10 Pronunciation Differences between British English
and American English
One of the main difficulties a foreigner student may face when learning English pronunciation is the remarkable variety of accents. Like many other languages spoken in such a vast territory and by so many people, spoken English presents wide variation in pronunciation. In spite of that wide variation, three standard pronunciations are distinguished: (1) The Received Pronunciation, also called Oxford English or BBC English, is the standard pronunciation of British English; (2) The General American is the accent considered as standard in North America, and as such it is the pronunciation heard in most of American films, TV series, and national news; (3) The General Australian is the English spoken in Australia. However, this three main accents should be interpreted as broad categories, for the English language has a great and rich diversity of varieties (see [Wak08]).
Many students are confused as to appreciate the difference between accents, and they often speak with a mixed of accents perplexing somewhat a native speaker. The purpose of this article is to study the main differences between British English, as represented by Received Pronunciation (RP), and American English, as represented by General American (GA). This study should help students to correct their pronunciation, be consistent with their accent, and acquire a new pronunciation with fewer traces of their native language. Although our standpoint here is primarily phonetic, British and American English have also been studied from a social and historical standpoint (see [HTW05], [WSE05], and the references therein).
In this article IPA symbols to describe sounds will be used. We chose the IPA symbols because they are a standard in sound description and ensure accuracy. If the reader is not familiar with the IPA symbols and their meaning, consult [Wik11b] or the article English Phonetics [Gom09]. Phonetic transcriptions will be enclosed in square brackets and letter names will be in Roman typeface.
Returning to the main differences between British English and American English, they can be summarized as follows.
The presence of rhotic accent.
Differences in vowel pronunciation. The most relevant ones are change of diphthong [əʊ], change of [ɒ], change of [æ], and change of [ju:].
Differences in consonant pronunciation. This mainly involves the different pronunciations of letter t.
Change of stress. This comprises the change of stress in French loanwords, and certain suffixes such as -ate and -atory.
Differences in articulation. American English has a clear tendency to pronounce unstressed syllables where British English does not show such a disposition.
2 Rhotic Accent
The presence of the rhotic accent is one of the most noticeable differences between British and American English. Except for New York City and the area of Boston, American English is rhotic. British English is largely non-rhotic, save for Scotland and Ireland. Rhotic accent refers to the manner letter r is pronounced after a vowel within a syllable [Wik11c], [Wel00], as in words such as hard, borne, or here. Sometimes, it is also called post-vocalic [r] [Wik11c], or r-coloring [AE92], a term highlighting the timbre features of the sound. In English, rhotic accent is produced as a retroflex approximant [Wel00]. The following words have rhotic accent: York, quarter, four, born, door, water, later, hers, heard, hurt, university, were, birth, thirty, ear, nearly, air, where.
Let us describe now how the rhotic accent, the retroflex approximant, is produced. First, the tongue approaches the gum and the tip is then curled back towards the roof of the mouth. This movement makes the tongue to be pulled back in the mouth. This accounts for the retroflexion part of the consonant. Furthermore, the tip of the tongue does not touch the gum at all, and thus no friction is caused. The vocal tract remains open throughout. This justifies the term approximant; in other sounds, like the stop [d], the tongue actually touches the gum. The phonetic symbol for the retroflex approximant is [ɻ]. Apart from sound [ɻ], responsible for the rhotic accent of American English, letter r can be pronounced in other two ways.
As thealveolar approximant [ɹ]. Sound [ɹ] appears at prevocalic positions in a syllable or syllable-clusters, as in red[ɹed], camera[ˈkæməɹə], train[tɹeɪn], confrontation[ˈkɑ:nfɹənˈteɪʃn], or program[ˈpɹoʊgɹæm].
As the alveolar flap [ɾ]. In American English, very often in colloquial registers,