Distinktion Between British and American English

Custom Student Mr. Teacher ENG 1001-04 2 October 2016

Distinktion Between British and American English


In this paper, distincion between British English and American English on the phonetic aspect will be discussed. The whole paper is going to be devided into several parts, in the first part various of English accents and the outline of the differences between these two variants of English will be introduced in biref ; In the second part, the representative of British English – Recerved pronunciation will be presented in detail on the aspect of sound system; in the thirt part, the phonetic peculiarities of American English will be discussed; in the last part, the sound system of British English and American English will be compaired in detail, thus the differences will be presented minutely.



The fanous American author and humorist Mark Twain had said that :’English and American are separate languages,..when I speak my native tongue in its utmost purity an Englishman can’t understand me at all.’ (The stolen White Elephant) It is ture, we have already heard the concept of American English and British English when we started to learn this language, although we didn’t know and cannot distinguish their differences at that time, we knew, at least, they are different. As an English majoring student, now I know they have distinctions in several aspects including vocabulary, pronunciation, spelling, intonation, etc. and it is my horner and pleasure to write on this theme: distinction between American English and British English on the phonetic aspect.

Various accents:

One thing which should be mentioned at the very begining is that, in fact,there are various accents in English, in general, linguistists devide them into two groups: American varient of English and British variant of English, which can also be subdevided as in following graphic:

Each of the above mentioned accents has their owen features thus different from each other, in this paper, not all these acctents are going to be discussed, only two representatives will be researched, they are the representative of American Enlish : General American English (GA), and the representative of British English: Received Pronunciation (RP), In general, one of the most siginificant parcularities of Brithish accent is it is cadenced, almost every sylable is pronounced clearly, long vowels and short vowels are distinguished obviously. However in American accent it is kind of ambiguous and vague, most of the long vowels are cutted short. For instance, the vowel ‘a’ in ‘class’ belongs to long vowel, British always pronounce it intactly, whereas Americans often enunciate it as a short one, it sound like ‘a’ in the word ‘bad’.

An other example can be the word ‘aunt’, almost all American pronouce it as ‘ant’ with out expception, which makes it confusing whether they are reffering to their aunt or the ant creeping in front of their house. British accent invariably enunciate voiceless consonant in unstressed sylables clearly, yet Americans pronouce voiceless consonants as voiced ones, as a result, the word ‘Battery’ was enunciated as ‘Baddery’ by Americans. In most countries the English learning materials of schools use British standard English. The English channel of China Central Telivision as well as the dialogues between the spoke men of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and foreing journalists use British English too. Among foreign meida, the accent used by BBC is considered to be acknowledged model of British English. Within Movie stars, Hugh Grant (acted the leading role in Four Wedding and a Funeral) graduated from Oxford University and speaks in standard upper class British accent..

RP: authentic British accent

In China, there are various accents in different origins, among them mandarin is the officially stipulated as standard official language, however, although there are also various accents in different origins in Britain, there is no official stipulation on which is the standard one, but in the history of the development of English language, one accent formed its importance and acknowledged to be the most stand British English, that is: Received Pronunciation, shorter form of which is RP. Retrospect its history, Received Pronunciation formed from an accent used in South Central England. That region extended toward southeast from Midlands to London, among which includes the two famous University towns Oxford and Cambridge. In the 14th century, Received Pronunciation was widely used among traders, and with the rise of Oxford and Cambridge University, this accent is also used by students of the two universities, thus, Received Pronunciation turned into the accent used by people who have received good education.

From 19th to 20th century, Received Pronunciation became the education language use in British public schools, it was also used by British Broadcasting, and as a result, it is as well named as Public School English and BBC English. The concept of Received English was previously proposed by the English linguistic Daniel S. Jones in his monograph in 1918. To sum up, Received Pronunciation has the following general features: 1. Received Pronunciation is a kind of standard neutral accent, it is deemed to have no definite regional accent character. Whereas, in the British Isles, Received Pronunciation is only used in England, in addition it does not limit area. 2. Received Pronunciation has specific social demarcation. In Britain, RP is regarded as reflection of having received good education, that is, well educated.

Hence, it is always connected with upper class of society, sometimes it is termed as Oxford English and King’s/Queen’s English. A coalmine worker frkm Welsh won’t understand and speak elegant Received Pronunciation. 3. Received Pronunciation is always closely bounded together with some particular professions. The main occupations use RP are: lawyers, politicians, diplomats, bond traders, teachers of universities or public schools, as well as announcers of national Broadcasting and Television studios. Evidently, those professions at the same time reflect ‘elegant’ and ‘distinguished’ social positions. What is worth mentioning is that as Received Pronunciation is standard orthodox British English, it is widely used in foreign language education.

Therefore, the English learned by non-English first language countries is Received Pronunciation, the English pronounced by some of the excellent learners among them is even more normative than local British people. The principle character of RP is to protrude the sound ‘r’. When two words are connected together, if the previous one ends with a non-high vowel while the second one starts with a vowel, the RP enunciation will add a non-existing ‘r’. By comparing the following two phrases we can see the peculiarities of RP: Regular enuciating situation (ending with a non-high vowel + starting with a consonant): The idea for it saw him in the room.

Adding the non-existing ‘r'(ending with a high vowel + starting with a vowel): The idea(r) of it, saw(r) it in the room.

Peculiarities of American accent:

1. Abdominal pronunciation:

When we listen to American people speak, it is noticeable that their timber is very abundant, the time of resonation sounds very long, even with strong nasal. In fact this is the first peculiarity of American accent — abdominal pronunciation. The so called abdominal pronunciation refers to the habit of producing sound from the abdomen in American accent, which is very different in Chinese where the process of sound production is in the chest. More specifically, when we produce vowels, we need to draw in our bellies, then enunciate with vocal cord vibration, only in this way the produced vowels can sound resonant and full. If you want to practice most standard and pure American accent, you must form the habit of producing voice from the abdomen, pronounce with the back of vocal organs, this is the first thing we need to do.

2. Literally pronunciation:

The second peculiarities of American accent is — literally pronunciation, in general, they are pronounced just as they are spelled., enunciation is more regulated, which exactly match the peculiarity of English language as a kind of phonogram. For instance, the most significant distinction between American accent and British accent is the disposing of the retroflex consonant r. someone always finds it difficult to decide when should he/she roll his/her tongue and when not. It seems very complicated, in fact it is easy when you get it: in American accent, as long as there is letter r in the spelling, you should retroflex when you enunciate the word, on the contrary, if there is no letter r in the word, avoid rolling your tongue by all means. Therefore, we need to retroflex in words like letter, butter, whereas in words like idea, China we mustn’t roll our tongue.

Moreover, American English sounds different from British English mainly because in AE pronunciation tends to agree with spelling. For example, the word vase, according to the rule of ‘if there is a non-pronunced e at the end of the word, then the vowel of that word pronounce its letter sound’, British people pronounce it as [va:z], however, it is enunciated as [veiz] in American English. 3. The third peculiarity of American English is there is clear distinction between stressed and unstressed syllables. When we speak Kazakh and Chinese, every word can be stressed, so our tone sound constant and forceful, but when we speak AE, we have to get rid of this habit.

The rhythm of AE comes from alternation of stressed and unstressed syllables, so if we want to make what we say rhythmist, we have to abbey the role of differentiating between stressed and unstressed syllables, also, we should pay attention to stressed syllables of words, firstly, we cannot shift stresses, then we should weaken the syllables without stresses, hence the word industry, the stress falls on the first syllable, but some people may have the habit of putting stress on the second syllable, this is a wrong habit, we must get rid of it. In order to make clear distinction between stressed and unstressed words or syllables, the most important thing to do is to weaken the unstressed syllables, once we can pronounce the unstressed syllables and words correctly, the stressed can be reflected out.

Some general differences between American English and British English: 1. The resonance focus of American accent, i.e. where muscle moves most frequently, is on the back of mouth cavity between tongue and palate. That is the so called ‘pronounce rearwardly ’; in British accent the resonance focus is in front of teeth and between the lips, lips and facial muscles moves more frequently, which is so called ‘pronounced forwardly’. 2. In American accent the pitch changes between the syllables rather than within the syllables. There is no pitch glide within the syllables; however, in British accent, they try to emphasize the logically important words by gliding the pitch (The so called pitch glide is to lengthen the syllable and raise the pitch.). 3. There are 3 main vowels pronounce differently in British accent. /o/ in AE is two-stage-enunciation, while in BE a sound / ʌ / is added before /əʊ/ which makes it a three-stage-enunciation.

British /ɒ/ sound brief and powerful, lips glide fleetly, the degree of lip-rounding become smaller. Whereas when pronounce /ɔ:/ in BE, lips protract forward far away and bend into a round shape, leaving only a small opening. 4. Some sound in British English is different at times. When the sound /i:/ is at the end of a word (especially when spelled as y or ly ), it is weekend to /i/, for instance, in words like pretty, mostly. In American English, the syllables in the end with sound /sri/, /ori/ are always stressed, however, in British English those sounds are weekend to /əri/, and stresses are moved forward. For example in words like necessary, ordinary, category, the sound /æ/ in British English may change to /ɑ:/ when it is in American English, In general, it would change under the following circumstances: * Before /f/, such as after, laugh, half, calf;

* Before /s/, such as fast, last, rascal, repast, pass, glass (except for passenger, passage); * Before /th/, such as bath, path, rath, rather, lather (except for gather) * Before /nc/, /nk/ , such as dance, chancellor, lance, france; * Before /nt/, such as advantage, plant, chant, can’t;

* Before /nd/ such as commander, demand, slander (except for and, hand, grand, stand) Irregular situations: the sound a does not change in bat, cat, can, changes in banana, example, sample, ranch, branch. Although the sound /u/ in American English might as well not change, but it is common to change to /ju/, for instance, duke, dual, due, neutral, nuclear, news, Tuesday, tune, tunic, lubricate, ludicrous, lunatic. 4. The letter r will drop when it is after a vowel, only when they are followed by another vowel. 6.In American English sound t at the end of a word is incomplete plosive, while in British English it is complete plosive. 7. There are also a lot of irregular sound changes, for example: (American English→British English)


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  • University/College: University of Chicago

  • Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter

  • Date: 2 October 2016

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