Soon enough we’ll proudly announce another BL volume taking speech as its starting point and carrying it over to the discipline of clinical logopedics. Before we discuss in detail what happens when speech motor organs get affected by neurogenerative impairment, let us chat about speech sounds or… phones.


Have you ever been to the Midlands? Coventry, Birmingham, Leicester, Nottingham?—to mention just a few larger cities in the area. If you have, you’re probably all too familiar with the words like up and pub pronounced as oop and poob, night and light as noight and loight, or ray and same as reye and seym. The place is famous for its peculiar way of pronunciation, which however seems to be a carrier of much more than meets the eye, or ear in this respect… The Midlands is

“the region of fierce loyalties and strong opinions, of great history and massive change. It’s been the theatre for some of this country’s greatest creations of classic fiction – (…).” (Elmes 2005: 106)

And all of this has definitely made a mark on the form of the local dialect(s) today. Yet, much as I’m personally fond of the area, the Midlands is not so much different from other English speaking territories in terms of the linguistic variety and richness.

Whichever place we point to, there will be some oddities to find, some curiosities to ponder and some real jewels you wish you could take home and wear on special occasions, imitating sometimes mind-boggling accents with precision worthy of a true dialectologist. Considering only the big picture, one could list some common differences typical of American, British, Australian, South African or New Zealand English, but it’s enough just to take a peek under the cover of those labels to see that each of these places is filled to the brim with local accents, sound vibrations, a characteristic pitch and pace. Sometimes it may only be a matter of slightly different pronunciation of the same words, still easy to decipher, though, despite the uncommon, weird feeling they give you. Yet, there will be times when you’ll stop trusting your senses altogether, being totally misguided by for instance Northern English luck and look or art and heart, which all of a sudden have converted into homophones.


While the first scenario reflects a perfect case of a phonetic distinction, where the phonemes remain the same and are merely realized differently, the latter situation is a fantastic example of phonological contrast involving different phonemes in different accents. Northern English is notorious for blatantly ignoring the contrast between “standard” [ʌ] as in luck and [ʊ] as in look, making them both sound as if they were pronounced with [ʊ] and causing massive disruption in people’s communication and, occasionally, in their view on the world. Thus, analyzing the kaleidoscope of dialectal features, one cannot really separate phonetics from phonology as they always seem to complement one another and explain issues that relate to some more apparent and hidden context.

Phonetics, then, deals more with the way sounds are articulated and produced, phonology delves into the abstract, underlying matter of functioning and relationships among various phonemes (Roach 2004: 44, 208-209). Following this line of thought, phonetics will shed some light on the reasons why in Wales unstressed syllables tend to be higher in pitch than stressed ones or why in Scotland and Northern Ireland – ise in verbs is assigned higher prominence in terms of stress. On the other hand, phonology will account for the fact why some American accents allow for the presence of [j] in the pronunciation of queue, lieu, few and mural, but not after alveolar sounds in due, new, tune, which at first glance seem to provide a similar context to the previous examples. And this is just the tip of the iceberg as the instances of variation in distribution can also be observed on the suprasegmental level, that is in various grades of stress and intonation, where we have a range of phonological factors at play, depending on the accent.

A rose by any other name would smell as sweet… not.

A ROSE’s A ROSE… or not?

Some of you may now say that it seems like we are getting bogged down in too many unnecessary details and that a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, so what difference does it make whether some phonemes are present or not in one accent or the other. Much as I sympathize with the idea of simplifying things, I don’t think Shakespeare was particularly right in this respect and I definitely don’t think he was a rose expert, because then he would have probably chosen another flower with fewer varieties to eternalize in his tragedy. As far as I know, there are Climbing roses, Floribunda roses, English roses, Grandiflora roses, Hybrid Tea roses, Groundcover roses, Polyantha roses, Rambling roses, Shrub roses, Miniature roses, Alba roses, Bourbon roses, China roses, Centifolia roses, Damask roses, Gallica roses, Hybrid Perpetual roses, Noisette roses, Moss roses, Portland roses, and Tea roses, and they all have various subtypes and they all look and smell different. It may not matter then what we call them, but no one can deny their beautiful variety and the fact that at the end of the day some of them will taste better in rose petal jam than the others.

These roses are like various accents, and while phonetics will capture their beautiful colors and smells, phonology will elucidate the reasons behind their soil and climate requirements, their adaptability to various conditions, and quaint preferences towards particular neighbors. Any good gardener will admit that this is the technical know-how which is necessary for the flowers to grow, and the same goes for the accents: it is phonetics and phonology that account for their beautiful linguistic blossoms.

Agnieszka is the author of:
———(2016/2017) Palatable Palatalization: A Story of Each, Much, Such, and Which in Middle English Dialects. San Diego, CA: Æ Academic Publishing.

Izabela Gatkowska (in press) Diagnosing Dysarthria in Adults: A New Speech Assessment Method for Polish, English, and Spanish. (Beyond Language Vol. 3). San Diego, CA: Æ Academic Publishing.

Beyond Language, a series tailored to a tenured, established demographic, authorities of their fields and academia types of present and future generations who will reference these books for years to come – researchers and scholars in every discipline.

Further reading

Elmes, Simon (2005) Talking for Britain. A Journey through the Nation’s Dialects. London: Penguin Books.

Roach, Peter (2004) English Phonetics and Phonology: A Practical Course. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.