Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Changing accents

Several newspapers have picked up on an article* the research and ideas of Lancaster University linguist Paul Kerswill featured in an article for The Economist in which he talks about how accents are changing over time and speculates about what the country will sound like in years to come (2030, to be precise).

The original Economist article is here under the title Geordie's Still Alreet.  The Daily Mail jumped on the Geordie angle and the chance to print a picture of the delightful Cheryl Cole (whose recent tribulations with Simon Cowell and the US X Factor have been covered at length recently and at least partly blamed on her accent being tricky for Americans to understand) and featured the story under the title More than "Alreet".

Kerswill is one of the key linguists in the field and has been involved in a lot of recent work on Multicultural London English, among other things, so he knows what he's talking about. However, not all the articles based on his work are problem-free and it's interesting to see what Kerswill himself, and other linguists, have to say about the ways in which accents are described in the media. You can read more here on John Wells' phonetic blog.

Language Variation is one of the big areas for ENGA3 (sadly, it's not currently covered on the AQA B spec) and there's a decent chance of something about accent and dialect cropping up as a Language Discourses topic too this year. It's therefore worth looking at some of the complaints about the language used to represent different accents. Adjectives like sloppy, lazy, guttural and bland abound in many of these mainstream articles, and that's before you even get onto the readers' comments which are often laced with quite offensive stereotypes about the inhabitants of different regions and the way they speak.

We've covered the main thrust of Kerswill's argument here before, but it's certainly worth having a look at all of this again in preparation for the A2 exam later this month.

* edited on Thursday 9th June to reflect Paul Kerswill's comments below (sorry, Paul!)

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