The app maps the decline in regional diversity of English dialects
Regional diversity of words and dialect pronunciations could decrease, as much of England is more in line with how English is spoken in London and the South East, according to the first results of a free app developed by Cambridge researchers.
The English Dialects app (free for Android and iOS) was launched in January 2016 and has been downloaded over 70,000 times. To date, over 30,000 people from over 4,000 locations across the UK have provided results on how certain familiar words and phrases are pronounced. A new updated version of the app – which tries to guess where you came from at the end of the quiz – is available for download starting this week.
Based on the huge new data set of findings, researchers at Cambridge, as well as colleagues at the Universities of Bern and Zurich, were able to map the spread, evolution, or decline of certain words and colloquialisms compared to the results of the initial survey of dialect speakers. in 313 localities carried out in the 1950s.
One of the main findings is that certain features of regional accents, such as the pronunciation of the “r” in words like “arm” – a highly visible pronunciation feature that was once normal throughout the west of the country and along of much of the south coast – are disappearing. in favor of pronunciations found in London and the South East.
Principal Investigator Dr Adrian Leemann, Cambridge’s Department of Theoretical and Applied Linguistics, said: ‘Regarding language switching in England, our results confirm that there is a clear pattern of leveling towards English. from the south-east; more and more people use and pronounce words like people in London and the South East do.
Professor David Britain of the University of Bern added: âThe people of Bristol speak much more in the same way as those of Colchester today than they did fifty years ago. Regional differences are disappearing, some quite quickly. However, while many pockets of resistance to this leveling are narrowing, there is still a clear north-south divide in the pronunciation of some keywords. “
Dialect words are even more likely to have disappeared than regional accents, according to this research. In the past, the word âbackendâ instead of âautumnâ was common in much of England, but today very few people report using this word.
However, research has shown some areas of resistance to global dialect leveling patterns. Newcastle and Sunderland stood out from the rest of England, with the majority of people in these areas continuing to use local words and pronunciations that are in decline elsewhere. For example, many people in the Northeast still use a traditional dialect word for “a small piece of wood stuck under the skin,” “spell” instead of “splinter” in Standard English.
Other dialect words, like ‘shiver’ for ‘splinter’, are still reported in the exact same area where they were historically found, although they are much less common than they once were (see slideshow from the menu).
Data collected to date shows that a Nordic pronunciation has been found to be particularly robust: pronouncing words like “last” with a short vowel instead of a long one. In this case, the northern form appears to have spread south into the Midlands and West Country compared to the historical survey.
In other cases, new pronunciations have spread. The pronunciation of words like “three” with an “f” was only found in a small area of ââthe southeast in the 1950s, but today’s data shows that this pronunciation is much more widespread – 15 % of respondents said they said ‘free’ for ‘three’, compared to only 2% in the old Atlas.
Tam Blaxter, a doctoral student at Cambridge, who worked alongside Dr Leemann to map the 30,000 responses provided by the public, suggests that greater geographic mobility is driving the changes compared to the first systematic national survey of regional discourse, the Survey of English Dialects from the 1950s.
âThere has been much greater geographic mobility over the past half century,â Blaxter said. âA lot of people move a lot more for education, work and lifestyle and there has been a significant displacement of the population from the cities to the countryside.
âA lot of the results confirmed what language experts might predict – but so far we just didn’t have the geographic extent of the data to back up our predictions. If we were to do the survey 60 to 70 years from now , we could well see this dialect leveling spreading further, although some places like the northeast seem to have been particularly good at preserving certain colloquialisms and pronunciations. “
When the app originally launched in January, users were asked how they pronounced 26 different words or phrases. The academics behind the app wanted to see how English dialects have changed, spread or stabilized since the English Dialects Survey. The 1950s project took eleven years to complete and captured the accents and dialects primarily of farm workers.
Perhaps one of the most surprising results of the data provided so far is that the use of “scone” (to rhyme with “part” rather than “cone”) is much more common in the north of the England as many might imagine (see slideshow map).
Adrian Leemann said: âEveryone has strong opinions about how this word is pronounced, but until the app launched in January, we knew relatively little about who uses which pronunciation and where. Our data show that for the North and Scotland ‘scone’ rhymes with ‘part’, for Cornwall and the area around Sheffield it rhymes with ‘cone’ – while for the rest of England there seems to be a lot variations within the community. In the future, we will see more of how this distribution is socially conditioned. “
The launch of the English Dialects App in January also made it possible to compare language use in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland with language use in England (the original 1950s survey was limited to England and similar surveys in other parts of the UK were not undertaken at the same time or using the same methods).
The huge levels of comments also meant that the team has improved the prediction of where users are from. The app now correctly places 25% of respondents within a 20 mile radius, compared to 37 miles for the old method.
Do you say splinter, spool, spile or sort? The English Dialects app tries to guess your regional accent
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