The Phonological System and Change


Go to the relevant discussion by clicking on the section headings below. We will organise our discussion under the different interesting changes in the pronunciation of English; there is no attempt to give an exhaustive or even a representative description of changes. (A reminder: most sections employ the phonetic alphabet. If you haven’t uploaded Times Roman Phonetic into your computer, you won’t be able to read the pages properly. Go to the homepage for instructions.)


When you’re ready to take the quiz based on this topic, go to the IVLE page and click on ‘Assessment’ on the left, and then on ‘Phonology’.


A. What is phonology?

B. Splits and mergers

C. The Great Vowel Shift

D. Rhoticity

E. The Intervocalic Ts


I need to add that it is not the aim of this module to give you a complete description of English phonemes. We will give you sufficient background to be able to describe some changes and developments unambiguously.


Website on the Great Vowel Shift

This website from Furman University is excellent and has many sound files and an applet (didn’t quite work in my system – but perhaps it will be better for you): – also remember that the American-style phonetic alphabet is used here, rather than IPA.


Listening to Chaucer (?1340–1400)

There are lots of youtube videos. Do a search, some of them set to music and in the form of raps! This is a straightforward one of the opening:



Here are some sites that you can go to, many containing audio files. Please click here to download Real Player if you haven’t already got it.

You can also go to Peter Ladefoged’s website based on his book that also contains sound files for you to listen to how the phonetic symbols are pronounced:


The newsgroup alt.usage.english has an audio archive, including a link explaining the International Phonetic Alphabet (and an adaptation of it for use with an ordinary computer keyboard without special phonetic fonts):


There is a lot of material in the BBC’s Oral History Collection in .ram format:


There is also a BBC Radio 4 programme about accents entitled The Routes of English, and the material (including sound files) are available the BBC Online website:


The International Dialects of English Archive (in the University of Kansas) has recordings of many accents available from here:

For a more extensive list of links, try going to the links page for the TV2 Listening Course by Bert Schouten based in the Netherlands: and contains sound clips arranged according to accent.

If you are confident about your ability to identify English accents, you can take this quiz at this site:


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