so another question I have is that whether it is systematic (a regular pattern) between /a:/ in BrE and /æ:/ in AmE or not.

There are words that a pronounced differently like dance or rather. I have one source which indicates that this contrast is not systematic but restricted to 80 words.

Then there is a passage which I do not understand I cite "For example, while the word pass is pronounced as expected in R.P. (/pa:s/), the word standard has /æ/." - So what exactly is meant by standard since it is written in italic. I also though that in Am it is always the /æ:/ pronunciation and BrE always /a:/

I have thought the entire time that there is a systematic phonological difference!


  • In RP, the 'a' in pass and the first 'a' in standard are different vowels. Oxford Dictionaries Online labels these vowels /ɑː/ and /a/, so /pɑːs/ and /ˈstandəd/. My guess is that your source is labeling them /a:/ and /æ:/, which is really confusing and probably less correct. Jun 24, 2014 at 19:41
  • @PeterShor Oh I am sorry I meant the /ɑ:/ instead of /a/ I forgot to write it in correct IPA! so everywhere were I used /a/ it is actually /ɑ:/!!!!
    – tima
    Jun 24, 2014 at 19:43
  • :) thanks, I need to read it again since I am a little confused but I am curious to know if there is a systematic difference or not. :)
    – tima
    Jun 24, 2014 at 19:52
  • @PeterShor thanks again :) but why does one source say there is no systematic difference while the other does.
    – tima
    Jun 24, 2014 at 20:04
  • 1
    It's systematic if you can always decide whether it's /æ/ or /ɑ:/ just by looking at the phonemes in the word. But here you can only guess correctly most of the time; sometimes you'll be wrong. So it's not-quite-systematic. Does that count as systematic or not? It's certainly not true that /æ/ in AmE goes to /ɑ:/ in British English. Jun 24, 2014 at 20:07

1 Answer 1


Part of the answer to your question is the change that occurred. By and large, English spelling is conservative and reflects pronunciation from an earlier period.

Here's Barber, Beal & Shaw, The English Language, 2nd edn., p. 227.

Before the voiceless fricatives /f/, /s/, and /θ/, short [æ], from ME [Middle English] a, became lengthened to [æː], which later became [aː], and then [ɑː]

Hence the RP vowels in laugh, pass and path.

If you listen to Australian English for these words, you'll hear [aː] rather than [ɑː] - in other words, long vowels, but a front rather than a back vowel. The Australian vowel represents the British vowel around the 19th century.

The main point is that [ɑː] is restricted to certain words.

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