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PhDr. Radoslav Pavlk, PhD.

Comenius University, Bratislava, Slovakia

Pronunciation differences between British and American English


BrE and AmE are two different (but related) varieties of English.
Q: Can you think of any other varieties of English?
Both BrE and AmE have many different dialects/accents, but this discussion focuses on standard
pronunciation (the speech of educated speakers).
BrE Received Pronunciation RP (BBC, Oxford + Cambridge dictionaries, etc.)
AmE General American GA, Network English, Midwest accent (CNN, NPR, Webster dictionaries)
Q: Do you know any pronunciation differences between BrE and AmE?
Exercise 1. Listen to these five different speakers. Are they British or American?
Speaker 1: President Obama has announced that 34 thousand troops will be withdrawn from Afghanistan
by the end of next summer.
Speaker 2: Last month President Obama asked for 80 million dollars ...
Speaker 3: Experts are warning that new types of bacteria are becoming a problem in hospitals.
Speaker 4. Russian scientists say theyve revived a plant that was preserved in the frozen ground of
Siberia for more than 30 thousand years.
Speaker 5: A train driver who drank a bottle of whiskey while on duty has been jailed for 135 days.

PhDr. Radoslav Pavlk, PhD.

Comenius University, Bratislava, Slovakia

The differences between BrE and AmE will be described in terms of 4 main categories: vowels,
consonants, stress, and non-systematic pronunciation differences.

VOWELS
Q: What are vowels?
Q: What is the difference between monophthongs and diphthongs (pure vowels and gliding vowels)?
Give examples of monophthongs and diphthongs.
BrE vowel system
/ / sit
/i / meet
/ / look
/u / food
/ / dog
/ / door
/ / cut
/ / father, last
/ / about, tender
/ / turn
/e/ bed
/ / axe

/e / late
/a / my
/ / boy
/ / no
/a / how
/ / near
/e / pair
/ / sure

AmE vowel system


/ / sit
/i / meet
/ / look
/u / food
/ / dog
/ / door
/ / cut
/ / father, cop
/ / about
/ / tender
/ / turn
/e/ bed
/ / axe, last

/e / late
/a / my
/ / boy
/o / no
/a / how
/ r/ near
/er/ pair
/ r/ sure

PhDr. Radoslav Pavlk, PhD.

Comenius University, Bratislava, Slovakia

In BrE, vowels such as / /, /e/, / /, / / or / / are pure monophthongs they do not change in quality.
In AmE, these vowels tend to be diphthongized they slightly change their quality and some of them
are lengthened (/ / and / /).
BrE
front

AmE

central

back

close
close-mid
open-mid
open

Exercise 2. Listen to the vowels / /, /e/, / /, / / and / / pronounced first in BrE, then in AmE.
(a) / / if

(b) / / foot

(c) /e/ debt

(d) / / add

(e) / / off

Exercise 3. Each of the following words is pronounced twice. Indicate BrE and AmE pronunciation.
cost
1.
BrE

2.
AmE

damage
1.

2.

is
1.

shook
2.

1.

less
2.

1.

2.

PhDr. Radoslav Pavlk, PhD.

Comenius University, Bratislava, Slovakia

BrE / / = AmE / / in words like cop, rock, not, etc. (/ / in AmE is not diphthongized).
BrE / / = AmE / / when followed by /f, s, , , / (remember that / / in AmE is diphthongized).
Examples: soft, boss, cloth, song, dog, etc. Some AmE speakers use / / in this context.
BrE / / = AmE / / in the words want, what, was, etc.
Exercise 4. Fill in the correct vowel symbol and pronounce these words in BrE and AmE.
(a) often
(b) lock
(c) wrong
(d) from
(e) atomic
(f) moth
(g) body
(h) cross

BrE
/ f( )n/
/l k/
/r /
/fr m/
/ t m k/
/m /
/b d /
/kr s/

AmE
/ f( )n/
/l k/
/r /
/fr m/
/ t m k/
/m /
/b d /
/kr s/

(i) bomb
(j) coffee
(k) common
(l) cough
(m) hotdog
(n) want
(o) hockey
(p) loss

BrE
/b m/
/k f /
/ k m n/
/k f/
/ h td /
/w nt/
/h k /
/l s/

AmE
/b m/
/k f /
/ k m n/
/k f/
/ h td /
/w nt/
/h k /
/l s/

BrE / / = AmE / / when followed by /n, s, f, v, , / (/ / in AmE is diphthongized).


Examples: dance, grass, half, bath, rather, etc.
BrE / / = AmE / / when followed by r in the spelling and in some other words.
Examples: car, harm, calm, palm, grandpa, etc.

PhDr. Radoslav Pavlk, PhD.

Comenius University, Bratislava, Slovakia

Exercise 5. Fill in the correct symbol and pronounce these words in BrE and AmE.
BrE
/ r f/

AmE
/ r f/

(a) graph
(b) gaga
/
/
/
/
(c) target
/t
t/
/t
t/
(d) cant
/k nt/
/k nt/
(e) grandma / r (n)m / / r (n)m /
(f) staff
/st f/
/st f/
(g) argue
/
ju /
/
ju /
(h) apart
/ p t/
/ p t/

BrE
AmE
(i) laugh
/l f/
/l f/
(j) spa
/sp /
/sp /
(k) answer
/ ns /
/ ns /
(l) bar
/b /
/b /
(m) last
/l st/
/l st/
(n) parking
/ p k / / p k /
(o) glass
/ l s/
/ l s/
(p) blah-blah / bl bl / / bl bl /

Exercise 6. Which words do the following transcriptions represent in BrE and AmE?
(a) /
(b) /k
(c) /m
(d) /h
(e) /
(f) / p

k/
p/
k/
t/
d/
s bl/

British English
_______________
_______________
_______________
_______________
_______________
_______________

American English
_______________
_______________
_______________
_______________
_______________
_______________

PhDr. Radoslav Pavlk, PhD.

Comenius University, Bratislava, Slovakia

BrE / / = AmE / / when there is no r letter in the spelling: above, sofa, testament, omit, etc.
BrE / / = AmE / / when the letter r is in the spelling, e.g. teacher, honour, permit, etc.
BrE / / = AmE / / in words like burn, return, urgent, etc.
BrE / / = AmE / / in words like up, blood, front, etc.
BrE / / = AmE / / in words like worry, hurry, curry, etc.
For example BrE / w r / = AmE / w r /, BrE / h r / = AmE / h r /, etc.
Exercise 7. Fill in the correct vowel symbol and pronounce these words in BrE and AmE.
(a) Richard
(b) dirt
(c) hurricane
(d) doctor
(e) current
(f) urban
(g) dollar
(h) oven

BrE
/ r t d/
/d t/
/ h r kn/
/ d kt /
/ k r nt/
/ b n/
/d l /
/ v n/

AmE
/ r t d/
/d t/
/ h r ke n/
/ d kt /
/ k r nt/
/ b n/
/d l /
/ v n/

(i) ever
(j) serve
(k) bucket
(l) forget
(m) scurry
(n) earth
(o) danger
(p) stomach

BrE
AmE
/ ev /
/ ev /
/s v/
/s v/
/ b k t/
/ b k t/
/f et/
/f et/
/ sk r /
/ sk r /
/
/
/
/
/ de nd / / de nd /
/ st m k/ / st m k/

BrE / / = AmE /o / in words like go, close, no, etc.


BrE / /, /e /, / / = AmE / r/, /er/, / r/ in words like fear, bear, tour, etc.
BrE /a / = AmE / / in words like civilization, organization, etc. (-ization)
BrE word-final /a l/ = AmE /( )l/ in some 2-syllable words ending in -ile: fragile, missile, mobile, etc.

PhDr. Radoslav Pavlk, PhD.

Comenius University, Bratislava, Slovakia

Exercise 8. Listen to the following words. Are they pronounced in BrE or AmE? Circle the correct
answer.

(a) slow

BrE

AmE

(e) fragile

BrE

AmE

(b) year

BrE

AmE

(f) airline

BrE

AmE

(c) civilization

BrE

AmE

(g) share

BrE

AmE

(d) hostile

BrE

AmE

(h) coast

BrE

AmE

PhDr. Radoslav Pavlk, PhD.

Comenius University, Bratislava, Slovakia

CONSONANTS
Q: What is a consonant? Give some examples.
In BrE (RP), the letter r is pronounced only when followed by a vowel (in pronunciation), e.g. rat,
far away, unreasonable, etc.
In AmE (GA), the letter r is always pronounced, and it can function either as a vowel or a consonant,
e.g. teacher, forget, hear, ride, etc.
The consonant /r/ has a different quality in BrE and AmE.
BrE postalveolar

AmE retroflex

AmE bunched

BrE unstressed intervocalic /t/ = AmE / t / (flapped /t/ a voiced sound between /d/ and / /) in words
like eighty, later, get out, etc.
BrE unstressed /nt / or /nt / = AmE /n(t) / or /n(t) / in words like plenty, winter, etc.
BrE sequences /tju /, /dju /, /nju /, etc. = AmE /t(j)u /, /d(j)u /, /n(j)u /, in words like tune, duty, new, etc.

PhDr. Radoslav Pavlk, PhD.

Comenius University, Bratislava, Slovakia

Exercise 9. Fill in the correct consonant symbol and pronounce these words in BrE and AmE.
(a) atom
(b) twenty
(c) due
(d) article
(e) international
(f) residue
(g) computer
(h) enter

BrE
/
m/
/ twen /
/d u /
/
kl/
/ n n nl/
/ rez d u /
/k m pju /
/ en /

AmE
/
m/
/ twen /
/d u /
/
kl/
/ n n nl/
/ rez d u /
/k m pju /
/ en /

(i) ability
(j) dentist
(k) Tuesday
(l) matter
(m) centre
(n) metal
(o) neutral
(p) party

BrE
/ bl /
/ den st/
/ t u zd(e) /
/m
/
/ sen /
/ me l/
/ n u tr l/
/p
/

AmE
/ bl /
/ den st/
/ t u zd(e) /
/m
/
/ sen /
/ me l/
/ n u tr l/
/p
/

STRESS
In BrE, the word-final sequences -ary, -berry, -ory, and -mony are unstressed, in AmE they have
secondary stress:
military:
blackberry:
lavatory:
testimony:

BrE / m l tr / AmE / m l ter /


BrE / bl kb( )r / AmE / bl k ber /
BrE / l v tr / AmE / l v t r /
BrE / test m n / AmE / test mo n /

PhDr. Radoslav Pavlk, PhD.

10

Comenius University, Bratislava, Slovakia

2-syllable verbs ending in -ate have stress on the first syllable in AmE, but on the second in BrE.
dictate: BrE /d k te t/ AmE / d kte t/
donate: BrE /d ne t/ AmE / do ne t/
Some words (simple or compound) have a different stress pattern in BrE and AmE:
caf:
BrE / k fe / AmE /k fe /, /k fe /
weekend: BrE / wi k end/ AmE / wi kend/
ice-cream: BrE / a s kri m/ AmE / a skri m /
Exercise 10. Fill in the missing symbols and place stress (primary or secondary) correctly on these words.
(a) ceremony
(b) ballet
(c) dictionary
(d) locate
(e) magazine
(f) category
(g) peanut butter
(h) migrate
(i) strawberry

BrE
AmE
/ ser m n / / ser m n /
/ b le /
/ b le /
/dk
r /
/dk
r /
/ l ke t /
/ lo ke t /
/m
zi n / / m
zi n /
/k t r / /k t
r /
/ pi n t b t / / pi n t b t /
/ ma re t /
/ ma re t /
/ str b( )r / / str ber /

11

PhDr. Radoslav Pavlk, PhD.

Comenius University, Bratislava, Slovakia

NON-SYSTEMATIC PRONUNCIATION DIFFERENCES


There is a number of words which cannot be transformed from BrE to AmE by means of simple
systematic rules. Here are some examples.
advertisement: BrE / d v t sm nt/ AmE / dv ta zm nt/
depot:
BrE / dep / AmE / di po /
vase:
BrE /v z/ AmE /ve s/
Q: How many differences can you identify in the BrE and AmE pronunciation of the word advertisement?

Exercise 11. Pronounce these words. Determine which pronunciation is British and which is American.
(a)
(b)
(c)
(d)
(e)
(f)
(g)
(h)
(i)
(j)
(k)
(l)

leisure
either
glacier
laboratory
moustache
schedule
tomato
figure
record (n.)
zebra
progress
Moscow

/ le /
/ i /
/ l s /
/ l br t r /
/ m st /
/ edju l/
/t me to /
/f /
/ rek d/
/ zebr /
/ pr res/
/ m ska /

/ li /
/a /
/ le /
/l b r tr /
/m st /
/ sked u l/
/t m t /
/ f j /
/ rek d/
/ zi br /
/ pr res/
/ m sk /

12

PhDr. Radoslav Pavlk, PhD.

Comenius University, Bratislava, Slovakia

Key to Exercise 1.
Speaker 1: British
President Obama has announced that 34 thousand troops will be withdrawn from Afghanistan by the end of next summer.
BrE
AmE

/
/

t/
t /

/f / /f /
/f r/ /f /

/fr m/ /fr m/ / f
/fr m/ /fr m/ / f

n st n/
/ v/ / v/
n st n/ / v/ / v/

/s m /
/ s m /

Speaker 2: American
Last month President Obama asked for 80 million dollars ...
BrE
AmE

/l st/
/l st/

/ skt/
/ skt/

/f / /f /
/f r/ /f /

/et /
/et /

/ d l z/
/ d l z/

Speaker 3: British
Experts are warning that new types of bacteria are becoming a problem in hospitals.
BrE
AmE

/ eksp ts/
/ eksp ts/

/ w n /
/ w rn /

/nju /
/nu /

/ v/ / v/
/ v/ / v/

/b k t r /
/b k t r /

/ // /
/ r/ / /

/ pr bl m/ / h sp tlz/
/ pr bl m/ / h sp tlz/

Speaker 4: American
Russian scientists say theyve revived a plant that was preserved in the frozen ground of Siberia for more than 30
thousand years.
BrE
/pl nt/ /w z/ /w z/ /pr z vd/
/f / /f /
/m /
/ t/
/j z/
AmE /pl nt/ /w z/ /w z/ /pr z vd/ /f r/ /f / /m r/ / t / /j rz/
Speaker 5: British
A train driver who drank a bottle of whiskey while on duty has been jailed for 135 days.
BrE
/ dra v / / b tl/ / v/ / v/ / n/ / dju t / /h z/ /(h) z/ /bi( )n/ /f / /f /
AmE / dra v / / b tl/ / v/ / v/ / n/ / du t / /h z/ /(h) z/ /b n/
/f r/ /f /

/
/

t/
t /

PhDr. Radoslav Pavlk, PhD.

13

Comenius University, Bratislava, Slovakia

Recommended literature:
BAILEY, R.W. and GRLACH, M. (eds.) (1982). English as a World Language. Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press.
BRONSTEIN, A. J. (1960). The Pronunciation of American English. An Introduction to Phonetics. New York: Appleton-CenturyCrofts, Inc.
CALVERT, D.R. (1986). Descriptive Phonetics, 2nd edition. New York: Thieme, Inc.
GIMSON, A. C. & CRUTTENDEN, A. (1994). Gimsons Pronunciation of English (5th edn.). London: Edward Arnold.
IPA (1999). Handbook of the International Phonetic Association. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
LADEFOGED, P. & JOHNSON, K. (2011). A Course in Phonetics, 6th edition. Boston: Wadsworth.
LADEFOGED, P. & MADDIESON, I. (1996). The Sounds of the Worlds Languages. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing.
LAVER, J. (1994). Principles of Phonetics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
PAVLK, R. (2003). A Theoretical Introduction to English Phonetics and Phonology. Bratislava: Retaas.
PULLUM, G. K. & LADUSAW, W. A. (1996). Phonetic Symbol Guide, 2nd edition. Chicago London: The University of Chicago
Press.
ROACH, P. (2009). English Phonetics and Phonology, 4th edition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
STEVENS, K. N. (1998). Acoustic Phonetics. Cambridge: The MIT Press.
TIFFANY, W. R. & CARRELL, J. (1977). Phonetics. Theory and Application, 2nd edition. New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company.
TOTTIE, G. (2002). An Introduction to American English. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing.
TRUDGILL, P. & HANNAH, J. (1985). International English: A Guide to Varieties of Standard English, 2nd edition. London:
Edward Arnold.
Recommended general-purpose dictionaries:
Oxford Advanced Learners Dictionary
Cambridge Advanced Learners Dictionary
Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English
Macmillan English Dictionary for Advanced Learners
Specialized pronunciation dictionaries:
WELLS, J. (2008). Longman Pronunciation Dictionary, 3rd edition. Pearson Longman.
JONES D. (2011). English Pronouncing Dictionary, 18th edition. Edited by P. Roach, J. Setter, and J. Esling. Cambridge
University Press