golcar [gɔʊkə], Holmfirth [hɔʊmfə:θ] and the river Colne [kɔʊn].

    However, it's not unheard of to have the diphthong in other GOAT words in that area, and it's definitely used in the non-standard words "owt" and "nowt".

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  5. Among other surprising things in (the way I'd interpret) Hannisdal's results, the fact that t-flapping has become phonemic (I can't think of any rule which would explain [t] in city and [4] in the adverb pretty, and assuming the adjective pretty still rhymes with city we have a /prI4i prIti/ minimal pair); the fact that (with a few exceptions, mostly involving [dZU@-]) /O:/ isn't found after consonant + /j/, /U@/ isn't found without a preceding /j/, and they contrast after /j/ without a preceding consonant (as in euro/your, making me wonder whether one could consider /iU@/ as one rising-then-falling triphthong phoneme (and if we also classed /iu:/ as one rising diphthong phoneme, we'd have a pretty simple rule forbidding consonant + /j/ onsets).

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  6. Ed, I think this kind of thing has happened at various times and places in English. We’re not talking here about the Yorkshire development resulting in the three-way contrast oat - owt - out, nor for that matter about the Irish English development that gave us “ould” for old. I’m also not sure whether or not the RP change is just the social/geographical spread of the London-style GOAT split, which would imply the non-rhyming of slowly and goalie.

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  7. @ John Wells: I see. You're probably right. Is the distinction that you're referring to what is sometimes called a distinction between sets GOAT and GOAL? I don't think that I've ever seen GOAL used as a set in your writing.

    I don't have access to this book at present, but the Wikipedia article gives this reference for a GOAT-GOAL split in Sheffield.
    "Urban Voices: Accent Studies in the British Isles"

    I believe that John Widdowson co-wrote the chapter on Sheffield, and he is an expert.

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  8. I didn't identify any GOAL set because this is merely an allophonic matter within the GOAT set (sensitive, though, to the morpheme boundary in goal#ie).

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  9. The problem with all this is... That the majority of the Royal family, or at least it's younger members, no longer use RP. It's Estuary, and I know that Estuary isn't really accepted as a separate accent by some. So many other people do RP today better than the Family.

    So many people everywhere need thorough speech training in so many aspects. Projection, for example. Or learning not to spit while speaking.

    How is the allophone sensitive to the morpheme boundary?

    And what is intended by London-style GOAT split?

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  10. @JW:

    I didn't identify any GOAL set because this is merely an allophonic matter within the GOAT set (sensitive, though, to the morpheme boundary in goal#ie).

    Yet the NEAR set is defined as a separate phoneme (distinct from FLEECE + /r/) on the basis of oppositions such as "clearing/key-ring" which also depend on morpheme boundaries.

    Is this simply because of tradition (the development is much older), or because of the greater phonetic differences between the allophones (involving a zero realization of /r/ in some cases) or for some other reason?

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  11. Dinora: the royals by definition speak RP "seen as the de facto pronunciation of those at the very top of the traditional social hierarchy". RP (by this definition) changes as the years pass. Popular southeastern English ("EE") may be the source of some of the changes, but that's been the case for 500 years or more.

    vp: please read ch. 2 of Accents of English. RP and similar accents have /ɪə/ as a separate (taxonomic) phoneme as shown by the many minimal pairs such as knee - near, bead - beard.

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  12. There are two slightly different GOAT splits. The one usually described for London has the back allophone only before an /l/ followed either by a consonant or a word/morpheme boundary, so "holy" has the front allophone. The one I have has the back allophone before intervocalic /l/ too, so "holy" has the back allophone, although it can still be blocked by a morpheme boundary (as in "slowly"). (Northern England, "near RP".)

    @Army1987: I have three possibilities in "pretty": an alveolar stop, a Scouse-style non-sibilant fricative and a flap (or tap). The adverb can have any of the three, but the adjective can (I think) only have the first two. Similarly "matter" (noun) can't have a flap, but "matter" (verb) can. I think Northern English "t-to-r" has very similar lexical restrictions, which suggests that this split has been around for quite some time, at least in the North.

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  13. @ Dinora: Who do you have in mind when you say that somebody speaks RP better than the Royal Family?

    I'm suspicious that the alleged monopoly of RP in the past is exaggerated. I heard a voice clip of Enoch Powell recently and couldn't believe how non-RP he sounded.

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  14. @John Wells:

    vp: please read ch. 2 of Accents of English. RP and similar accents have /ɪə/ as a separate (taxonomic) phoneme as shown by the many minimal pairs such as knee - near, bead - beard.

    I apologize for not expressing myself better.

    From the point of view of Contemporary Advanced RP (as evidenced in e.g. Prince William), how is the case for a separate NEAR phoneme (distinct from FLEECE) any stronger than the case for a separate GOAL phoneme (distinct from GOAT)?

    beard can be regarded as historical/underlying /biːrd/ that is realized as [bɪəd]. This contrasts with bead, where the historical vowel remains unchanged [biːd].

    cold can be regarded as historical/underlying /kəʊld/ that is realized as [kɒʊd]. This contrasts with code, where the historical vowel remains unchanged as [kəʊd].

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  15. @VP:
    In principle, you could analyse NEAR as being FLEECE in the nucleus + /r/ in the coda, but I don't think the grounds for that would be any stronger than e.g. for analysing FACE as DRESS + /j/. (If you want to get creative, you could analyse e.g. the fortis obstruents as clusters of the corresponding lenis obstruent and /h/ and reduce the number of distinct phonemes by another half dozen.)

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  16. vp: Prince William says [hɒʊɫd], not [hɒʊd]. This means the backed vowel is still allophonic. If the l were to be absorbed (deleted) then your argument would hold.

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  17. I think I realise where my puzzlement or mistake came from. ɒ refers not to the vowel used in IPA transcriptions independent of a particular language and its phonemes, eg as in older RP TOP and the "Boston o", but to today's RP TOP vowel, ie neutral-IPA ɔ, and ʊ generically indicates a closing falling diphthong.

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