Thursday 7 April 2011

Some old-fashioned sounds

Last week marked 25 years since the opening of Heathrow’s Terminal 4 by Prince Charles and Princess Diana. The BBC posted a video on its website showing Prince Charles struggling to cut the tape, as on the day the new terminal building was inaugurated his arm was in a sling. The report was first broadcast on 1st April 1986 and the voice of the BBC journalist we hear in the clip is that of Christopher Wain, at that time the BBC’s Air and Transport Correspondent.

Mr Wain’s pronunciation is phonetically interesting as it includes a lot of those features typical of old-fashioned RP. Notice, for instance, the way he pronounces south in the phrase the south side of the airport. The word sounds something like sɑːθ rather than saʊθ. That is because in our correspondent’s pronunciation the first part of the diphthong appears to be extra long, with a weak glide probably involving comparatively little raising of the tongue and little lip-rounding, if at all.

Terms like passengers, handy, travellers, scanner, landing, tax (payer), which in current RP normally have æ, are pronounced with ɛə or eə, that is closer varieties of æ, which may sound diphthongal in traditional RP.

Interesting is also the pronunciation of year, more similar to jɜː than to jɪə, and the word tube, which our BBC journalist pronounces as tjuːb first and then with its coalesced form tʃuːb.

Other noticeable features include tɑ̈ːm for taɪm time; the smoothed forms of quiet kwaɪət and hour aʊə, realized as kwaət and ɑə respectively; the ɔː in saw, which sounds slightly more open than usual; and the word formality, pronounced fɔːˈmɛəlɪtɪ, as opposed to today’s fɔːˈmæləti.

Finally, it is also worthwhile noting the term walkways, which has something of a monophthongal ɛː, thus ˈwɔːkwɛːz. In the words motorway and today, though, this realization appears to be less noticeable.

More on classical RP in future posts.


  1. Does the coorespondent really say "termini" for the plural form of terminal or have I misheard it?

  2. Re Wain's pronunciation of year
    This reminds me of David Starkey and his series The Monarchy, in which he frequently pronounces year not only as [jɜː] but almost as [jœː].

    1. As the [jɜː] has fallen out of RP, it seems to have become a regionalism, being used in the far north. I don't think that I've met anyone from north of Whitby who didn't say [jɜː]. David Starkey is from the very far north of England, so it's no surprise that he says this.

  3. Re 'termini': yes, I noticed that too. That's why I went and checked it in my "Oxford Dictionary of English" (2005, 2nd edition, revised). Here's what I found:

    "terminus" noun (pl. termini or terminuses) 1) chiefly Brit. 'the end of a railway or other transport route, or a station at such a point; a terminal.'

    Thus, although the (usual) plural of 'terminal' appears to be 'terminals' and that of 'terminus' 'termini' or 'terminuses', I suppose our journalist got confused because in English 'terminal' can be a synonym for 'terminus'. That's the only explanation I can come up with at the moment.

  4. As far as the pronunciation of the word 'year' in David Starkey's speech goes, here's a link to a video clip of "The Early Kings":

    The pronunciation [jœː] that Kraut refers to above can be heard at several points in the video.