Weak vowels in modern RP: An acoustic study of happY-tensing and KIT/schwa shift

Anne Fabricius

Several changes in consonant and vowel pronunciations in younger generations of native speakers of Received Pronunciation (RP) are currently the object of research interest. In order to further an empirically grounded description of changes in RP, the present study examines variation in weak vowels. Patterns of variation in word-final open weak syllables (happy, city) as well as in past and present/plural suffixes (waited, changes) are investigated acoustically in the interview speech of eight young (born in the late 1970s) speakers of modern RP. The data show variation in happY vowels for some speakers according to phonetic environment, a phenomenon which deserves further study. KIT/schwa variation in the inflectional suffixes studied here shows a tendency to maintain KIT-like values. Overall, the study indicates that acoustic analysis of such weak vowels can provide interesting data on variation.

[Language Variation and Change (2002), 14:211-237 ]