Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Accent change? You're having a laff.

Today’s Telegraph has a front page feature on research into accent change in the UK, which focuses on the spread of vowel sounds and trends in dialect (or rather, accent) levelling. The article takes a historical overview of trends in accent and looks at how the words bath and laugh are pronounced these days and how they were spoken 200 years ago. As with many pieces of research into this , there seems to be a trend away from distinct local accents towards regional ones, so as Jonnie Robinson, curator of English Dialects and Accents at the British Library explains:

Huddersfield, for instance, is becoming more like Leeds, while towns nearer Hull that once had their own sound were becoming absorbed into the Humberside accent. "Really large towns stand firm, but the rest can lose their distinctiveness. And in the South, accents in places such as Reading and Oxford have become more like London." There are power accent bastions, with Liverpool being the most obvious. A combination of Irish and Welsh immigrants in the second half of the 19th century gave the city its distinctive voice, but association with what was then not a very healthy or law-abiding urban centre did not appeal to folk within easy reach.

Perhaps of more interest than the article itself – which is fairly good but doesn’t really offer much more insight than you’ll have from your lessons anyway – is a set of sound files you can listen to, of accents recorded around the country in 1950, and a link to what looks like an amazing British Library project which is creating a voicemap of the whole country.

And if the spread of Estuary/London tones isn't enough to cause palpitations for our northern brothers and sisters, have a look at this article (recommended by blog contributor, Simon Lavery) which suggests that children brought up by parents with different regional accents may end up falling behind at school. Or so they say...

Useful for:
ENA5 – Language Change & Varieties

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