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English pronunciation in the USA

The English language is native on at least 4 continents of the world. Out of its 300 million speaking population 190 million live in the United States of America.

The English language was brought to America in the 17th century by the first emigrants from Great Britain. In 1620 they settled on the Atlantic coast which was lately called New England. These emigrants brought with them 17th century educated English.

This type of English developed in the new world under different conditions. Thus, gradually, three main varieties of American English came to be recognized:

1) Eastern American English;

2) Southern American English;

3) General American English (or Midwestern).

They command approximately 30, 40 and 120 million speakers, respectively.

However, more careful investigation reveals the presence of at least 24 well defined regional dialects, most of which are located of the Mississippi.

In addition to regional dialects, the speech of the US is characterized by special localism typical of a single city or even borough, and by immigrant dialects.

Though English in the USA is not homogeneous the regional speech differences offer no great barrier to the free exchange of opinions and ideas. Besides the mobility of modern life and communication devices such as radio and television are affecting regional dialects, and they seem on the way of merging with each other.

Geographically the Eastern American English type includes New York City and its environs, the New England east of the Connecticut River.

The pronunciation of Eastern American is closer to British RP because of constant intercourse between Great Britain and America. Eastern American English developed under the strong influence of educated British English, as many rich families sent their sons to their mother country to be educated there. This helped to preserve the British standards of pronunciation in New England.

There are, however, some slight differences between RP and Eastern American English. They are as follows:

Vowels are often nasalized in Eastern American English.

Geographically Southern American English is spoken in the south and south east of the USA. Cultured Southern American pronunciation has a number of peculiarities in the pronunciation of vowels. The most striking of them is the so-called Southern drawl which consists in diphthongization and triphthongization of some monophthongs. On the contrary, some diphthongs are replaced by lengthened monophthongs. The chief characteristics are the following:

1) The vowels /i, e, æ, o/ are broken into diphthongs when stressed:

    RP SA
  bid /b׀d/ /biәd/
  bed /bed/ /beәd/
  bad bæd baәd

2) The front vowel /i/ is usually lowered and diphthongized to /ei/ before /ŋ/:

thing /θiŋ/ /θeiŋ/
ink /iŋk/ /eiŋk/
think /θiŋk/ /θeiŋk/

3)The vowels of “dish”, “fish” and the final vowel of ‘city’, ‘charity’, etc. occurs as /i:/ in many parts of the aria:

city s׀t׀ s׀ti:

4) The diphthongs /ai/ and /au/ are adapted to consonants: they are open and tense before voiced consonants and are obscured (слабый, редуцированный) before voiceless consonants:

  ride raid /raid/
  time taim / taim/
but: night nait nәit
  life laif lәif
  laud /laud/ /laud/
but: house /haus/ /hәus/


Geographically General American is the least regional. Actually it is being spoken in all parts of the country, from Ohio through the Middle West and to the Pacific Coast.

General American English constitutes the literary language of the USA. Consequently, GA pronunciation makes its pronunciation standard. This type is used by radio and television announcers and broadcasters. It is also accepted in motion pictures and in theatre, it is used in scientific and business intercourse.

As GA presents the standard pronunciation of the USA it will be viewed in detail from different points:

a) the system of vowel phonemes;

b) the system of consonant phonemes;

c) accentual structure of words;

d) reading rules system;

e) intonational structure of sentences.

We will consider the most marked differences between RP and GA pronunciation.

The following details in the system of vowel phonemes in GA are significant:

1) The vowel phonemes are not differentiated by their length. According to D. Jones, all American vowels are ling.

2) The distinction between monophthongs and diphthongs is not very consistent. Some diphthongs have monophthongs as their variants, and vice versa.

3) /e/ of RP corresponds to GA /ε/ which is a lower front vowel almost coinciding with /æ/:

red red rεd

4) RP /o/ corresponds to an unrounded short variety of it in GA:

Exceptions: long, log, strong.

5) In GA vowels are generally nasalized when preceded or followed by a nasal consonant:

small smo:l smõl
stand stænd st˜ænd

6) The vowels in classes of words represented by ‘Mary, ‘mary’ and ‘merry’ have generally the same sound usually /e/.

According to C.H. Prator there 25 consonant phonemes in GA: 24 of RP consonants plus /hw/. The peculiar features in pronunciation of consonants are the following:

1) The RP cacuminal /r/ is replaced in GA by a retroflex rounded sonorant /r/ (but not after /t, d, θ/. It occurs in any position:

red red rεd
bird bә:d rd
sister ΄sistә sistәr


2) Only the dark variant of /l/ is used GA:

let let łεt
look luk łuk


3) There is a short voiced /t/ allophone of the /t/ phoneme in GA which is intermediate in character between /d/ and one-tap /r/. It is used in intervocalic position (or between a vowel and a sonorant), as in:

butter B^tә B^tәr

4) In the words spelt with the initial ‘wh-‘ /hw/ is articulated. Compare the following pairs of words:

which /witc/ /hwitc/

5) In GA /j/ is omitted between a consonanr and /u:/:

tube tju:b tub


The accentual structure of words in GA differs greatly from that in RP.

Polysyllabic words ending in –ary (-ory, -ery), -ony (-oly), etc have two stresses in GA: the primary stress falls on the fourth syllable from the end and the tertiary stress falls on the penultimate:

fragmentary /΄frægmәntәri/ /΄frægmәn‚tεri/
monastery /΄monәstәri/ /΄monәs‚tεri/


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