Friday, October 21, 2011

British dialects in the news

Here's a nice piece on contemporary language and dialect issues in Britain, by leading sociolinguist Paul Kerswill and published in the Sun. We've said a little about dialect and the British show EastEnders here in the past (here), but this is about a reality show, The Only Way is Essex, or TOWIE.

I haven't seen the show and don't know enough about British dialects today to have anything to say anyhow, but maybe some readers can comment on Kerswill's analysis? Sure looks to me like a good example of laying out language variation and change stuff for a lay audience.


Anonymous said...

I find it really good that a major figure in the field like Kerswill is taking the time to make that kind of case for the public. This feels much more hands-on than what American sociolinguists have generally done, and might connect better.

Anonymous said...

Quite apart from any altruistic feelings and ethical considerations around making our research accessible to a lay audience... we are assessed on the "impact" of our research in the UK, meaning we have to demonstrate the effects of our research outside the academy.

Mr. Verb said...

Yes, that's right and it's an important point.

In the abstract, evaluating scholars on broader impact is a great thing -- we need that here -- and Kerwill's making a nice contribution here, but the broader assessment structure in the UK makes me nervous.

John said...

I'm a big fan of Kerswill. He's been around for quite a while now and has, in the past, made some interesting contributions on accents and dialects to a couple of Open University (UK) courses.
personally, I do love the Liverpudlian 'yous' in the Sun piece when addressing more than one person. It's a bit like 'vous' in French, 'vosotros'(in Castilian Spanish), or 'ihr' in German.
Accents, strongly influenced by Black and Asian English, have been spreading out from London across the south-east and north. At the same time, as you reported in a piece from the Economist not long ago, other areas, such as Liverpool, for example, seem to be extending certain features of the accent ('buh' for 'but').
Buh, we've all been here before with Labov's work in the 60s, haven't we?
It's no acc(id)ent that the show is called The Only Way is Essex - strictly airhead TV!

Mr. Verb said...

Thanks, that's the kind of perspective I just don't have on the show or how British accents are perceived. (Most of us here know bits and pieces, but lack a coherent picture.)

In general, Kerswill is one of the most important sociolinguists working, surely. And his work is very important for historical linguists and language contact people too.