Review of ALAN CRUTTENDEN, Gimson’s Pronunciation of English, 8th edition

Published London and New York: Routledge 2014. Pp. xxvi+381. ISBN: 978-0-415-72174-5 (hbk). ISBN: 978-1-4441-8309-2 (pbk). ISBN: 978-0-203-78496-9 (ebk).

This review, published and copyright by Cambridge University Press, appeared in the Journal of the International Phonetic Association Volume 44 Number 3 of December 2014. It has here been slightly amended and updated.

This eighth edition has appeared exactly half a century after the book’s first appearance. Cruttenden first took over the updating and recasting of this classic text eighteen years ago with its fifth edition. Over the years he has rewritten every major section of the work. His most recent revision has involved the removal of some rather obscure pre-eighteenth-century figures to make more space for “the evolution of a standard language” to be “completely rewritten” so that important new items of terminology now “reflect current changes in the language and attitudes to it.” It is no longer ‘Received Pronunciation’ that the book is to be taken as principally describing, but rather an accent that can not simply be equated with ‘RP’. One significant new feature of its evolved form is that it has become free from the upper-class connotations of that term. He has accordingly “dropped the name RP” (p.xvii) and is now to be understood as describing “GB” i. e. “General British”.

The book is divided into four parts. Part I consists of excellent preliminary general explanations of the physiological and auditory etc aspects of speech. Parts II and III provide as their main content admirably complete and authoritative accounts respectively of the segmental and suprasegmental elements of General British. Various largely or completely new topics have been added over the years. For example, anyone studying the acquisition of spoken English by non-native-speaker learners can hardly fail to feel some interest in how it is acquired by native learners. This topic, initially broached in 1994, is treated in a dozen or so concise paragraphs which will be welcome not least to speech therapy students. The book as a whole is characterised by its ample provision of high-quality figures and diagrams. One valuable series Cruttenden was able to introduce were electropalatograms showing with ideal clarity tongue-to-palate contacts chiefly of consonant articulations.

In regard to phonemic transcriptions of GB, a “long overdue” change has been made of the representation of the ash vowel phoneme from /æ/ to /a/ now most appropriate since its typical quality has become much like that of the IPA Cardinal Vowel Number 4. Similarly, there is now recognition that the mainstream GB value of the square vocalic phoneme has become most characteristically monophthongal so that it is now represented no longer as /ɛə/ but as /ɛː/. Not without a hint of unease, Cruttenden now “follows the practice in the three pronouncing dictionaries” of employing /i,u/ “without length marks” as in words like react /ri`akt/ and copy /`kɒpi/. No satisfactory theoretical justification for the use of these non-length-marked versions of elsewhere regularly length-marked vowel phonemes has ever been given. Some of us suspect that they essentially took their origin from the embarrassment caused by the extremely inappropriate-looking length indications they replaced.

A “well established” change to GB is described at pages 85 §7.10.3.(6), and 146 §8.10.4.(2) where we read “ Use of the variant [ɒʊ] before [ɫ], e.g. in goal, bold, moult has now spread so widely that it is reasonable to consider it part of GB, rather than confined to London RGB”. Those of us who have been uncomfortable with the Wells (1982:313) use of his  “phonemic notation /ɒʊ/ˮ for “the common [ɒʊ⁓ɔʊ]”, will not be happy to find it paralleled here. Although there can be little doubt that many GB speakers have non-central pre-lateral first elements for their /əʊ/ phoneme, surely few can accept that the openest values should be classified as GB even when coming from such a speaker as the Etonian David Cameron whose very London-style use of [ɒʊ] may be heard at Professor Petr Rösel’s “Kraut's English phonetic blog: Cameron's heart and sol [sic]” of the 26th of January 2013. Cruttenden emphasises at page 79 that “the main point about the variety we are describing [GB] is that it is not geographically limited”.

Very worthwhile extensions of the scope of this book have been the descriptions of other Englishes from various regions of the world. The fifth edition introduced concise specific accounts of General American, Scottish English, Cockney, Northern & Australian English. The seventh edition added Caribbean English to that list. In addition to these accounts, throughout the descriptions of GB numerous references are found to features of Northern and Southern Irish English, South African English and New Zealand, Indian and Welsh English. Usages of a number of major cities and conurbations are referred to in the text including Belfast, Birmimgham, Derbyshire, Lancashire, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Tyneside and Yorkshire.

The other frequent topic of the book, which has progressively so increased in importance over the years as to now rate an extra separate final Part IV, has become the learning of the pronunciation of English as an additional language. As it is very rightly observed, “Since this book was first written the number of users of English as an additional language has grown exponentially” (p.327). There has been continuous expansion of the treatment of the learning of English by non-native speakers from only scattered advice in the first two editions and still only an appendix in 1980 in the third. Advice “in the sections on individual vowels and consonants about the particular problems which speakers from different L1 backgrounds might face … has been expanded with every edition”. These have meant widely distributed references to the characteristic tendencies heard in uses of English by speakers of languages including Arabic, Bantu, Cantonese, Czech, Danish, Dutch, French, Gaelic, German, Greek, Hindi, Hungarian, Italian, Malay, Japanese, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, Tagalog, Thai, Turkish, Vietnamese, Welsh, Yiddish and Zulu.

There has been of necessity evolution from exposition of GB alone to describing it as only one of a number of models. Cruttenden has introduced descriptions of two types of targets that are properly realistic for a world with such huge numbers of non-native users of English. For countries where it is “used as a lingua franca, even in situations where none of the participants is a native speaker”, he proposes what he designates as Amalgam English. This does not “sound like any particular native speaker variety but incorporates the more easily learnable characteristics of various Englishes” possibly along with in particular areas some broad regional features such as we find in Indian English. The other type he designates as International English. This is characterised by such features as drastic reductions in the segment inventory e.g. from 20 to 10 vowel contrasts. He describes the two types in some detail even supplying diagrams of acceptable vowel target areas.

The Companion Website of this new edition, available at, comes with an improved presentation of the remarkable Magnetic Resonance Imaging videos showing the tongue adjustments etc of GB segment articulations. Sets of separate words illustrating consonants and vowels and adaptations of three dialogues from the Arnold & Gimson Practice Book of 1965 are, like the MRI videos, retained from the previous companion website. In addition we now have a considerable variety of audio illustrations of the chief subject matter of the book. Besides historic items with the voice of Gimson himself and of his mentor Daniel Jones, there are readings of reconstructions of the original pronunciations of Old English, Middle English and Early Modern texts. To these are added a variety of excerpts exemplifying a wide range of types of recent and contemporary pronunciations. These include specimens of current “General British (GB), older GB, Conspicuous GB, Regional GB and some other ‘standard’ pronunciations including Standard Scottish English (SSE) and General Northern English (GNE)”. The recordings, some going back eighty years, range from television newsreaders and programme presenters through radio reporters, politicians and sports personalities to royalty and a television cook. Of varied lengths, each of the thirty excerpts is accompanied by a transcript of all the words spoken and a commentary on some of its notable content. The majority are supplied with phonemic transcriptions as well. This makes a good beginning on the provision of what, in an age when the development of the Internet at last makes it truly feasible, is the accompanying illustrative audio data that the book has always so very obviously needed.

Some final things that require mention include a completely new Selective Glossary of fifty or so items which explains some less familiar terms like apical, basilectal, conjuncts, coronal, obstruent and text frequency and includes a helpful elucidation of the ‘3;5’ type of indication of children’s ages. The fully updated References section has steadily grown so that now it has several times as many entries as the earliest editions had. The previous edition’s new presentation of sections of the text in user-friendly ‘boxes’ visually set off from their surroundings is now extended to the spellings and sources of phonemes. They are no longer enclosed within sharp lines but set in lightly shaded blocks. A light colour might have been more pleasant. This is the first edition that the publishers themselves have offered in digitised “eBook” form. This is extremely welcome though their design might well be improved e.g. by better legibility of the search feature and the possibility of copying at least small amounts at a time of the text. Despite the fact that such editions are liable to value added tax, this eBook is priced no higher than the paperback. It seems very possible that in the near future such editions will very largely supersede paper ones especially when, as seems probable, they will soon be able to directly call up audio illustrations at exactly the points where the text refers to them e.g. by clicking on a symbol in a diagram. Such a feature is already functioning at some websites illustrating the International Phonetic Alphabet.

Other fresh thought is seen when, in contrast with the previous editions’ waste of the opportunities offered by the inside front and back covers, they are now provided with useful reference matter. The inside front now has lists of the vowel and consonant symbols most ‘regularly used’ with well chosen sets of exemplifying words. The inside back has a very clearly printed copy of the IPA alphabet page. This is much more convenient to refer to than the insert in Chapter 4. There has even been more comfortable use of the Index through better clarity of its bold-type items. Another presentation decision, motivated by the author’s wish to offer the book primarily as reference material rather than a textbook, has been to dispense with footnotes in favour of end-of-chapter notes. The previous footnotes were not tiresomely numerous so many readers may not like this change. Lastly the book’s cover now has a pleasant abstract pattern of gentle browns and greens which is also employed to good use as background to the Home Page of the new Website.

To sum up, the original Gimson framework has been clearly maintained but it has been built on to such admirable effect that there is simply nothing in existence to rival this book.


Arnold, G. F. & A. C. Gimson 1965. English Pronunciation Practice. London: University of London Press.
Jones, Daniel, Peter Roach et al. 2011. Cambridge English Pronouncing Dictionary. Cambridge UK: CUP.
Rösel, Petr 2013. Kraut’s English Phonetic Blog
Upton, Clive et al. 2001. The Oxford Dictionary of Pronunciation for Current English. Oxford: OUP.
Wells, J. C. 1982. Accents of English Vol.2.
 —2008. Longman Pronuncation Dictionary. Harlow, Essex, England: Pearson Education Limited.