Thursday, February 22, 2007

Dying dialects

"It's been dying for some time and it will just die a natural death. I was brought up in the fishing industry, which has died out, and the dialect has gone as the place changes." So says Bobby Hogg, 87 years old and one of possibly two or three surviving speakers of a particular fisherman's dialect from Cromarty in the Highlands of Scotland.

In an article in The Scotsman newspaper this week, linguists and cultural historians had a look at the looming disappearance of another local dialect - not just a regional dialect but an occupational one too - and the significance of it to the rest of us.

And it's not only in sleepy fishing villages that local dialects appear to be dying out, but in the urban heart of Scotland too. In a linked article, Miriam Meyerhoff, a professor of sociolinguistics at Edinburgh University looks at the ways in which the influence of southern English, American and Australian has changed the lexis and phonology of Scottish English.

So are we seeing the death of regional varieties of English, smothered under a blanket of mass media-driven metropolitan mumbling? Well, yes and no; as lots of recent research by linguists like Dave Britain at Essex University, Sue Fox at Queen Mary's University and Paul Kerswill at Lancaster University (among others) has shown, while dialect levelling is clearly taking place - local differences gradually blurring as wider and regional ones take hold - new dialects are also being created.

Have a search under multi ethnic youth dialect or multi cultural london english in the search bar at the top of this page, to find a host of articles about new varieties of English, or better still, post your own examples here as comments.

Useful for:
ENA5 - Language Varieties

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