Tuesday, June 14, 2011

British English Dialects in the Popular Media

Regular followers of this blog include a lot of folks interested in patterns of regional variation in language, including English. The Economist has an interesting article on the robust health of British English dialects (at least on the phonetic level). It also refers to the sociophonetic work of Kevin Watson and Paul Kerswill at the University of Lancaster. The very nice graphic at left is taken from the article.


Harry Campbell said...

British English dialects (at least on the phonetic level)

In other words, "British English accents". This study is not about dialect. Please let's not do anything to perpetuate the media's constant misuse of the word.

John said...

Paul Kerswill once (1994) wrote an interesting study on the new town of Milton Keynes (in UK) and dialect levelling in south-eastern British English.
And, actually, I don't entirely agree with Harry. Though I think that accent and dialect are very often easily separable, they aren't always.
By the way, I don't know whether or not you've come across David Crystal's blog but it's definitely worth a visit: http://david-crystal.blogspot.com/2011/06/on-being-linguistically-cognito.html

Harry Campbell said...

OK, fair point, there are cases where the concepts of dialect and accent blur into each other, but this is clearly a study about accents. Unfortunately in my view, this necessary and largely straightforward distinction has been muddied by people using "dialect" to mean accent, and not just members of the public and ignorant journalists. I get the impression it's standard terminology among "dialect coaches", speech trainers, elocutionists, whatever you call them.

Ben said...

Harry: Your accent/dialect distinction is not used in linguistics. Indeed, pronunciation is often the most salient feature of dialects. Note too that your accent/pronunciation seems wrong when applied to other languages; the High German consonant shift, for instance, is a matter of pronunciation, yet the resulting varieties of German can hardly be called "accents" (Yes, I know, there are also non-pronunciation-related differences between them, but my point, I think, is still clear).

A better way to make the accent/dialect distinction is to reserve "accent" for traces of a native language that show up in an acquired language. In addition to being basically in keeping with the terminology of linguistics, this distinction also avoids the pejorative connotation of "accent," i.e., the funny way they talk over there, as opposed to the normal way normal people like me talk.

" Neutral accent " said...

The term dialect is used in two distinct ways, even by linguists. One usage refers to a variety of a language that is a characteristic of a particular group of the language's speakers. The term is applied most often to regional speech patterns, but a dialect may also be defined by other factors, such as social class.

A dialect that is associated with a particular social class can be termed a sociolect; a regional dialect may be termed a regiolect or topolect. The other usage refers to a language socially subordinate to a regional or national standard language, often historically cognate to the standard, but not a variety of it or in any other sense derived from it.

This more precise usage enables distinguishing between varieties of a language, such as the French spoken in Nice, France, and local languages distinct from the superordinate language, e.g. Nissart, the traditional native Romance language of Nice, known in French as Ni├žard.

A dialect is distinguished by its vocabulary, grammar, and pronunciation (phonology, including prosody). Where a distinction can be made only in terms of pronunciation, the term accent is appropriate, not dialect. Other speech varieties include: standard languages, which are standardized for public performance (for example, a written standard); jargons, which are characterized by differences in lexicon (vocabulary); slang; patois; pidgins or argots.