The /o/ vowel in the English of Bradford is produced by many speakers as a monophthong with a clearly fronted or central quality. Description of such a pronunciation is, however, all but absent from the literature, suggesting that such pronunciations are a relatively recent development in Bradford speech. The acoustic characteristics of 337 tokens of /o/ are investigated, with a view to matching acoustic cues to the auditory impression of fronting.
The findings are assessed with respect to similar fronting patterns in the vowel systems of varieties of English elsewhere in the UK and worldwide, and to the principles of sound change elucidated by Labov (1991, 1994). We conclude that ‘internal’ factors alone are inadequate to explain the current tendency for varieties of English in northern England to feature /o/ fronting, and suggest that the appearance of this variant in Bradford English is the consequence of contact-induced spread.