Wednesday 30 July 2014

Standard British accent?

Speak Up is an Italian magazine written in English and aimed at EFL students. For several years now it's had its own website where videos are posted of interviews with all sorts of English native speakers. Even world-famous linguist David Crystal has more than once contributed to the magazine: listen to the free podcasts here

One of this month's clips (and articles) features comedian John Peter Sloan, whose name will probably not sound entirely new to regular readers of this blog. (See my articles here and here.) The author(s) of the post define(s) his accent as "Standard British". Of course this is absolutely not true! His speech is indeed British but not 'standard'. It could be better described as "Regional British English" or – to use Cruttenden's terminology in his new Gimson's Pronunciation of English (Routledge, 2014) – "Regional General British (RGB)" (pp. 81-82). Cruttenden defines RGB as 

"the type of speech which is basically GB except for the presence of a few regional characteristics which may well go unnoticed even by other speakers of GB".

Among these characteristics are, for

Some of John Peter Sloan's regional features in this interview include the following:

i) he pronounces have and having a beer without h

ii) he seems to say with as wɪf rather than GB wɪð or wɪθ;

iii) he says ˈlɪʔl̩ instead of GB ˈlɪtl̩ or ˈlɪtəl for little

iv) he says here iʔ is instead of GB here it is

v) the first time he pronounces the word sitting he says it with glottal stop instead of t, and then he 'corrects himself';

vi) his KIT vowel sometimes sounds as close as FLEECE, as in one of his renderings of the word English. (This is typical of some Midland accents in England. John is in fact originally from Birmingham. Listen to how he says fun, cut, nut and us by clicking the link here under "Block 1 - Pronunciation" named "13 Dita in gola; p. 25".)

(A little digression… Recently, there has been talk on the web about the use of the glottal plosive ʔ being perfectly acceptable in today's GB before syllabic l. See for example this article by Pronunciation Studio teacher Maria Kozikowska. She claims that pronunciations like ˈbɒʔl̩ and ˈlɪʔl̩ for bottle and little are "now more and more widely acceptable in an RP (= GB) accent". Again this is blatantly false. Here's what Cruttenden writes on p. 184 of his new Gimson's:

For more on the gaffes made by Pronunciation Studio, see this article by Jack Windsor Lewis, this post and comments on Kraut's English phonetic blog, and this other post on the same blog.)

One final note about the magazine Speak Up: its Language Blog is riddled with incorrect statements and howlers concerning the pronunciation of English. See, for instance, this post, where a reader asks how the two t's in department are to be pronounced; and this brief description of the characteristics of a New York accent.  


  1. For some reason, the article by 'Pronunciation Studio' linked to above has been removed.

  2. Almost a hundred years ago, Daniel Jones mentioned the use of a glottal stop before /l/ as occasionally heard amongst RP speakers. I think that you are a little restrictive in your definition of RP's use of the glottal stop. John Wells once did a blog post on the Queen's use of [?].

    Accents from the English Midlands (especially the West Midlands) are strongly stigmatised. There is none of the pride in a dialect that is common in the north or in East Anglia. I suggest that this is why this speaker is keen to be accepted as "Standard".