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  • You may think English has 5 vowel sounds

  • a, e, i, o, u

  • But these are the letters we use to write with

  • not the actual sounds we say

  • In factthe same letter can represent different sounds

  • Listen to how I pronounce the letter “a” in this sentence:  

  • In my accent - Standard Southern British English

  • this letter representsdifferent vowel sound in each word

  • So I'd like you to forget about letters, and focus on the sounds

  • To make it easier to compare vowels across accents

  • we're going to use lexical sets

  • A lexical set is a group of words in whichparticular vowel

  • is pronounced in the same way

  • For example, in my accent the words

  • "face", "say", "wait" and "eight" have the same /eɪ/ vowel sound

  • and the words "goat", "snow", "hope" and "though" have the same /əʊ/ vowel sound

  • Linguists group these words accordingly and give them names:

  • the FACE lexical set

  • and the GOAT lexical set

  • Whereas I pronounce all the words in the FACE lexical set with an /eɪ/ vowel sound

  • other people in the UK will use different sounds

  • If you're aware of this vowel sound variation

  • you'll find it easier to understand a wider range of native English speakers

  • In this video, I'll explain 5 vowel differences between UK accents

  • with the help of the following lexical sets

  • Words like "last", "chance", "ask" and "laughbelong to the BATH lexical set

  • These words are pronounced with a short /a/ vowel sound in most of the UK

  • But in the south of England,

  • many people pronounce these words with a longer vowel sound

  • that's made further back in the mouth: /ɑː/

  • This longer vowel sound developed in the south of England in the 17th century

  • whereas elsewhere the short /a/ remained

  • Here are some more examples of this longer /ɑː/ vowel in the south

  • This is a map produced by the University of Cambridge in 2016

  • Yellow marks areas where speakers are more likely to useshorter /a/ vowel in the BATH lexical set  

  • Green marks areas where speakers are more likely to use a longer /ɑː/ vowel

  • The shades of colour between green and yellow

  • indicate that not everyone in the south will have this longer vowel

  • Geography is not the only factor that influences how people sound

  • Accents also vary according to

  • socioeconomic background, age and ethnicity among others

  • In my accent, the words "look", "stood", and "put" belong to the FOOT lexical set

  • and the words "luck", "stud", and "putt" belong to the STRUT lexical set

  • In southern England, WalesScotland and Northern Ireland

  • most speakers will have these two separate lexical sets

  • with two different vowel sounds

  • But speakers in the midlands and north of England

  • may pronounce the words in the FOOT and STRUT lexical sets

  • in the same way or very similarly

  • The exact pronunciation varies from place to place

  • Here are some clips of speakers from the midlands and north of England

  • saying words that belong to the STRUT lexical set

  • Listen to how the vowel sound is different to my southern /ʌ/ vowel

  • Here's another map from the University of Cambridge in 2016

  • Blue marks areas where speakers pronounce the words

  • put and putt with a different vowel sound

  • like in my accent from the south of England

  • Orange marks areas where speakers pronounce them with the same vowel sound

  • When a survey was conducted in the 1950s  

  • the number of people who rhymed put and putt in England was much greater

  • compared to 2016

  • We can divide vowel sounds into two groups:

  • monophthongs and diphthongs

  • A monophthong is one vowel sound

  • like the /ɔː/ vowel in my pronunciation of the word "jaw"

  • /ɔː/

  • A diphthong describes a movement from one vowel quality towards another

  • like the /ɔɪ/ sound in my pronunciation of the word "joy"

  • /ɔɪ/

  • Here you can feel the movement of the diphthong

  • the tongue starts back in the mouth and moves forwards: /ɔɪ/

  • Words like "go", "no" and "so" belong to the GOAT lexical set

  • You're more likely to hear these words being pronounced with  a diphthong

  • in the south of the UK

  • The further north you go,  

  • the more likely it is you'll hear a monophthong,

  • or a diphthong with very little movement

  • Here are some clips of speakers saying words from the GOAT lexical set

  • moving from south to north

  • Notice the change in the vowel sound

  • This pattern of diphthongs in the south and monophthongs in the north  

  • is a generalisation

  • and of course there are exceptions

  • For example, you may hear monophthongsor  diphthongs with little movementin South Wales.

  • Words like "say", "day" and "may" belong to the FACE lexical set.

  • Similar to GOAT, the further south you are in the UK

  • the more likely it is you will hear a diphthong

  • Whereas the further north you go, the more likely you will hear a monophthong  

  • or a diphthong with little movement

  • Here are some clips of speakers saying words from the FACE lexical set

  • moving from south to north

  • Notice the change in the vowel sound

  • Again, this pattern of diphthongs in the south or monophthongs in the north

  • is a generalisation

  • In South Wales you may hear monophthongsor diphthongs with little movement

  • The word "okay" has GOAT in the 1st syllable and FACE in the 2nd

  • "okay"

  • In the south both vowels are more likely to be diphthongs

  • And in the north both vowels are more likely to be monophthongs

  • Words like "funny", "cookie" and "taxi" belong to the happY lexical set

  • The final vowel of these words is pronounced differently around the country

  • In Wales and southern England, you'll hear the vowel sound in FLEECE

  • In northern England, Northern Ireland and Scotland,  

  • you are likely to hear the vowel sound in KIT, FACE or DRESS

  • Two exceptions in northern England are Merseyside and the area around Newcastle

  • where you'll hear the vowel sound in FLEECE

  • The English language has evolved differently in different parts of the country

  • For this reason, we have variation in vowel sounds

  • There is nothing incorrect about saying "face" (diphthong) or "face" (monophthong)

  • They just belong to different varieties of English

  • If you're aware of this phonetic diversity,

  • you'll find it easier to understand native speakers

  • Expect to hear:

  • The next time you listen to a native speaker from the UK,  

  • see if you can identify some of the features listed in this video

  • If you're a non-native English speaker

  • and you want to improve your English pronunciation skills,

  • then sign up for my online course

  • It's tailored to your native language

  • prioritises sounds that improve your clarity

  • and uses SSBE as its model

  • Click the link to find out more

  • Make sure you subscribe and click the notification bell

  • so you know when I release my next video

You may think English has 5 vowel sounds

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B1 vowel lexical vowel sound sound south england

How to Understand UK Accents (Part 2)

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    Summer posted on 2021/06/04
Video vocabulary