146: Happy "New" Year!

"New" in American and British English.

Transcript

Hi again, and welcome back to Seattle Learning Academy's American English pronunciation podcast. My name is Mandy, and this is our 146th episode.

I'd like to take a moment to wish all of our listeners a Happy New Year! This is a great opportunity to talk about the word new. New is one of those words that seems really simple, but is worth talking about because of the slight difference in pronunciation between American English and British English. The difference is so tiny that it won't cause any communication problems at all, but it is worth knowing about if you're striving for a more American accent.

The difference is that Americans pronounce new (spelled n-e-w or k-n-e-w) as the n sound followed by the oo sound. Remember, the oo sound is pronounced as (oo sound), so new is pronounced (n sound, oo sound).

British speakers pronounce new as the n sound followed by the long u sound. The long u sounds like (long u). Remember, for the purposes of learning pronunciation, we call the y sound plus the oo sound the long u sound. While some linguists don't consider the long u to be an individual sound, we teach it that way so that correcting students' inaccurate use of either the oo sound or long u sound can be more quickly recognized and corrected. It also makes topics like this easier to explain.

So while Americans say new, British say n(y)ew. A good place to go to hear the difference between American and British pronunciations is Cambridge Dictionaries Online. They not only show the symbols for both American and British pronunciation (British first), but they also provide audio samples.

Here is the Cambridge Dictionaries Online audio for the British pronunciation of new: (audio of new), and here is their American pronunciation: (audio of new). Can you hear the difference?

Here they are again:
British: new
American: new

And one more time:
British: new
American: new

This difference in pronunciation is important to recognize because it's a part of a larger pattern that affects more than this single word. On our Pronuncian.com lesson regarding the long u sound, we state that the long u and oo sound pronunciations share many spelling patterns, but the long u occurs (in American English), mostly after the following consonants:

 

m sound
k sound
f sound
b sound
v sound
h sound

 

This is why the words cute, huge and fuel are pronounced with a long u sound. If they were pronounced with an oo sound, they would sound like coot, hooge and fool.

British pronunciation, however, has more consonant sounds that cause the long u sound including, yes, the n sound. Since I obviously am not a native British English speaker, I'm going to continue to use Cambridge Dictionaries Online audio samples for these words. First I'm going to say the word with my American accent, then you will hear the British version. Try to notice the addition of the y sound after the n sound in the British version:

 

new
avenue
nutrition
nude
revenue
nuclear

 

Before getting into another consonant that causes a difference in pronunciation between American and British pronunciation, I want to give you some exceptions to the American pattern. These are words that are pronounced with a long u sound both in American and British English, despite following the n sound:

 

continue
menu
annual
monument

 

So remember to always be careful. The spelling patterns are just a guide to the more likely pronunciation; other possibilities always exist. You must learn to hear the differences in sounds to really be able to perfect your spoken English, in any accent.

Now, the n sound is not the only sound that causes this difference in accent; the t sound also does, and probably with a greater number of words. I'm not going to play the British pronunciation of these words (you can go online if you really want to hear it), but here are some examples of words that will sound different depending on the accent. The American pronunciation uses the oo sound, where the British pronunciation uses the long u sound:

 

tube
tune
tutor
attitude
costume

 

The information about the long u and oo sound spelling patterns is online on Pronuncian.com, but it is also in our new edition of Pronunciation Pages! This new text includes the spelling and pronunciation patterns for all of the sounds of American English, and over five hours of audio to give you lots of practice opportunity. Click the "Products" link on www.pronuncian.com to purchase your digital, downloadable copy of the ebook, or a print version with CDs that we will be happy to ship to you, anywhere in the world.

Also, if you have any suggestions for a future podcast topic, you can now post it directly to our Facebook wall! Just go to www.facebook.com/EnglishAssembly. Let us know what you'd like to learn about. We're really looking forward to hearing from people.

That's all for today. This has been a Seattle Learning Academy digital publication. SLA is where the world comes to learn.

Thanks for listening.

Bye-bye.

British audio sources: "avenue." Dictionary.Cambridge.org. Cambridge Dictionaries Online, 2011. Web. 27 December 2011.
"new." Dictionary.Cambridge.org. Cambridge Dictionaries Online, 2011. Web. 27 December 2011.
"nuclear." Dictionary.Cambridge.org. Cambridge Dictionaries Online, 2011. Web. 27 December 2011.
"nude." Dictionary.Cambridge.org. Cambridge Dictionaries Online, 2011. Web. 27 December 2011.
"nutrition." Dictionary.Cambridge.org. Cambridge Dictionaries Online, 2011. Web. 27 December 2011.
"revenue." Dictionary.Cambridge.org. Cambridge Dictionaries Online, 2011. Web. 27 December 2011.