Short vowel placements in RP past and present: an acoustic and
sociolinguistic study of the TRAP/STRUT configuration
Anne H. Fabricius
SCALPS1 Research Group, Language and Culture, Roskilde University
[email protected]
Exegesis: Queen Elizabeth II’s Christmas
messages revisited
Results 1
This study addresses diachronic change in the short
vowel system of RP. While TRAP lowering and
backing in RP over the 20th century has been
reported previously (e.g. Wells 1982:291), the
identification of STRUT’s movements has proven
more difficult (see e.g. Bauer 1985). The present
discussion compares RP vowel data from a range of
published and unpublished sources and a range of
age cohorts. It goes further than previous work in
uncovering a possible interaction between the TRAP
and STRUT vowels, whose positions vis-à-vis each
other show variation across individuals and an
identifiable trend of change in their relative
alignment. The analysis identifies and names a
‘TRAP/STRUT rotation’ which seems to be the
observed ongoing result of approximately half a
century of TRAP backing and lowering, in response
to which the STRUT vowel can be seen to have
been in the process of rotating upwards into a midcentral position in the vowel space.
Methods 1
• Interview corpus data originally taped in soundtreated room, Phonetics Lab, University of
Cambridge in 1997/1998
•Digitized at 22kHz
•Analysed using Speech Analyzer, with
measurements taken of tokens of primary stressed
vowels KIT, DRESS, TRAP, STRUT, LOT, and
FOOT with stop or fricative syllable codas
•F1 and F2 read off at points indicating the vowel’s
main tendency
•Additional data in Hertz from Wells (1962), Hawkins
and Midgley (2005), and Deterding (1997) and
converted to Hertz from Bark data in Harrington et al
(2000)
Angle measurements on standardised Excel vowel plots:
Queen Elizabeth's short vowels; based on Harrington et al (2000)
F2 in S
Hawkins & Midgley data: Speaker number: Independent comparisons Source:
Birth year:
1 2 3 4 5
pre 1928
-28
Deterding 1997 male h
born 1928-36 (group 1) -13 10 8 6 5
5
Deterding 1997 male c
-12
Queen recorded 1950s
0
Queen recorded 1960s
-6
Queen recorded 1980s
6
Wells 1962
born 1946-51 (group 2)
“Break group”
7 30 -12 -15 51
born 1961-66 (group 3)
“Break group”
45 -15 -2 24 15
34
Cambridge male b. 1966
137
Cambridge male b. 1973
born 1976-81 (group 4)
44 80 37 70 41
56
Cambridge male b.1980
2
1,8
1,6
1,4
1,2
1
0,8
0,6
0,4
0,5
0,75
KIT
FOOT
1
DRESS
1,25
F1 in S
Introduction
LOT
1,5
TRAP
1950's QEII
1960's QEII
1980's QEII
STRUT
1,75
2
2,25
Table 1: The angle measurements grouped by age cohort
The figure above shows a plot in S of the three sets of data from the
Queen’s Christmas messages, based on Harrington et al. (2000:71)
The chart above shows the data arranged into
age cohorts based on Hawkins and Midgley’s
(2005) four birth-year based divisions. The oldest
and youngest age cohorts have majority patterns
which are very different from each other, whereas
the two middle groups exhibit a variational range
(reminiscent of Hawkins and Midgley’s break
groups).Independent support for the systematicity
of the patterns shown by Hawkins and Midgley’s
age cohorts can be seen in the patterns displayed
by the data from Deterding’s (1997) two male
speakers, the Queen’s Christmas message data
(Harrington et al 2000), Wells’ (1962) data from
speakers born in 1944 or before, and data from
my own Cambridge interviews. It is significant that
similar configurations can be traced across the
quite different speech events in these data sets.
Harrington, Palethorpe and Watson’s (2000) comparison of
the Queen’s vowel formant values across real time
concludes that significant changes in formant values on the
F2 or F1 axis can be identified, suggesting that the Queen’s
speech has gradually moved closer in phonetic terms
towards a more mainstream and less upper-class RP
through an opening of the vowel space. The figure above is a
combined chart based on the figures given in Harrington et
al. (2000:71). From a sociolinguistic perspective, however,
the TRAP/ STRUT configuration does not show a radical
‘movement’ in the vowels’ positions, if we understand relative
position as being within the individual’s short vowel system at
any one point in time. The lines plotted on the graph take the
example of the relative positions of TRAP and STRUT over
the three decades in question. The angle of the line in each
decade is similar to the minority pattern observed for the
contemporary age group (Hawkins and Midgley’s group 1)
described earlier in this paper. While the later TRAP and
STRUT vowels are indeed lower and more back relative to
the earlier ones, the juxtaposition of the two vowels at each
period of time (whether it be the 1950s, 1960s or 1980s)
remains similar. That is, in this respect, the Queen’s data fits
with her age cohort in Hawkins and Midgley’s (2005) data,
(and with a minority of speakers from subsequent
generations) and it is not the case that there is an obvious
radical realignment of TRAP and STRUT such as we see in
some speakers in Hawkins and Midgley’s age groups born
after 1946, and especially in those born after 1976, and in my
own Cambridge data from younger speakers born after 1965.
In conclusion, in configurational and sociolinguistic terms, at
least, the Queen’s vowel data can be interpreted as stable
and generationally typical, rather than radically variable and
generationally untypical.
Results 2
The configurational patterns seen diachronically
Methods 2
Conclusions
• All Hertz values normalised using the S-procedure
(Watt and Fabricius 2002)
• S-procedure is vowel extrinsic and formant
intrinsic, thus fitting the “best-procedure” criteria
given in Adank et al. (2004)
• One normalised average value for each short
vowel group plotted on individual Excel charts.
• All charts scaled identically to enable
comparability
• On printouts of the charts, a line drawn from the
TRAP average to the STRUT average was
measured as an angle with reference to the
horizontal.
• Angle measurements provide the basis for
comparison of different age cohorts
• A ‘two-dimensional’ analysis reveals changing
vowel configurations better than a ‘one-dimensional’
analysis
• the TRAP/STRUT relative positions over time
make sense as a coordinated ‘rotation’ movement
1)The ‘early triangular’ pattern (sp. born 1909)
S1-3 Hawkins & Midgley 2005
F2 in S/ START
2
1,8
1,6
1,4
1,2
1
0,8
0,6
0,4
References
0,5
0,75
Adank, Patti, Roel Smits and Roeland van Hout. 2004. A comparison of vowel normalization procedures
for language variation research. Journal of the Acoustical Society of America. 116, 5: 3099-3107.
1
1,5
KIT
DRESS
TRAP
STRUT
LOT
FOOT
F1 in S/ START
1,25
Bauer, L. 1985. Tracing phonetic change in the Received Pronunciation of British English. Journal of
Phonetics. 13: 61-81.
Deterding, David. 1997. The Formants of Monophthong vowels in Standard Southern British English
Pronunciation. Journal of the International Phonetic Association. 27: 47-55.
1,75
2
Harrington, J, Sallyanne Palethorpe and Catherine I. Watson. 2000. Monophthongal vowel changes in
Received Pronunciation: an acoustic analysis of the Queen’s Christmas broadcasts. Journal of the
International Phonetic Association. 30, (1-2): 63-78.
2,25
Male b. 1980 Short vowel averages in S
2) The ‘quadrilateral’ pattern (sp. born pre WW2)
F2 in S/ TRAP
2
1,8
1,6
1,4
1,2
1
0,8
0,6
Hawkins, Sarah and Jonathan Midgley. 2005. Formant frequencies of RP monophthongs in four age
groups of speakers. Journal of the International Phonetic Association. 35,2: 183-199.
0,4
0,5
S4-4 Hawkins and Midgley 2005
F2 in S/ TRAP
0,75
2
1,8
1,6
1,4
1,2
1
0,8
0,6
0,4
Watt, Dominic and Anne Fabricius. 2002a. Evaluation of a technique for improving the mapping of
multiple speakers’ vowel spaces in the F1~F2 plane. Leeds Working Papers in Linguistics. 9: 159-173.
0,5
1
1,5
KIT
DRESS
TRAP
STRUT
LOT
FOOT
Wells, J. C. 1982. Accents of English. Volume 1: An Introduction, Volume 2: The British Isles; Volume 3:
Beyond the British Isles. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
1
1,25
1,5
1,75
F1 in S/ TRAP
Angle +56
F1 in S/ TRAP
1,25
0,75
KIT
DRESS
TRAP
STRUT
LOT
FOOT
1,75
2
2
2,25
2,25
3) The ‘late triangular pattern’ (sp. born after 1976)
Figure 1: An example of the angle measurement method used on a chart of
normalised average values for six short vowels.
1. SCALPS: Research group for Sociolinguistics, Conversation Analysis,
Language Pedagogy and Sociocultural Issues
Acknowledgements:
Thanks for assistance and suggestions to David Deterding, Peter Roach,
Simon Arnfield, Paul Kerswill, Eivind Torgersen, Dominic Watt, Paul
Foulkes.
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