Peter Trudgill investigated the dialects of England and who uses them. Where we are from is important to people, we know this because people support football teams from their home region and people return to their homes at Christmas etc. Most people have regional features in their speech and this is part of their identity.
We all speak with an accent and we all speak a dialect.
Accent– the way we pronounce English. Because we all pronounce when we speak we all have an accent.
Dialect– not only pronunciation, but also the words and grammar people use. For example “I haven’t got any.” or “I haven’t got none
Standard English is the dialect normally used in writing and spoken by the most powerful and educated members of the population. It is a minority dialect, spoken by about 12% of the population. Scottish and Irish standard English are also a little different. English standard English can vary a little between north and south.
There are regional dialects and there are two types; Traditional Dialects and Mainstream Dialects. Traditional Dialects are spoken by a minority of the population. They often differ from standard English and from each other. They can be difficult to understand at first. Mainstream dialect includes both the standard English dialect and the Modern Non-standard dialects. Most native English speakers speak some variety of Mainstream dialect. These dialects are associated with native speakers outside the British Isles for example in Australia. In Britain they are particularly associated with the areas which standard English orignally came from; the south east, most urban areas, places that have fairly recently become English speaking (Scottish highlands, Wales, Cornwall), the speech of younger people and middle and upper class speakers everywhere. These mainstream Modern Non-standard Dialects don’t differ that much from standard English or from each other. They are often distinguished by their accent instead of their grammar.
A question always asked is why do people speak different dialects? This is easier to answer if we ask; why doesn’t everyone speak the same? Like all languages English is constantly changing. Some changes spread out to cover the whole country, others only spread so far, which leads to dialect differences bwtween areas. Language can sometimes be explained by external factors like using words from the French after the Norman conquest of England in 1066.
This is what Trudgill thinks about the future. The fact that English has been spoken in England for 1500 years and for only 200 years in Australia explains why we have so many more regional dialects. In Britain it is possible to tell where someone comes from within 15 miles. In Australia there has not been time for such regional variety to develop, though small differences are starting to appear. Also we won’t all end up speaking the same dialect eg. American English. There are changes taking place in American pronunciation which are not happening in England and vice versa. For example more people in England are starting to pronounce words like better with a glottal stop.
Complaints about the language degenerating are a feature of all generations. Language change is a natural and inevitable process, but there are always some people who worry about it. For example some people object to glottal stops maybe because the glottal stop has been associated with lower social class dialects which are now finding their way further up the scale. Some people think that all English Dialects are inferior to standard English. People think Standard English is the English Language. However standard English came to people’s attention because of its location; the southeast of England, an area that contained London, Oxford, Cambridge and Parliament. If the capital of England had been York then Standard English would have shown a close resemblance to northern dialects of England.
The fact is that all dialects, both traditional and modern are equally grammatical and correct. They only differ because of their social significance. As a result of a historical accident the Standard English dialect is the dialect that is used in writing and so is used for official purposes. This is why it’s taught in British schools for reading and writing.
Trudgill’s theory has a lot to do with overt and covert prestige.
- Overt prestige- is the prestige that comes with using the type of language that is nationally recognised and is used in official and educational contexts. Speakers who use standard English are therefore considered well educated, intelligent because they are using the “correct” and “best” version of English.
- Covert prestige- on the other hand, comes from not identifying with the standard language. It is the prestige that comes with group loyalty and solidarity. Working-class speakers show their solidarity with their class and region by sticking to non-standard norms.
One theory is that women are socially insecure so they are more careful to use the overtly socially prestigious forms than men.
Another is that working class language is associated with being rough and tough. In a survey people were asked to rate how well they thought recorded speakers would do in a street fight. Those with regional accents came out on top every time. These traits are considered macho and tough so men tend to lean towards talking like this and women seem to lean away from talking like this.
It is worth considering that everyone uses accent and dialect more in more informal situations like at home with friends and family. However in an interview they would speak very differently.
Trudgill found that in Norwich the ending “ng” on words like walking and talking is the prestigious variable. Like the “r” in New York, it is used by upper class and more in formal situations than informal situations. Trudgill took his research a step further and looked at the sex as well as the class of the speaker.
- Trudgill found that…
- Women of each class use the prestige variant more than men of the same class.
- Using the nonstandard variable is not just a working-class thing it’s also a male thing.
Then Trudgill did some self evaluation tests. He showed people in his survey prestigious and stigmatised pronunciation and asked them to say which they thought they normally used. He already knew the truth of what they spoke from his survey, so he was able to compare how people actually speak compared with how they thought they did. What they actually told him was how they would like to talk. He found that women of all classes tend to over-report (claim they’re using the prestigious variant when they actually don’t). Men of all classes tend to under-report (claim they used the non-standard form when in fact they use the prestigious one). This suggests that men and women as well as upper and lower class are aiming to speak a different type of language.
I asked a male and female of similar age and similar backgrounds to speak about what they did over the summer for one minute. I recorded what each of them said and counted how many non-standard dialect features each used.
The male used…12 non-standard dialect features.
The female used…6 non-standard dialect features.
However it might have been more for the male if he had been speaking for longer. The male found it more difficult to talk for a minute and so there were a lot of long pauses.
This proves Trudgill’s theory and shows women try to speak in a more prestigious way whereas men prefer to speak with a more non-standard dialect.
The transcripts were as follows…
Q: What did you get up to in your summer holidays?
A: Well I work at a school and erm I get all the school holidays off so the first week n a half I was just pl pottering about around the house and getting ready for my holidays and then erm on the 4th of August we went to Tenerife for two weeks and we went with three other families and erm their children also. We had a really nice time we’ve never been to Tenerife before and erm we really like the place so much so that when we came back we tried to get in for the October half term break but it was already full up the place that we stayed at. Erm then when we got back from Tenerife after two weeks in the sun which was really nice erm I had to get the children ready then for school so I had to go n take my youngest daughter to buy some shoes which was an absolute nightmare and erm get ready for school really get uniforms sorted out and everythink erm because I work in a school at the beginning of the holidays I always think to myself ooo I’ve got 5 weeks off now and erm I’ll get loads of jobs done n jobs that I av set in my mind that I want to get done I’ve never ended up doing n the time went so quickly.
Q: What did you get up to in your summer holiday?
A: Well on the August the 4th we went away for two weeks to Tenerife in a place called Fanabe er it was very nice about 15 of us WENT the weather was really really hot for the fourteen days we were there the erm the only trouble was the beach was a bit black sand coz volcanic which I dint really like much n the sea was very very rough erm managed to watch Manchester city (missing an “a”) couple o times while away luckily which they won. We would go out for a meal n then hopefully find a bar somewhere which normally had a singer on or karaoke which a few of the people had a go at n then we found a place called the Wigan Pier which we went to three or four times.