Standard Southern British (SSB)

Current British Accent

Received Pronunciation (RP), also known as BBC English, was the traditional British pronunciation standard, but today, it is only spoken by older individuals and aristocrats, often carrying a pompous and pretentious tone (e.g., 'near' /NIËËr/). In contrast, the modern standard British pronunciation, referred to as Modern Received Pronunciation, General British, or Standard Southern British (SSB), reflects the multicultural society of contemporary Britain and is embraced by people from diverse backgrounds for its approachable and trendy characteristics. Some of the most important new features that characterise SSB are discussed below.

Anticlockwise Vowel Shift

The articulation of vowel sounds in the mouth can be described using a quadrilateral, starting from [ɪ] (front top) and descending to [e], [ɜ], [æ], [a] (front down), and so on. Vowels in SSB pronunciation have shifted counterclockwise compared to RP. For example, the 'e' in 'bed' has transitioned from [e] (similar to the closed Italian 'e') to [ɛ] (similar to the open Italian 'e'). The 'a' in 'trap' has moved from [æ] to [a] (but remains [æ] in General American). The 'o' in 'lot,' which was [ɔ], is now pronounced with less openness as [o], a sound similar to those in other European languages. Many British English dictionaries (e.g., Cambridge Pronouncing Dictionary, Longman Pronunciation Dictionary) still use the old symbols (sic!), while others (e.g., CUBE, Routledge Dictionary of Pronunciation) have adopted the new ones.

English learners typically do not need this level of detail regarding the exact phonetic articulation of vowels. Moreover, they will only truly grasp the exact quality of a vowel by listening to native speakers and living in an English-speaking country; they will not learn it by looking at IPA symbols in the dictionary. The L-IFA is a phonemic system designed for learning words as distinct categories, where /A/ is used for both [æ] and [a], /E/ for [e] and [ɛ], and /O/ for [ɔ] and [o]. Only when these sounds are contrastive within the same accent, then additional diacritics are used to show that the difference matters (e.g., /É/ for [e] and /È/ for [ɛ]).
L-IFA captures and highlights more significant changes that learners need to be aware of if they want to speak more clearly.

Smoothing of Centering Diphtongs

Centering diphthongs, which are glides from a vowel towards the schwa in the central vowel space, were characteristic of RP speech. Today, most dictionaries and educational books still feature these IPA symbols: [eə(r)], [ɪə(r)], [ʊə(r)], but they are rarely heard in the streets of London, except among older speakers. They have all undergone a process of smoothing and are now pronounced as long vowels. Among the three original diphthongs, this is more established with [eə(r)], with many dictionaries adopting a new IPA symbol [ɛ:(r)]; L-IFA: /EEr/. However, a similar process is also occurring with the other two: [i:(r)] /IIr/, [ʉ:ː(r)] /UUr/.

North-Cure (Quasi) Merger

The fate of the set of words that were pronounced [ʊə(r)] /UËr/ is a bit more complex. Words spelled with 'o' are now pronounced with the same wovel of north: a long /OOr/ (e.g., 'poor' /POOr/); while words spelled with 'u' are pronounced with a long /UUr/ (e.g., 'abjure' /ËBJUUr/), a long /OOr/ (e.g., 'sure' /SHOOr/), or variably with either /UUr/ or /OOr/ (e.g., 'cure' /KYUUr/, /KYOOr/). 

Goat-Goal Split

The diphthong in 'goat' [əʊ] /ËÛ/ before 'dark' (i.e., non-prevocalic) [l] /L/ is now pronounced [ɒʊ] /OÛ/ in words such as 'goal' /GOÛL/, 'hold' /HOÛLD/, and 'mould' /MOÛLD/. Some dictionaries, such as CUBE, include this feature with the optional goal selection, and Logman treats it as an allophonic variant: [əʊ → ɒʊ]. 

Backing of the Price Diphthong

The starting point of the diphthong in the word 'price' has shifted from the front vowel [a] /A/ to the middle vowel space, where [ʌ] /Ä/ is located. This shift follows a trend among younger speakers of Multicultural London English.

Happy Tensing

The short [ɪ] /I/ in the final position was previously used in RP in words like 'happy' /HAPI/. However, today, it has been entirely replaced by [iː] /IÎ - IY/, and 'happy' is now pronounced /HAPIY/. Only the CUBE dictionary represents this change with the IPA symbol [ɪj]. Other dictionaries use a special symbol [i], created to indicate that older people used the short [ɪ], while younger speakers employed the long [iː]. This symbol has led many to believe in the existence of a distinct 'happy' vowel, although such a vowel never existed. 

Weak Vowel (Quasi) Merger

The short [ɪ] /I/, and short [ʊ] /U/ sounds in weak (i.e., unstressed) syllables were very common in RP. Today, there is a tendency in SSB to increasingly replace them with schwa: [ə] /Ë/. This is known as weak vowel merger and is particularly evident among words spelled with the letter 'e'. However, these sounds are often used interchangeably in SSB, even by the same speaker. Some dictionaries have adopted special IPA symbols [ɪ], [ʊ] to indicate that both options /I/ or /Ë/; and /U/ or /Ë/ are acceptable. The merger is more widespread in American English, with 'Lennon' and 'Lenin' both pronounced as /LENËN/, and it is virtually complete in Australian English, where even 'rabbit' is pronounced /RABËT/. 

Yod Coalescence

Over time, there has been a tendency in English for certain consonant plus yod (the name of the sound [j] /Y/) clusters to coalesce from [tj] /TY/ and [dj] /DY/ into easier-to-pronounce [tʃ] /CH/ and [dʒ] /J/. This change had already occurred in some unstressed syllables (e.g., culture, soldier) by the time of RP but is now expanding to all weak syllables (e.g., situation, education) and, among younger speakers, even to stressed syllables (e.g., tube, duty). The /TY/ and /DY/ sounds are still more commonly used by people over 35 years of age. For those learning English today, the advice is to pronounce these words with /CH/ and /J/. 


In phonology, epenthesis refers to the optional addition of one sound. Some SSB speakers exhibit categorical epenthesis, which means that words never contain a nasal consonant /M/, /N/, /NH/ directly followed by a voiceless fricative /S/, /SH/, /F/, /TH/, unless a stressed vowel follows. They optionally insert another consonant in between, resulting in forms such as /MpS/, /MpTH/, /NtS/, /NtSH/, /NHkT/, to facilitate pronunciation. Consequently, several contrasts are lost, as seen in the words patience /PEÎSHëNtS/ and patients /PEÎSHëNTS/. 

Syllable Reduction

In English, many words with three (or more) syllables are 'reduced,' shortened to two (or more) syllables to facilitate pronunciation by creating a stressed syllable followed by an unstressed one. This reduction involves eliminating the syllable with the weakest stress, which often contains a schwa sound. This practice has been in place since RP and is now expanding to include new words in SSB. 

External Links: Standard Southern British

♦ Blog Standard Southern British (SSB) G. Lindsey, English Speech Services, 2022
♦ Video Comparing RP and SSB - Father and Children G. Lindsey, English Speech Services, 2022
♦ Video Change in Pronunciation from /TYUÛB/ to /CHUÛB/ G. Lindsey, English Speech Services, 2022
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