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General American vs General British – 5 Key Differences

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It’s a choice every learner has to make at some point – which model of English pronunciation should I learn? For most, that means a choice between General American or General British, so in this month’s accent article, we look at 5 key differences between the two. The audio to accompany each point contains firstly a General American pronunciation of the words, followed by the same in General British.

1. ‘r’ – silent or pronounced?

In General American, every written ‘r’ is pronounced, whereas in General British, ‘r’ is only pronounced before a vowel sound – it is silent before consonant sounds. This is known as rhoticity – General American is ‘rhotic’ and General British is ‘non-rhotic’.

work far pour

2. ‘t’ – tap or plosive?

When ‘t’ appears before a weak vowel, in General American it can be pronounced with a voiced tap /ɾ/ – this sounds a bit like a very fast /d/, whereas in General British it will be a voiceless plosive /t/ with some aspiration.

water party ‘What are you doing?’

3. ‘got’ – rounded or un-rounded?

In General British, we round the lips with the back open vowel in ‘got’ ‘what’ ‘shop’, whereas in General American this is an unrounded sound /ɑ/.

stop watch lot

4. Upspeak – statement or question?

In General British, speakers tend to use a falling tone to indicate a new statement or utterance. In American, however, it is common to use a rising tone, which to British ears may sound more like a question. It is known as ‘upspeak’, which technically means a high rising tone. NOTE – this type of intonation is becoming more common in British English, although there are reports that some institutions actively discourage its use.

I’m going ˈout later. I really want a new ˈjob.

5. /j/ – included or not?

In General British, speakers would pronounce a /j/ before the vowel sound in ‘tune’ and ‘new’ – words where a /t/, /d/ or /n/ are followed by /u:/. In General American, this /j/ is dropped, a concept known as yod-dropping.

tuna news due
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By | 2017-01-23T11:20:03+00:00 August 13th, 2014|Accents, International Accents, Pronunciation, Regional Accents|1 Comment

One Comment

  1. Leviticus Bennett February 15, 2017 at 3:36 pm - Reply

    It’s fascinating how languages can evolve over so little time. My grandmother is from New Zealand where their accent is similar to the British accent in some ways. I’m used to her pronouncing things like “garage” differently. Thanks for pointing out some of the key differences here.

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