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Regional variation of pronunciation in the south-west of England

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towns took place at an unprecedented rate in the early railway age, and such movements were relatively confined geographically.

Soon after World War I, new interregional migrations flow commenced when the formerly booming 19th-century industrial and mining districts lost much of their economic momentum. Declining or stagnating heavy industry in Clydeside, northeastern England, South Wales, and parts of Lancashire and Yorkshire swelled the ranks of the unemployed, and the consequent outward migration became the drift to the relatively more prosperous Midlands and southern England. This movement of people continued until it was arrested by the relatively full employment conditions that obtained soon after the outbreak of World War II.

In the 1950-s, opportunities for employment in the United Kingdom improved with government sponsored diversification of industry, and this did much to reduce the magnitude of the prewar drift to the south. The decline of certain northern industries - coal mining shipbuilding, and cotton textiles in particular - had nevertheless reached a critical level by the late 1960s, and the emergence of new growth points in the West Midlands and southwestern England made the drift to the south a continuing feature of British economic life. Subsequently, the area of most rapid growth shifted to East Anglia, the South West, and the East Midlands. This particular spatial emphasis resulted from the deliberately planned movement of people to the New Towns in order to relieve the congestion around London.

Unifying influences on dialects.

Communication lines such as roads (if they are at least several centuries old), river valleys, or seacoasts often have a unifying influence. Also important urban centres often form the hub of a circular region in which the same dialect is spoken. In such areas the prestige dialect of the city has obviously expanded. As a general rule, those dialects, or at least certain dialectal features, with greater social prestige tend to replace those that are valued lower on the social scale.

In times of less frequent contact between populations, dialectal differences increase, in periods, of greater contact, they diminish. Mass literacy, schools, increased mobility of populations, and mass communications all contribute to this tendency.

Mass migrations may also contribute to the formation of a more or less uniform dialect over broad geographic areas. Either the resulting dialect is that of the original homeland of a particular migrating population or it is a dialect mixture formed by the levelling of differences among migrants from more than one homeland. The degree of dialectal differentiation depends to a great extent on the length of time a certain population has remained in a certain place.

Focal, relic, and transitional areas.

Dialectologists often distinguish between focal areas - which provide sources of numerous important innovations and usually coincide with centres of lively economic or cultural activity - and relic areas - places toward which such innovations are spreading but have not usually arrived. (Relic areas also have their own innovations, which, however, usually extend over a smaller geographical area.)

Relic areas or relic phenomena are particularly common in out-of-the-way regional pockets or along the periphery of a particular languages geographical territory.

The borders of regional dialects often contain transitional areas that share some features with one neighbour and some with the other. Such mixtures result from unequal diffusion of innovations from both sides. Similar unequal diffusion in mixed dialects in any region also may be a consequence of population mixture created by migrations. (9, p.420)

6. Received Pronunciation.

The abbreviation RP (Received Pronunciation) denotes the speech of educated people living in London and the southeast of England and of other people elsewhere who speak in this way. If the qualifier educated be assumed, RP is then a regional (geographical) dialect, as contrasted with London Cockney, which is a class (social) dialect. RP is not intrinsically superior to other varieties of English; it is itself only one particular regional dialect that has, through the accidents of history, achieved more extensive use than others. Although acquiring its unique status without the aid of any established authority, it may have been fostered by the public schools (Winchester, Eton, Harrow and so on) and the ancient universities (Oxford and Cambridge). Other varieties of English are well preserved in spite of the levelling influences of film, television, and radio. (8, p.365)

The ancestral form of RP was well-established over 400 years ago as the accent of the court and the upper classes. The English courtier George Puttenham writing in 1589 thought that the English of nothern men, whether they be noblemen or gentlemen is not so courtly or so current as our Southern English is.

The present-day situation.

Today, with the breakdown of rigid divisions between social classes and the development of the mass media, RP is no longer the preserve of a social elite. It is most widely heard on the BBC; but there are also conservative and trend-setting forms.

Early BBC recordings show how much RP has altered over just a few decades, and they make the point that no accent is immune to change, not even the best. But the most important fact is that RP is no longer as widely used today as it was 50 years ago. Most educated people have developed an accent which is a mixture of RP and various regional characteristics - modified RP, some call it. In some cases, a former RP speaker has been influenced by regional norms; in other cases a former regional speaker has moved in the direction of RP.

Who first called it RP?

The British phonetician Daniel Jones was the first to codify the properties of RP. It was not a label he much liked, as he explains in An Outline of English Phonetics (1980):

I do not consider it possible at the present time to regard any special type as standard or as intrinsically better than other types. Nevertheless, the type described in this book is certainly a useful one. It is based on my own (Southern) speech, and is, as far as I can ascertain, that generally used by those who have been educated at preparatory boarding schools and the Public Schools The term Received Pronunciation is often used to designate this type of pronunciation. This term is adopted here for want of a better. (1960, 9th edn, p.12)

The historical linguist H.C. Wyld also made much use of the term received in A Short History of English (1914):

It is proposed to use the term Received Standard for that form which all would probably agree in considering the best that form which has the widest currency and is heard with practically no variation among speakers of the better class all over the country. (1927, 3rd edn, p.149)

The previous usage to which Jones refers can be traced back to the dialectologist A.J. Ellis, in On Early English Pronunciation (1869):

In the present day we may, however, recognize a received pronunciation all over the country It may be especially considered as the educated pronunciation of the metropolis of the court, the pulpit, and the bar. (p.23)

Even then, there were signs of the future, for he goes on to say:

But in as much as all these localities and professions are recruited from the provinces, there will be a varied thread of provincial utterance running through the whole. (8, p.365)

Social variation.

As for the accents, they refer to the varieties in pronunciation, which convey information about a persons geographical origin. These varieties are partly explained by social mobility and new patterns of settlement. Distinct groups or social formation within the whole may be set off from each other in a variety of ways: by gender, by age, by class, by ethnic identity. Particular groups will tend to have characteristic ways of using the language-characteristic ways of pronouncing it, - for example - and these will help to mark off the boundaries of one group from another. They belong to different social groups and perform different social roles. A person might be identified as a woman, a parent, a child, a doctor, or in many other ways. Many people speak with an accent, which shows the influence of their place of work. Any of these identities can have consequences for the kind of language they use. Age, sex, and socio-economic class have been repeatedly shown to be of importance when it comes to explaining the way sounds, constructions, and vocabulary vary.

I think the best example to show it is the famous play Pygmalion by Bernard Shaw touched upon social classes, speech and social status of people using different types of accents and dialects. One of the ideas was that it is possible to tell from a persons speech not only where he comes from but what class he belongs to. But no matter what class a person belongs to, he can easily change his pronunciation depending on what environment he finds himself in. The heroine Liza aired his views, saying: When a child is brought to a foreign country, it picks up the language in a few weeks, and forgets its own. Well, I am a child in your country. I have forgotten my own language, and can speak nothing but yours. (13, p.64).

So some conclusions about the kinds of social phenomena that influence change through contact with other dialects can be made:

dialects differ from region through the isolation of groups of speakers;

dialects change through contact with other dialects;

the upper classes reinforce Standard English and RP through education.

Dialects of England: Traditional and Modern.

After the retirement of the Romans from the island the invading immigrants were the Jutes, Saxons, Danes and Angles. The Jutes seized Kent, The Isle of Wight and a part of the mainland; the Saxons had all those parts that have now the suffix sex, as Essex, Sussex, Middlesex, and Wessex; and the Angles took possession of that tract of the north that has the present terminations land, shire and folk, as Suffolk, Yorkshire, Northumberland. These last afterwards gave the name to the whole island.

Dialects are not to be considered corruption of a language, but as varieties less favoured than the principal tongue of the country. Of the various dialects, it must be borne in mind that the northern countries retain many words now obsolete in current English: these words are of the genuine Teutonic stock. The pronunciation may seem rough and harsh, but is the same as that used by the forefathers; consequently it must not be considered barbarous. The other countries of England differ from the vernacular by a depraved pronunciation.

Awareness of regional variation in England is evident from the fourteenth century, seen in the observation of such writers as Higden/Trevisa or William Caxton and in the literary presentation of the characters in Chaucers Reeves Tale or the Wakefield Second Shepherds Play. Many of the writers on spelling and grammar in the 16th and 17th centuries made comments about regional variation, and some (such as Alexander Gil) were highly systematic in their observants, though the material is often obscured by a fog of personal prejudices.

The picture which emerges from the kind of dialect information obtained by the Survey of English Dialects relates historically to the dialect divisions recognized in Old and Middle English.

The classification of modern dialects presents serious difficulties as their boundaries are rather vague and the language standard more and more invades the spread area of the dialectal speech. One of the most serious attempts at such classification was made by A. Ellis. His classification more or less exactly reflects the dialectal map of modern Great Britain and it was

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Regional variation of pronunciation in the south-west of England


Regional variation of pronunciation in the south-west of England

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