How to pronounce ‘Southwark’, ‘Borough’ & ‘London’
There is a small group of places on the South Bank of the river Thames just East of the centre that cause huge pronunciation problems. Anyone visiting the Tate Modern, Borough Market, or taking a train from London Bridge will have encountered the problem at some point.
Let’s start with the correct pronunciation of each word:
Southwark is pronounced /ˈsʌðək/ – silent ‘w’ and silent ‘r’:Borough is pronounced /ˈbʌrə/ – silent ‘gh’:London is pronounced /ˈlʌndən/:
Aside from the silent consonant sounds, what do we notice about the vowel sounds? Yes – they are identical in each word: /ʌ/ then /ə/. And here lies a key problem for a lot of students of English pronunciation. Both of these vowel sounds are neutral – the lips are relaxed, not rounded – see the vowel grid below:
There is a temptation, when an < o > appears in the spelling of a word, to pronounce a rounded vowel, but neither of these vowels is rounded.
Other words with /ʌ/ that are spelt with < o > are: none, mother, money, some, love. These words should rhyme with ‘fun’, not with ‘stop’. Also notice the homophones ‘sun’ and ‘son’ are pronounced identically as /sʌn/.
So open your jaw, keep your lips relaxed and head down for breakfast in /ˈbʌrə/, some modern art in /ˈsʌðək/ and head home from /ˈlʌndən ˈbrɪdʒ/!
This article uses IPA (phonetic) symbols – you can learn them in the free Pronunciation Studio Starter Pack containing pronunciation notes and diagrams for each sound with audio, and an English IPA chart.