Non-systematic Differences between Gen Am and RP.


American English

American-Based Pronunciation Standards of English.

1. Vowels.

2. Consonants.

3. Non-systematic Differences between Gen Am and RP.

4. Intonation Differences


The situation in the USA may be characterized as exoglossic, i.e. having several languages on the same territory, the balance being in favour of American English. It is true, that the formation of the American Standard underwent the influence of minorities' languages, but starting point was the English language of the early 17th century. However, time has passed, American English has drifted considerably from English English though as yet not enough to give us ground to speak of two different languages. Thus we speak of the national variant of English in America.

American English shows a lesser degree of dialect than British English due to some historical factors: the existence of Standard English when first English settlers came to America, the high mobility of population, internal migrations of different communities and so on. As regards pronunciation, however, it is not at all homogeneous. There are certain varieties of educated American speech. In the USA three main types of cultivated speech are recognized: the Eastern type, the Southern type and Western or General American.

1. The Eastern type is spoken in New England, and in New York City. It bears a remarkable resemblance to Southern English.

2. The Southern type is used in the South and South-East of the USA. This type includes Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, Arkansas, Lousiana, Texas, parts of Maryland, West Virginia and Oklahoma. It possesses a striking distinctive feature ‒ vowel drawl, which is a specific way of pronouncing vowels, consisting in the diphtongization and even triphthongization of some pure vowels and monophthongization of some diphthongs at the expense of prolonging ('drawling') their nuclei and dropping the glides.

3. The third type of educated American speech is General American (GA), also known as Northern American or Western American spoken in the central Atlantic States: New York, New Jersey, Wisconsin and others. GA pronunciation is known to be the pronunciation standard of the USA. There are some reasons for it. GA is the form of speech used by the radio and television. It is mostly used in scientific, cultural and business intercourse. Also in two important business centres New York and St. Louis GA is the prevailing form of speech and pronunciation, though New York is situated within the territory where Eastern American is spoken, and St. Louis is within the region of Southern American.


1. Vowels. 1. There is no strict division of vowels into long and short in GA, though some American phoneticians suggest that certain GA vowels are tense and likely to be accompanied by relative length: [i:] in seat, [u:] in pool. They also admit that a slight rise in tongue position during the pronunciation of tense vowels leads to a diphthongal quality of tense vowels which contrasts to a monophthongal quality of lax vowels.

2. Classification of vowels according to the stability of articulation is the most controversial subject in GA. Some diphthongs are treated in GA as biphonemic combinations. The inventory of GA diphthongs varies from three to twelve phonemes. We distinguish five diphthongs in GA: [ei], [ai], [ɔi], [au], [ɔu].

3. Another very important feature that causes different interpretations of diphthongs and vowel length in GA is the pronunciation of [r] sound between a vowel and a consonant or between a vowel and a silence: turn [t:rn], bird [b:rd], star [sta:r].

It has been estimated that 2/3 of American population pronounce [r] and 1/3 omit it. Thus GA is rhotic in words like far, core, etc. (when [r] follows the vowels and ends the word), this sound is consonantal and non-syllabic. On the other hand, there is a vocalic, or vowel-like and syllabic [r], that occurs in words like bird, murmur (after a vowel and before a consonant).

4. One more peculiar feature of pronunciation of vowels in American English is their nasalization, when they are preceded or followed by a nasal consonant (e.g. in such words as take, small, name, etc.). Nasalization is often called an American twang. It is incidental and need not be marked in phonemic transcription.

5. GA front vowels are somewhat different from RP. Vowels [i:], [i] are distributed differently in GA and RP. In words like very, pity GA has [i:] rather than [i]. In word final position it is often even diphthongized. Vowel [e] is more open in GA. It also may be diphthongized before [p], [t], [k]: let [lεət].

6. There are four mixed or central vowels in GA: [], [ə], [٨], [a]. They differ markedly from RP vowels in articulation and distribution.

7. The three RP vowels [ɔ], [æ], [ɒ] correspond to only two vowels in GA [a] and [æ]. The following chart vividly shows it:

There are very many individual words in common use in both accents with the same spelling but different phoneme incidence:

Words Gen Am RP
ate [eit] [et]
either, neither ['i:ðər],['ni:ðər] ['iðə], ['niðə]
figure ['figər] ['figə]
leisure ['li:Ʒər] ['leƷə]
lever ['levər] ['li:və]
process ['pra:ses] ['prəuses]
schedule ['skeʤu:l] ['sedju:l]
tomato [tə'meitou] [tə'ma:təu]
vase [veis] [va:z]

2. Consonants. The most salient differences of realization among the GenAm CONSONANTS lie in the allophones of [r], [t]:

1. the retroflex pronunciation of [r] is perhaps one of the most characteristic features of GenAm. Its main features are: (i) having the tongue in the central position, as for [ə]; (ii) the tongue tip is curled high toward the back of the mouth, but not touching anywhere; (iii) having the back of the tongue low and the sides of the tongue slide along the back part of the tooth ridge as along two rails; (iv) the movement of the tongue always begins by a motion toward the back of the mouth. It is this retroflex motion that gives the GenAm [r] its typical sounding. RP [r] is produced farther forward in the mouth than GenAm [r].

2. the pronunciation of [t] is highly variable in GenAm and there are also some major allophonic variations in the pronunciation of it.

(i) GenAm speakers tend to pronounce intervocalically before a weakly stressed v

owel or after a vowel+/r/ and before a weakly stressed vowel a voiced alveolar tap/flap. It sounds like a quick English [d], and also like the [r] of some languages, e.g. city, better, latest, forty, party. This means that pairs such as the following, which are distinct in RP, tend to share the same pronunciation in GenAm: latter / ladder, writer / rider.

(ii) after [n] GenAm [ṯ] can optionally be elided/omitted. Accordingly, GenAm winter ['winṯər] can sound identical to winner ['winər].

3. the pronunciation of /j/:

Yod Dropping: [j] is not pronounced in the combination of [j] + [U:] after t, s, d, e.g. tube, suit, student, news.

Yod Coalescence (): [t] + [j], [d] + [j] before a weak vowel, as [u] or [ə] are assimilated into [ʧ], [ʤ], e.g. educate ['eʤukeit], factual ['fækʧuəl].

4. [S] vocalization: in GenAm [S] is vocalized in final weak syllables ending with -ion, -ia, e.g. Asia ['iƷə], version ['vƷn].

5. Nasal twang: nasality is limited to vowels adjacent to m, n, ŋ where the velum lowers too soon and makes the preceding vowel nasal, e.g. manner, candy. Nasal twang is treated by some American phoneticians as 'a defect of American speech'.

A. 1. Many differences involve the pronunciation of individual words or groups of words. Here are some of these:

2. Words apparatus, data, status can be pronounced with either [æ] or [ei] in GA, but only with [ei] in RP.

3. Words like hostile, reptile have final [ail] in RP. In GA they may have [əl].

B. Stress Differences

1. In words of French origin GA tends to have stress on the final syllable, while RP has it on the initial one:


2. Some words have first-syllable stress in GA whereas in RP the stress may be elsewhere.

3. Some compound words have stress on the first element in GA and in RP they retain it on the second element: weekend, ice-cream, hotdog, New Year.

4. Polysyllabic words ending in -ory, -ary, -ery, -mony have secondary stress in GA on the vowel in the penultimate syllable, and RP has no stress in the same position: laboratory ['læbrə,tɔri], dictionary ['diksə,neri], secretary ['sekrə,teri], testimony ['testi,mouni].

There are many five-syllable words ending in -ily for which GenAm gives primary stress to the third syllable whereas RP gives primary stress to the first syllable. In these words RP speakers also tend to reduce or drop the third syllable, thus pronouncing them with four rather than five syllables, e.g. customarily GenAm: [,k٨stə'merəli], RP: ['k٨stəmərəli] and in the words as momemtarily, necessarily, ordinarily, voluntarily, etc.

In some cases, words in GenAm and RP have the same number of syllables but simply take different stress patterns, with differences in pronunciation: advertisement: GenAm [,ædvər'taizmənt], RP [əd'v:tismənt]; adult: GenAm [ə'd٨lt], RP ['æd٨lt], etc.

NB! Speaking about different stress patterns in GenAm and RP, the following general trend can be established: there is greater use of secondary / light stress in GenAm along with a tendency to retain syllables, and there is more syllable reduction in multisyllabic words in RP.



  2. Lexical differences between languages
  3. Syntactic Connections between the Words
  4. The relationship between the lexical meaning and the notion.

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