Of all the difficulties that a foreigner is most likely to face when familiarizing himself/herself with English pronunciation, it is important to make mention of the one that refers to the multitude of accents. Obviously, English should be viewed as presenting the pronunciation that varies dramatically depending on where the language is spoken. In regard to English, one needs to recognize that it has spread all over the world and become the world’s language, respectively. Being one of the world’s most widely spoken languages means covering a vast territory and inheriting a variety of distinct pronunciations. Surely, “English has a wide variety of accents” (Rogerson-Revell, 2011, p. 6); however, many are inclined to divide English into such standard pronunciations as BBC English and the General American.
Considering BBC English, also referred to as Oxford English, this form is most commonly associated with the United Kingdom or, broadly speaking, the British Isles. To make it clear, the given type of pronunciation is frequently used within the aforementioned region, whereas the General American can be seen as the accent spoken in the United States of America. To reveal the key factor in shaping the British accent, one has to narrow attention on to a single focus – medieval British history. As many scholars report, the ongoing British accent occurred as a result of a mixture of some regional dialects throughout the Middle Ages. Notable, one can distinguish a number of sub-dialects under British English. In respect to American English, it was less affected by diverse accents; and it is particularly about desperate revolts against the British control, which, on the one hand, enabled Americans to make their desire for complete separation a reality, whereas, on the other, prevented their language from being so strongly influenced.
It is not an exaggeration to say that many appear to be confused as to unpack the distinctions between American and British languages, which in turn results in them speaking in a mix of two accents. The purpose of this research consists in providing an insightful reflection from a phonological perspective outlining differences between American and British pronunciation. Certainly, there is a dire need for putting an end to common misrepresentations about pronunciation characteristics. Of course, comparing American pronunciation with British pronunciation and ascertaining that the two sharply diverge especially in terms of phonology could lower the odds of sounding weird when chaining two accents together. Although conducting a study from historical and social standpoints would definitely make sense, the present piece of research focuses primarily on phonetic aspects. To unearth the extent to which American English differentiates from British English in pronunciation, it is worth addressing such aspects as word stress, pitch, tone, and intonation. According to many widely-acknowledged scholars, an in-depth analysis of the two forms of English with great emphasis on the abovementioned aspects gives the chance to unravel concrete features unique to US and UK accents.
So far some of the outstanding distinctions in pronunciation between the two forms of English language have been disclosed in terms of word stress; this is not to say that the bulk of English-speaking population can be characterized by taking word-stress differences seriously. Notwithstanding this, certain patterns in word stress do make the two forms of English differ dramatically. Peering deep into American and British rules for word stress, it becomes apparent that there are three dimensions worth adjusting carefully. To be precise, the French loanwords, some suffixes, and the ending –ate should be identified as constituting the most noticeable pronunciation differences.
French language can be noted with shaping English language. Many linguists advance an argument that nearly one third of English words derive from French words. A peculiar thing lies in that these words were adapted by each of the two forms of English in a distinct way; and change of stress posits as probably the most apparent distinction. Reflecting upon French loanwords in American English, they are stressed on the last syllable, whereas, British English moves the stress to an earlier syllable. To be the exact, “beret”, “brochure”, “cliché”, and “debris” are some of those words that have two possible pronunciations, depending on the accent that an individual adheres to; in American English, French borrowings have retained their stress on the last syllable while, in British English, they have a first-syllable stress. Words having ending –ate rely on different stress patterns in the two forms of English. The stress in 2-syllable words ending with –ate is on the first syllable in American English; on the reverse side, most of 2-syllable words have retained stress on second syllable in British English. The last but not least, there are substantial distinctions in pronunciation of some suffixes. For instance, suffix –ary is most often pronounced as [eri] in American English and [əri] in British English. Such words as “contrary” and “honorary” are good examples of words pronounced differently in the two accents. Such suffixes as –ory, -berry, and –mony may also reflect differences in pronunciation between the two forms of English.
From phonological standpoint, one should differentiate between American English and British English, putting an emphasis on pitch patterns that each of the two forms of English explicitly relies on. Particularly, English language exhibits diverse falling and rising pitch patterns, which in turn indicates that the two major accents are far from being fully uniform. According to many linguistic researches, British speakers tend to stick to much steeper rise and fall pitch patterns. In addition, it is interesting to mention that “for most of vowels, British speakers give lower pitch than American counterparts” (Yan & Vaseghi, 2002, p. 414). One has to take into account that there is a high propensity among British speakers to utilize a falling tone in order to give utterance to their new argument. For American speakers, it is common to give preference to a rising tone that may be mistakenly perceived as a question by British speakers. Overall, intonation should predominantly be interpreted as the music of a language. It is owing to intonation that the language as a whole may greatly influence a listener’s perception. Undoubtedly, the two major English accents incorporate essential intonation differences. Since intonation top pitch is higher in British English, the experts in phonetics and phonology adequately qualify this accent as more euphonic-sounding. Sure enough, conceptual analysis of intonation cannot be underestimated from the perspective of possibly giving way to new ideas on the role that the language may play within the society (Cruttenden, 1997).
In sum, one can conclude that American English and British English have drastically diverged over the centuries, which alludes to that it is absurd to assume that the two directly parallel each other. Yes, there is a multitude of distinct characteristics between the major accents in terms of grammar, spelling, and pronunciation. The reluctance to recognize these differences can contribute to baffling somewhat native speakers. The present piece of research shows that differences in US and UK pronunciation are deeply rooted in historical development of the two nations. Supposedly, the two major accents of English can be juxtaposed as a result of being resembled. Nonetheless, the public cannot abstain from expanding the insight on the details of pronunciation differences.
- Cruttenden, C. (1997). Intonation (2nd ed.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Rogerson-Revell, P. (2011). English Phonology and Pronunciation Teaching. London: Continuum.
- Yan, Q., & Vaseghi, S. (2002). A Comparative Analysis of UK and US English Accents in Recognition and Synthesis. In: Proceedings of the 2002 International Conference on Acoustic, Speech, and Signal Processing (ICASSP-2002), Florida, 1 (13-17), pp. 413-416.