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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

English is a West Germanic language originating in England.

Modern English is sometimes described as the global lingua franca.



The phonetics and phonology of the English language differ from one dialect to another, usually without interfering with mutual communication. Phonological variation affects the inventory of phonemes (i.e. speech sounds that distinguish meaning), and phonetic variation consists in differences in pronunciation of the phonemes. Template:Sfn This overview mainly describes the standard pronunciations of the United Kingdom and the United States: Received Pronunciation (RP) and General American (GA). (See Template:Slink, below.)

The phonetic symbols used below are from the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA).Template:SfnTemplate:SfnTemplate:Sfn


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Most English dialects share the same 24Template:Nbspconsonant phonemes. The consonant inventory shown below is valid for California English,Template:Sfn and for RP.Template:Sfn

Consonant phonemes
Labial Dental Alveolar Post-
Palatal Velar Glottal
Nasal Template:IPAlink Template:IPAlink Template:IPAlink
Stop Template:IPAlink Template:IPAlink Template:IPAlink Template:IPAlink Template:IPAlink Template:IPAlink Template:IPAlink Template:IPAlink
Fricative Template:IPAlink Template:IPAlink Template:IPAlink Template:IPAlink Template:IPAlink Template:IPAlink Template:IPAlink Template:IPAlink Template:IPAlink
Approximant Template:IPAlink Template:IPAlink* Template:IPAlink Template:IPA link

* Conventionally transcribed Template:IPA.

In the table, when obstruents (stops, affricates, and fricatives) appear in pairs, such as Template:IPA, Template:IPA, and Template:IPA, the first is fortis (strong) and the second is lenis (weak). Fortis obstruents, such as Template:IPA are pronounced with more muscular tension and breath force than lenis consonants, such as Template:IPA, and are always voiceless. Lenis consonants are partly voiced at the beginning and end of utterances, and fully voiced between vowels. Fortis stops such as Template:IPA have additional articulatory or acoustic features in most dialects: they are aspirated Template:IPA when they occur alone at the beginning of a stressed syllable, often unaspirated in other cases, and often unreleased Template:IPA or pre-glottalised Template:IPA at the end of a syllable. In a single-syllable word, a vowel before a fortis stop is shortened: thus nip has a noticeably shorter vowel (phonetically, but not phonemically) than nib Template:IPA (see below).Template:Sfn

In RP, the lateral approximant Template:IPA, has two main allophones (pronunciation variants): the clear or plain Template:IPA, as in light, and the dark or velarised Template:IPA, as in full.Template:Sfn GA has dark l in most cases.Template:Sfn

All sonorants (liquids Template:IPA and nasals Template:IPA) devoice when following a voiceless obstruent, and they are syllabic when following a consonant at the end of a word.Template:Sfn


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The pronunciation of vowels varies a great deal between dialects and is one of the most detectable aspects of a speaker's accent. The table below lists the vowel phonemes in Received Pronunciation (RP) and General American (GA), with examples of words in which they occur from lexical sets compiled by linguists. The vowels are represented with symbols from the International Phonetic Alphabet; those given for RP are standard in British dictionaries and other publications.<ref>{{

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RP GA Word
Template:IPA link Template:IPA link need
Template:IPA link bid
Template:IPA link Template:IPA link bed
Template:IPA link back
Template:IPA link Template:IPA link bra
Template:IPA link box
Template:IPA link, Template:IPA link cloth
Template:IPA link paw
Template:IPA link Template:IPA link food
Template:IPA link good
Template:IPA link but
Template:IPA link Template:IPA link bird
Template:IPA link comma
Closing diphthongs
RP GA Word
Template:IPA bay
Template:IPA Template:IPA road
Template:IPA cry
Template:IPA cow
Template:IPA boy
Centering diphthongs
RP GA word
Template:IPA Template:IPA peer
Template:IPA link Template:IPA pair
Template:IPA Template:IPA poor


In RP, vowel length is phonemic; long vowels are marked with a triangular colon Template:Angbr IPA in the table above, such as the vowel of need Template:IPA as opposed to bid Template:IPA. In GA, vowel length is non-distinctive.

In both RP and GA, vowels are phonetically shortened before fortis consonants in the same syllable, like Template:IPA, but not before lenis consonants like Template:IPA or in open syllables: thus, the vowels of rich Template:IPA, neat Template:IPA, and safe Template:IPA are noticeably shorter than the vowels of ridge Template:IPA, need Template:IPA, and save Template:IPA, and the vowel of light Template:IPA is shorter than that of lie Template:IPA. Because lenis consonants are frequently voiceless at the end of a syllable, vowel length is an important cue as to whether the following consonant is lenis or fortis.Template:Sfn

The vowel Template:IPA only occurs in unstressed syllables and is more open in quality in stem-final positions.Template:SfnTemplate:Sfn Some dialects do not contrast Template:IPA and Template:IPA in unstressed positions, so that rabbit and abbot rhyme and Lenin and Lennon are homophonous, a dialect feature called weak vowel merger.Template:Sfn GA Template:IPA and Template:IPA are realised as an r-coloured vowel Template:IPA, as in further Template:IPA (phonemically Template:IPA), which in RP is realised as Template:IPA (phonemically Template:IPA).Template:Sfn


An English syllable includes a syllable nucleus consisting of a vowel sound. Syllable onset and coda (start and end) are optional. A syllable can start with up to three consonant sounds, as in sprint Template:IPA, and end with up to four, as in texts Template:IPA. This gives an English syllable the following structure, (CCC)V(CCCC) where C represents a consonant and V a vowel; the word strengths Template:IPA is thus an example of the most complex syllable possible in English. The consonants that may appear together in onsets or codas are restricted, as is the order in which they may appear. Onsets can only have four types of consonant clusters: a stop and approximant, as in play; a voiceless fricative and approximant, as in fly or sly; s and a voiceless stop, as in stay; and s, a voiceless stop, and an approximant, as in string.Template:Sfn Clusters of nasal and stop are only allowed in codas. Clusters of obstruents always agree in voicing, and clusters of sibilants and of plosives with the same point of articulation are prohibited. Furthermore, several consonants have limited distributions: Template:IPA can only occur in syllable-initial position, and Template:IPA only in syllable-final position.Template:Sfn

Stress, rhythm and intonation

Template:See also

Stress plays an important role in English. Certain syllables are stressed, while others are unstressed. Stress is a combination of duration, intensity, vowel quality, and sometimes changes in pitch. Stressed syllables are pronounced longer and louder than unstressed syllables, and vowels in unstressed syllables are frequently reduced while vowels in stressed syllables are not.Template:Sfn Some words, primarily short function words but also some modal verbs such as can, have weak and strong forms depending on whether they occur in stressed or non-stressed position within a sentence.

Stress in English is phonemic, and some pairs of words are distinguished by stress. For instance, the word contract is stressed on the first syllable (Template:IPAc-en Template:Respell) when used as a noun, but on the last syllable (Template:IPAc-en Template:Respell) for most meanings (for example, "reduce in size") when used as a verb.Template:SfnTemplate:SfnTemplate:Sfn Here stress is connected to vowel reduction: in the noun "contract" the first syllable is stressed and has the unreduced vowel Template:IPA, but in the verb "contract" the first syllable is unstressed and its vowel is reduced to Template:IPA. Stress is also used to distinguish between words and phrases, so that a compound word receives a single stress unit, but the corresponding phrase has two: e.g. a burnout (Template:IPAc-en) versus to burn out (Template:IPAc-en), and a hotdog (Template:IPAc-en) versus a hot dog (Template:IPAc-en).Template:Sfn

In terms of rhythm, English is generally described as a stress-timed language, meaning that the amount of time between stressed syllables tends to be equal. Stressed syllables are pronounced longer, but unstressed syllables (syllables between stresses) are shortened. Vowels in unstressed syllables are shortened as well, and vowel shortening causes changes in vowel quality: vowel reduction.

Regional variation

Varieties of Standard English and their featuresTemplate:Sfn
Canada Republic
of Ireland
Scotland England Wales South
Australia New
fatherbother merger yes yes
Template:IPAc-en is unrounded yes yes yes
Template:IPAc-en is pronounced Template:IPA yes yes yes yes
cotcaught merger possibly yes possibly yes yes
foolfull merger yes yes
Template:IPAc-en flapping yes yes possibly often rarely rarely rarely rarely yes often
trapbath split possibly possibly yes yes yes often yes
non-rhotic (Template:IPAc-en-dropping after vowels) yes yes yes yes yes
close vowels for Template:IPA yes yes yes
Template:IPAc-en can always be pronounced Template:IPA yes yes yes yes yes yes
Template:IPA is fronted possibly yes yes
Dialects and low vowels
Lexical set RP GA Can Sound change
Template:Sc2 Template:IPA Template:IPA or Template:IPA Template:IPA cotcaught merger
Template:Sc2 Template:IPA lotcloth split
Template:Sc2 Template:IPA fatherbother merger
Template:Sc2 Template:IPA
Template:Sc2 Template:IPA Template:IPA trapbath split
Template:Sc2 Template:IPA

Varieties of English vary the most in pronunciation of vowels. The best known national varieties used as standards for education in non English-speaking countries are British (BrE) and American (AmE). Countries such as Canada, Australia, Ireland, New Zealand and South Africa have their own standard varieties which are less often used as standards for education internationally. Some differences between the various dialects are shown in the table "Varieties of Standard English and their features".Template:Sfn

English has undergone many historical sound changes, some of them affecting all varieties, and others affecting only a few. Most standard varieties are affected by the Great Vowel Shift, which changed the pronunciation of long vowels, but a few dialects have slightly different results. In North America, a number of chain shifts such as the Northern Cities Vowel Shift and Canadian Shift have produced very different vowel landscapes in some regional accents.

Some dialects have fewer or more consonant phonemes and phones than the standard varieties. Some conservative varieties like Scottish English have a voiceless Template:IPAblink sound in whine that contrasts with the voiced Template:IPA in wine, but most other dialects pronounce both words with voiced Template:IPA, a dialect feature called winewhine merger. The unvoiced velar fricative sound Template:IPA is found in Scottish English, which distinguishes loch Template:IPA from lock Template:IPA. Accents like Cockney with "h-dropping" lack the glottal fricative Template:IPA, and dialects with th-stopping and th-fronting like African American Vernacular and Estuary English do not have the dental fricatives Template:IPA, but replace them with dental or alveolar stops Template:IPA or labiodental fricatives Template:IPA.Template:SfnTemplate:Sfn Other changes affecting the phonology of local varieties are processes such as yod-dropping, yod-coalescence, and reduction of consonant clusters.

General American and Received Pronunciation vary in their pronunciation of historical Template:IPA after a vowel at the end of a syllable (in the syllable coda). GA is a rhotic dialect, meaning that it pronounces Template:IPA at the end of a syllable, but RP is non-rhotic, meaning that it loses Template:IPA in that position. English dialects are classified as rhotic or non-rhotic depending on whether they elide Template:IPA like RP or keep it like GA.Template:Sfn

There is complex dialectal variation in words with the open front and open back vowels Template:IPA. These four vowels are only distinguished in RP, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. In GA, these vowels merge to three Template:IPA,Template:Sfn and in Canadian English, they merge to two Template:IPA.Template:Sfn In addition, the words that have each vowel vary by dialect. The table "Dialects and open vowels" shows this variation with lexical sets in which these sounds occur.


Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "English language" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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