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Dialect Levelling

Posted in Uncategorized by aggslanguage on September 20, 2009

Paul Kerswill

 

Dialect Levelling

 

Dialect levelling is a form of standardisation whereby local variations of speech lose their distinctive, regional features in favour of a more urban or mainstream dialect. This means that the speech forms of different parts of the country are becoming more similar over time and this results in a reduction of language  diversity.  There are several factors involved in dialect levelling:

 

•Geographical mobility results in greater dialect contact between commuters.

•Social mobility and consequent breakdown of tight knit working class communities.

•Increased interaction with people of other speech varieties.

•Children are less likely to adopt their parents’ pronunciation as they come under peer pressure to conform to the linguistic norm of the group. Adolescents take on a vital role in language change.

•Economic change lead to loss of rural employment and construction of suburbs and new towns.

•World Wars meant a change in roles within society especially WWII when women went out to work and soldiers mixed with a wide range of geographical and social backgrounds which may never have previously clashed.

Dialect levelling is a form of standardisation whereby local variations of speech lose their distinctive, regional features in favour of a more urban or mainstream dialect. This means that the speech forms of different parts of the country are becoming more similar over time and this results in a reduction of language diversity.  There are several factors involved  in dialect levelling:

 

  • Geographical mobility results in greater dialect contact between commuters.
  • Social mobility and consequent breakdown of tight knit working class communities.
  • Increased interaction with people of other speech varieties.
  • Children are less likely to adopt their parents’ pronunciation as they come under peer pressure to conform to the linguistic norm of the group. Adolescents take on a vital role in language change.
  • Economic change lead to loss of rural employment and construction of suburbs and new towns.
  • World Wars meant a change in roles within society especially WWII when women went out to work and soldiers mixed with a wide range of geographical and social backgrounds which may never have previously clashed.

 

Traditional Dialect Features

 •North/Midlands

        ‘tha’ for ‘you’

    ‘hissen’ for ‘himself’

        ‘I is’ or ‘I are’ for ‘I am’

    ‘reet’ for ‘right’

 •Southwest

  ‘her’ for ‘she’

   ‘I be’ for ‘I am’

   ‘umman’ for ‘woman’

 

 

Modern Dialect Features

 

• Multiple negation ‘I don’t want none’ • Use of ‘ain’t’ for negative auxiliaries • Use of ‘them’ as a demonstrative adjective ‘Look at them big spiders’ • Use of glottal stops for /t/ at the end and in middle of words ‘bu/?/er’ ‘le/?/ me’ • Replacement of /th/ sounds by /f/ or /v/ so ‘thin’ becomes ‘fin’ and ‘brother’ becomes ‘bruvver’

 

 

Order of Spread of Levelling

 

i.London and surrounding area

 

ii.Southeast

 

 iii.Central England – Midlands, East Anglia

 

iv.Northern England

 

v.Northeast England and Scotland

 

The outcome of levelling is a convergence of accents and dialects towards each other. In some cases, this leads to southern features being adopted in the whole country contributing to the spread of Estuary English as a nationwide dialect.

 

 

Testing the Theory

 

Kerswill investigated the changes in dialect in Milton Keynes, Reading and Hull by interviewing local residents of different ages and studying their pronunciation of certain speech sounds. He generally used children of the ages 4, 8 and 12 (equally divided by sex) and one caregiver, usually the mother.

  The recordings were from either specific tasks given to the children such as quizzes or spot the difference games or spontaneous speech obtained by interviews or playground recordings. The children’s caregivers were also interviewed.

  Milton Keynes and Reading are both viewed as towns where social and geographical mobility is high as there are plenty of newcomers from all social classes expanding the economy of the areas. However, as Reading is a more established town the population is more stable and local they do not rely on commuters as much. 

Hull is geographically more isolated and more economically depressed than the other two towns; cut off from the south by the River Humber and remote from other large metropolises, the town is less attractive to commuters. Social networks are closed as the city is largely working class while surrounding villages are middle class so working/middle class children attend different schools and teenagers living on the estate studied were often third generation locals.

 

Results

 

•Milton Keynes

Older residents used vowel sounds typical of the traditional, local accent, newcomers

(e.g. parents) spoke with a variety of regional accents, while children spoke like their parents/carers for the first 4 years ( school age – one child sounded Scottish at 4 yrs but had changed to local accent by 5 ½ yrs. before changing to a new Milton Keynes accent) which had developed into Estuary English (watered down cockney with some vowels closer to received pronunciation) and were typical of south-eastern speech.

•Reading

Gradual change as children were influenced by their local born-parents and grandparents. Some change was apparent with older residents pronouncing the post- vowel /r/ sound in ‘start’ and ‘nurse’ and young speakers replacing /t/ with a glottal stop /?/.

•Hull

Young speakers retained the northern accent of their older relatives, notable in vowel sounds such as /u/ in ‘but’. They differed again in the use of glottalling and /th/ fronting in words like ‘think’ and ‘brother’.

 

 Conclusion

 

•North/South Levelling

 

Kerswill identified a gradual move among adolescent, Southern speakers towards the

more standardised, less localised variations of speech. However, in Hull, the closed

social networks encourage the continuation of traditional pronunciations, for example,

dropping the /h/ was widespread in both old and young residents of Hull but far less

 so in Reading and Milton Keynes. He suggests an economic factor – the prosperity of

southern towns makes social mobility and achievable goal for young people, however,

the high levels of unemployment in northern towns such as Hull makes children

unconvinced of the value of education as a passport to social mobility and therefore

reject the pressure from authoritarian systems such as the educational one to modify

 their accents. Why the /th/ fronting and glottalling in Hull then, as this is common in

Reading and Milton Keynes as well? Kerswill says that these linguistic variations are

associated with youth culture rather than social class as they are spread though the

media and celebrity culture popular with adolescents. Hull teenagers can signify their

allegiance to their region and class by maintaining the traditional northern accent as

well as identifying themselves with their peer group  by adopting new phonemes

popular with youth culture which may still be working class but not traditionally

northern.

 

 

S Morgan

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One Response

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  1. Sybille said, on November 29, 2011 at 12:25 pm

    Very interesting i was wondering how has dialect leveling been an important force in the recent history of English ? What do you guys think ?


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