New research from the University of Cambridge suggests that diversity in regional accents and vocabulary is decreasing as more of the country speaks like London and the south east.
Researchers created and launched the free English Dialects app earlier this year in an attempt to map English dialects and compare the results to those of a landmark 1950s dialect survey. Results from the 30,000 users of the app – based in 4,000 different locations – have allowed academics from Cambridge and their partners at the universities of Bern and Zurich to monitor how people pronounce words and phrases.
One conclusion from the results is that certain characteristics of regional accents – like the pronounced ‘r’ of a West Country accent – are being replaced by pronunciations traditionally found in London and the south east of England.
Maps showing how many people pronounce the 'r' in 'arm'.
“When it comes to language change in England, our results confirm that there is a clear pattern of levelling towards the English of the south-east; more and more people are using and pronouncing words in the way that people from London and the south-east do,” stated lead researcher Dr Adrian Leemann from Cambridge’s department of theoretical and applied languages.
The method of gathering the data itself shows the changes that have taken place since the 1950s. Whereas the 1950s Survey of English Dialects took 11 years and focused mainly on farm labourers, the current researchers are reaching a wider audience in just a few months using an app which studies how users pronounce 26 different words or phrases.
Map showing how many people say 'scone' rhymes with 'gone'.
The results also showed that the use of dialect words is generally on the decline. However, some parts of the country are still resistant to these changes. Newcastle and Sunderland were distinct from the rest of England in still using a lot of dialect words and pronunciations. One example given by the researchers was the continuing use of the word ‘spelk’ for ‘splinter’.
Researchers feel that greater geographical mobility is the reason for these changes in dialect.
“There has been much greater geographical mobility in the last half century,” said Tam Blaxter, a PHD student working on the research.
“Many people move around much more for education, work and lifestyle and there has been a significant shift of population out of the cities and into the countryside.”
Map credits: Tam Blaxter/University of Cambridge
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