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Guest Andrew Moore

English varieties of the British Isles

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I like Trudgill's stuff.

OK, let me do some navel-gazing too. Paul Coggle and I have worked together - and had a few beers together. I was external examiner for the MA course in "Advanced Language Studies: Computing" at the University of Kent when Paul was there. He introduced me to the concept of "Estuary English". And, of course, he was one of the authors of the best-selling Ealing Course in German. I taught German at Ealing College (later to become part of Thames Valley University), 1971-1993.

Enough from me for 10 days! I'm heading for Austria tomorrow to do some serious skiing and après-ski...

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Guest Andrew Moore

Here's a bit more from the guide.

Joanna Przedlacka's study of "Estuary"

Perhaps the most authoritative recent research is that of Joanna Przedlacka. Between 1997and 1999 Dr. Przedlacka studied the sociophonetics of what she calls "a putative variety of Southern British English, popularly known as Estuary English." In fieldwork in four of the Home Counties (Buckinghamshire, Kent, Essex and Surrey) she studied fourteen sociophonetic variables, looking at differences among the counties, between male and female speakers and two social classes. She studied sixteen teenage speakers, using a word elicitation task. (Dr. Przedlacka's report, Estuary English and RP: some recent findings, is available as a portable document file (PDF), while a summary, with some of the more important interpretation, is on her homepage, along with digital audio files to exemplify the speech sounds in the study.

Get Joanna Przedlacka's Estuary English and RP (103 KB)

Go to Joanna Przedlacka's homepage at www.phon.ox.ac.uk/~joanna

Joanna Przedlacka compared her examples to data taken from the Survey of English Dialects (SED). She found that:

glottaling (supposedly a distinctive feature of Estuary English) showed a pattern not dissimilar to that of fifty years ago, as shown in the SED data, but that

l-vocalisation had increased.

She compared the Estuary English data and recordings of RP and Cockney speakers. This demonstrated that Estuary speakers were intermediate between RP and "Cockney" as regards the incidence of t-glottaling and l-vocalisation. She suggests that this may be an oversimplification of the issue: one should also consider factors such as geographical variation or idiosyncratic characteristics of the speakers.

Here are some more detailed observations from Dr. Przedlacka's research:

Vowel fronting

The word blue uttered by a speaker from Buckinghamshire, has a front realisation of the vowel, while other front realisations can be heard in boots, pronounced by a Kent female and roof (Essex female). A central vowel can be heard in new, uttered by a male teenager from Essex. Back realisations of the vowel, as in cucumber, uttered by a Kent teenager are infrequent. The vowel in butter has a back realisation in the speech of an Essex speaker, but can be realised a front vowel, as in dust or cousins, both uttered by teenage girls from Buckinghamshire.

Glottaling

Glottaling of syllable non-initial /t/ is not the main variant in Estuary English. Here the word feet, spoken by a Kent female, exemplifies it. Realisations where the /t/ is not “dropped” are more frequent - as in bat, (Surrey speaker). Intervocalic /t/ glottaling is virtually absent from the Estuary English data. Here is one of the very few instances of it in the word forty, uttered by a Buckinghamshire female. It is frequently found in Cockney, as in daughter, said by a teenager from the East End of London.

L-vocalisation

The majority of tokens with a syllable non-initial /l/ have a vocalised realisation, as in milk (Kent speaker). Dark l, which is the usual RP realisation (as in an RP speaker's pronunciation of ankle), is also present in Estuary English, alongside clear tokens, as in pull (Essex teenager). However, clear realisations of /l/ are infrequent in the data.

Joanna Przedlacka's conclusion is that "Estuary" does not correspond to anything very coherent:

"The study showed that there is no homogeneity in the accents spoken in the area, given the extent of geographical variation alone. Tendencies observed include: vowel fronting, as in goose or strut, and syllable non-initial t-glottaling, which are led by female speakers. Contrary to speculation in other sources, th-fronting is present in the teenage speech of the Home Counties, the variant being used more frequently by males. Generally, social class turned out not to be a good indicator of change, there being little differences between the classes."

This would tend to support Jane Setter's view, that "Estuary" is not so much a variety as an umbrella term that covers a range of accents. While she identifies them as belonging to the south east, one should also note Paul Kerswill's tracking of their movement to the Midlands and further north.

I have put the draft version of the whole guide on the Web now. It's at:

www.universalteacher.org.uk/lang/britishisles.htm

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