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The trapbath split in Bristol English

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  26 April 2019

Gonville & Caius College, University of Cambridge, Trinity Street, CambridgeCB2 1TA,
Bristol Centre for Linguistics, University of the West of England, Frenchay Campus, Coldharbour Lane, BristolBS16 1QY,


The pronunciation of the bath vowel is a salient feature of English varieties of the southwest of England, yet neither the status of the trapbath split in traditional dialects nor ongoing change today is well understood. After reviewing the existing literature, we investigate the quality and length of low unrounded vowels in Bristol English on the basis of sociolinguistic interviews with twenty-five speakers. The picture suggested by these data is complex: there is evidence for a traditional length-only trapbath split, for a length and backness split diffusing from the east and for a merger diffusing from the north. Some of these changes involve lexical diffusion, especially with loanwords and other distinctive lexical groups. Overall, the rich and contradictory data speak to the contested sociolinguistic status of these variables and to the need to examine individual patterns of variation closely to gain a full understanding of them.

Research Article
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2019

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Acknowledgements are made to the Bristol Centre for Linguistics (BCL), which funded the ‘Sounds Bristolian’ project, and to Kate Beeching and James Murphy, both of BCL, for their work coordinating this research.


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