In modern English one can observe some new tendencies in the pronunciation of some sounds. We can discern several distinct fates for the centring diphthongs /ʊə/, /ɪə/and /eə/ in the contemporary pronunciation of standard southern British English. I should point out that not all of these diphthongs have undergone each of the fates. In our work, we are based on an article by Geoff Lindsey and his research. We also did our own research to confirm the phonetician's hypothesis.
Fate 1: Merger.
There are some British accents in which practically all the traditional CURE words belong to the THOUGHT set. But now, even in the south of England, such merger can be observed. So, the words endure, moor, tour, etc. are pronounced with the THOUGHT vowel.
For some speakers, some CURE words have merged not into THOUGHT but into NURSE. It is widespread in a rhotic American English but is not so common in Britain. Online dictionaries usually don’t give NURSE-merger as an American option for secure, but it’s quite common.
GOOSE-merger seems much more common. It’s an option when followed by r + vowel words. The words like Europe, rural and tourist are practically never heard with a centring diphthong, not even from conservative-sounding newsreaders. The vowel here tends to be realized as a monophthong that may be interpreted as a variant of /uː/.
Fate 2: Varisyllabicity
Another fate for the centring diphthongs is varisyllabicity which is widely exhibited by the CURE and NEAR sets. These should be analyzed, respectively, as /uː.ə/, smoothable to /u:/and /ɪjə/ (in conservative transcription, /iː.ə/), smoothable to /ɪː/.
To illustrate varisyllabicity, here are pairs of words in which the first members sound disyllabic while the second members, in which further syllables follow within the word, exhibit smoothed-and-compressed monosyllabic variants. Near and nearly; secure and security. Note that the smooth CURE of security is not only monosyllabic but also monophthongal.
Fate 3: Monophthonging
For the CURE vowel, far more common today is a monophthongal realization, with a rounded central quality which can be transcribed as [ɵː] like in the word pure. The monophthong sounds similar to NURSE but is distinct from it. NURSE vowel is clearly more front and open.
There’s also an increasing number of speakers for whom NEAR has simply become a long monophthong /ɪː/. These speakers never say /bɪjə/ and /hɪjə/, but only the smooth forms /bɪː/ and /hɪː/. This applies primarily to young speakers.
The centring diphthong /eə/ is relatively well preserved in lower-class speech. In modern world it’s much common to use the contemporary monophthong /ɛː/ like in the words square or mayor.
We conducted our own research that enabled us to investigate the modern tendency in the pronunciation of the centring diphthongs described by Geoff Lindsey on his website. Our aim was to check if we can really state that the RP-style of pronunciation is old-fashioned and not common in Great Britain. For this purpose, we analysed some videos with native speakers pronouncing the words with the centring diphthongs.
Let’s consider the words containing the dipgthong /ʊə/ in the Received Pronunciation: sure, poor and pure. Not a single person pronounced the word sure with /ʊə/. Only 10% said /Su:/andthe majority of test subjects said /SO:/. As for the word poor, only 5% of the informants pronounced it as /pʊə/ andthe overwhelming majority used THOUGHT vowel. The third word is pure. We can also observe the contemporary tendencies here. In most cases, we can observe the merger. In 10% of cases, we can find the pronunciation with /u:ə/ and we are fair to speak of varisyllabicity here.
Speaking of the diphthong /ʊə/, we can say that the most distinct trend in pronunciation is merger and this is a well-established change, while monophthoning and varisyllabicity are not so strongly pronounced, so they are the recent innovations.
The next diphthong which is of interest for us is /ɪə/. Let’s see if we can find any features of modern pronunciation in the word real. Exactly half of the informants used the monophthong /i:/. In the 45% of cases, we can observe varisyllabicity and only in 5% of cases we can find the old-fashioned /ɪə/. The vast majority of the test subjects tends to monophthonging of the diphthong /ɪə/ in the word hear. 15% – to varisyllabicity. And as for the word clear, we can speak of varisyllabicity again in exactly half of cases. 40% pronounced the word with the monophthong /i:/ and only 10% – with the diphthong /ɪə/.
Regarding this diphthong, we can say that the modern tendencies are quite well-established. We can see that more than a half of the British young people resort to monophthonging and quite a lot of them – to varisyllabicity, while only a few people use the diphthong in their speech. We can state that monophthoning in this case is a well-established change while varisyllabicity is a recent innovation.
And the last diphthong under consideration is /eə/. Using the word care as an example, we can say that the overwhelming majority of the test subjects (95% to be precise) use the monophthong /ɛ:/ instead of the diphthong. As for there, we can also see that it’s much more common for the British to pronounce it like /Tɛ:/. Finally, the word fair. The research showed that only 5% use the diphthong in this word.
Concerning the diphthong /eə/, we can say that the modern trend in the pronunciation is quite distinct and obvious. Most people use the modern monophthong /ɛ:/ and we can say that this change is almost complete.
Based on the work done, we can confirm that the modern tendencies in the pronunciation of the centring diphthongs can be easily found in the speech of the native speakers. We can also conclude that the RP-pronunciation of the diphthongs under consideration is quite old-fashioned and we should follow the modern trends in the language to sound contemporary and British-like.
LIST OF REFERENCES
1. Lindsey Geoff. The demise of ʊə as in CURE. Speech talk blog. – 2012. – URL: https://www.englishspeechservices.com/blog/the-demise-of-%ca%8a%c9%99-as-in-cure/
2. Lindsey Geoff. The demise of ɪə as in NEAR. Speech talk blog. – 2012. – URL: https://www.englishspeechservices.com/blog/the-demise-of-%c9%aa%c9%99-as-in-near/
3. Lindsey Geoff. The demise of eə as in SQUARE. Speech talk blog. – 2012. – URL: https://www.englishspeechservices.com/blog/the-demise-of-e%c9%99-as-in-square/