Regional variation of pronunciation in the south-west of England

  Бродович О.И. Диалектная вариативность английского языка: аспекты теории. Л., 1988 Маковский М.М. Английская диалектология. Современные английские диалекты Великобритании. М., 1980 Шахбагова Д.А.

Regional variation of pronunciation in the south-west of England



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iting 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.


  1. 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)


  1. 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:

  1. dialects differ from region through the isolation of groups of speakers;
  2. dialects change through contact with other dialects;
  3. the upper classes reinforce Standard English and RP through education.


  1. 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 taken as the basis by many dialectologists.



The map below displays thirteen traditional dialect areas (it excludes the western tip of Cornwall and most of Wales, which were not English speaking until the 18th century). A major division is drawn between the North and everywhere else, broadly following the boundary between the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of Northumbria and Mercia, and a Secondary division is found between much of the Midlands and areas further south. A hierarchal representation of the dialect relationship is shown below. (№8, p.324).





Relatively few people in England now speak a dialect of the kind represented above. Although some forms will still be encountered in real life, they are more often found in literary representations of dialect speech and in dialect humour books. The disappearance of such pronunciations, and their associated lexicon and grammar, is sometimes described as “English dialects dying out”. The reality is that they are more than compensated for by the growth of a range of comparatively new dialect forms, chiefly associated with the urban areas of the country. If the distinguishing features of these dialects are used as the basis of classification, a very different-looking dialect map emerges with 16 major divisions.




Part II. Background of the Cornish language.

The southwestern areas of England include Devonshire, Somersetshire, Cornwall, Wiltshire and Dosertshire. But first of all Id like to draw your attention to the Cornish language as it doesnt exist now.


The History of Cornish.

1. Who are the Cornish?

The Cornish are a Celtic people, in ancient times the Westernmost kingdom of the Dumnonii, the people who inhabited all of Cornwall, Devon and West Somerset.

The Cornish are probably the same people who have lived in Cornwall since the introduction of farming around 3000 B.C.. The start of farming in Cornwall may also indicate the start of what some scholars now term proto Indo-European, from whence the Celtic languages along with the Italic and other related groups of languages began evolving.


2. What is a Celtic Language?

Around 2000 B.C., the group of languages now called Celtic languages started to split away from the other members of the Indo-European group of l

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