An acoustic analysis of 'happy-tensing' in the Queen's Christmas broadcasts

Jonathan Harrington*

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    109 Citations (Scopus)


    This paper presents a longitudinal analysis of some vowels from the annual Christmas broadcasts produced by Queen Elizabeth II over a 50-year period in order to investigate whether adults adapt to sound changes taking place in the community. The sound change that was analyzed in this paper, which is sometimes known as happY-tensing, concerns the tensing of the final vowel in words like 'happy' in British English Received Pronunciation over the course of the last 50 years. In the first part of the study, schwa vowels in Christmas broadcasts separated by 40-50 years were analyzed in order to exclude as far as possible any long-term acoustic effects due to vocal tract maturation. The results of this analysis show a large decrease in both the fundamental and F1, F2, and F4 from earlier to later broadcasts. It is then shown that the Queen's 1950s happY vowel is less tense than in a 1980s corpus of four female speakers of Standard Southern British. A subsequent comparison between the 1950s and 1990s Christmas broadcast happY vowels shows a small change towards the tenser position. It is argued that the vowels exemplified by KIT and happY have undergone phonetic raising in RP, with the latter also having fronted. The Queen has participated in the first of these changes and marginally in the second.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)439-457
    Number of pages19
    JournalJournal of Phonetics
    Issue number4
    Publication statusPublished - Oct 2006


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