The idea for today’s post comes from a rhyme that English teachers usually tell pupils to explain why in some words, when there are two vowels together, often (but not always!) the second vowel is silent. The rhyme goes like this: “when two vowels go a walking the first vowel does the talking“. For instance, in the word ‘rain’, the vowel ‘i’ is silent and we only pronounce the vowel ‘a’ /ei/.
I think this is a good technique for remembering pronunciation/spelling rules but I’m pretty bad at rhyming so I thought I’d try to come up with some tales instead. The tales below aim at helping students remembering some of the features of British pronunciation:
The R diaspora
Once upon a time, in an age long since forgotten, a tribe of Rs lived in what today is Britain and traded with the Kingdom of Vowels. But a war broke out between the tribe of Rs and the Kingdom of Consonants. The tribe was defeated and the Kingdom of Consonants forced them to flee the country. The Rs decided to flee to America where most of them still live nowadays. Some actually chose to stay behind and kept living among the Vowel people.
And this is why in Received Pronunciation the ‘R’ is always silent before a consonant like in the word /fɔːk/ ‘fork’ or when it comes at the end of a word like in /ˈtiːtʃə/ ‘teacher’. The R is in fact now too afraid to stand up for itself and would only make its sound be heard in front of a vowel like in /ɡrɑːs/ ‘grass’.
However, in America the Rs built a kingdom and they lived happily ever after. And this is why in America the ‘R’ is never silent!
The shy Schwa
The Schwa is one of my favourite sounds in the English language and you know why? Because it’s a bit like me: the schwa is shy and gets easily embarrassed. The Schwa doesn’t like to stand out but it always gets invited to parties because it’s just so popular! But it never stays too long..
The Schwa is the most common sound in the English language (I’m telling you it’s so popular!). It can only be found in unstressed syllables which are usually shorter and quieter. The Schwa is the vowel sound in most weak forms like in /kəd/ (the weak form of ‘could’).
The T and Glottal Stop battle
Once upon a time, in an age long since forgotten, the kingdom of T ruled over the Glottal Stop people until the London uprising in Spring 1843. The Glottal Stop rebels seized the city of London and defeated the T people in a fierce battle that forced the King of Ts to abdicate. What was once the Kingdom of T became the Kingdom of the Glottal Stop and people lived happily ever after.
And this is why, especially in London, the /t/ is often pronounced as the glottal stop [ʔ] like in water /ˈwɔːʔə(r)/
Hope you enjoyed this post! 🙂