Territorial Varieties of English Pronunciation

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The problem of the work is concerned with varieties of English in different regions of Britain and various countries of the world. It is quite clear of course that dialectology is inseparably connected with sociolinguistics, the latter deals with language variation caused by social difference and differing social needs; it studies the ways language interacts with social reality.

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«Territorial Varieties of English Pronunciation»

















Gulistan 2008


1. Functional stylistics and dialectology


The problem of the work is concerned with varieties of English in different regions of Britain and various countries of the world. It is quite clear of course that dialectology is inseparably connected with sociolinguistics, the latter deals with language variation caused by social difference and differing social needs; it studies the ways language interacts with social reality.

We propose now a definition of this field of science: Sociolinguistics is the branch of linguistics which studies different aspects of language – phonetics, lexic and grammar with reference to their social functions in the society. The aim is to explain language phenomena in connection with factors outside the language faculty itself in terms of large-scale social structure and in terms of how people use language to communicate with one another.

Though in the past fifteen years Sociolinguistics has come of age and is a fast expanding and increasingly popular subject it should be fair to mention here that language has always been viewed as a social phenomenon, the most important means of human intercourse. So it is evident that language is indissolubly linked with the society; in it we can see a faithful reflection of the society in which people live.

It is quite clear, of course, that such fields of science as linguistics, sociolinguistics, psycholinguistics are inseparably linked in the treatment of various language structures. For example, the subject matter of ethnolinguistics gradually merges into that of anthropological linguistics and that into sociological linguistics and that into stylistics, and the subject matter of social psychology.

Some scholars consider functional stylistics to be a branch of Sociolinguistics since it studies the distinctive linguistic characteristics of smaller social groupings (such as those due to occupational class, age and sex differences) (38, 68).

In the case of English there exists a great diversity in the spoken realization of the language and particularly in terms of pronunciation. The varieties of the language are conditioned by language communities ranging from small groups to nations. Now speaking about the nations we refer to the national variants of the language. In then – treatment we follow the conception of A.D. Shweitzer. According to him national language is a historical category evolving from conditions of economic and political concentration which characterizes the formation of a nation. In other words national language is the language of a nation, the standard of its form, the language of a nation's literature.

It is common knowledge that language exists in two forms: written and spoken. Any manifestation of language by means of speech is the result of a highly complicated series of events. The literary spoken form has its national pronunciation standard. A «standard» may be defined as «a socially accepted variety of a language established by a codified norm of correctness».

Today all the English-speaking nations have their own national variants of pronunciation and each of them has peculiar features that distinguish it from other varieties of English.

It is generally accepted that for the «English English» it is «Received Pronunciation» or RP; for «The American English» – «General American pronunciation»; for the Australian English – «Educated Australian» (we shall speak about it in detail later in the book).

Standard national pronunciation is sometimes called an «orthoepic norm». Some phoneticians, however, prefer the term «literary pronunciation».

Though every national variant of English has considerable differences in pronunciation, lexic and grammar, they all have much in common which gives us ground to speak of one and the same language – the English language.

It would not be true to say that national standards are fixed and immutable. They undergo constant changes due to various internal and external factors. Pronunciation, above all, is subject to all kinds of innovations. Therefore the national variants of English differ primarily in sound, stress and intonation. It is well-known that there are countries with more than one national language, the most common case being the existence of two national languages on the same territory. For this Canada will be an example, where two different languages – English and French – form the repertoire of the community. In this case scholars speak about bilingualism in contrast to monolingualism typical of a country with one national language. Here arises the problem of interference, that is «linguistic disturbance which results from two languages (or dialects), coming into contact in a specific situation»1.

It may be well to state that every national variety of the language falls into territorial or regional dialects. Dialects are distinguished from each other by differences in pronunciation, grammar and vocabulary. We must make clear that, when we refer to varieties in pronunciation only, we use the word «accent».1 So local accents may have many features of pronunciation in common and consequently are grouped into territorial or area accents. In Britain, for example, Yorkshire, Lancashire and Cheshire accents form the group of «Northern accent». We must admit, however, that in most textbooks on phonetics the word «dialect» is still used in reference to the regional pronunciation peculiarities, though in the latest editions both in this country and abroad the difference in terms «dialects and accents» is generally accepted. As we see, those terms should be treated differently when related to different aspects of the language. It is, however, true that there is a great deal of overlap between these terms. For certain geographical, economic, political and cultural reasons one of the dialects becomes the standard language of the nation and its pronunciation or its accent – the received standard pronunciation. This was the case of London dialect, whose accent became the «RP» («Received Pronunciation») of Britain.

It has been estimated that the standard pronunciation of a country is not homogeneous. It changes in relation to other languages, and also to geographical, psychological, social and political influences. In England, for example, we distinguish «conservative, general and advanced RP».

As a result of certain social factors in the post-war period – the growing urbanization, spread of education and the impact of mass media, Standard English is exerting an increasing powerful influence on the regional dialects of Great Britain. Recent surveys of British English dialects have revealed that the pressure of Standard English is so strong that many people are bilingual in a sense that they use an imitation of RP with their teachers and lapse into their native local accent when speaking among themselves. In this occasion the term diglossia should be introduced to denote a state of linguistic duality in which the standard literary form of a language and one of its regional dialects are used by the same individual in different social situations. This phenomenon should not be mixed up with bilingualism that is the command of two different languages. In the case of both diglossia and bilingualism the so-called code-switching takes place. In recent years the effect of these forms of linguistic behavior is studied by sociolinguists and psychologists.

As was stated above, language, and especially its oral aspect varies with respect to the social context in which it is used. The social differentiation of language is closely connected with the social differentiation of society. Nevertheless, linguistic facts cannot be attributed directly to class structure. According to A.D. Shweitzer «the impact of social factors on language is not confined to linguistic reflexes of class structure and should be examined with due regard for the meditating role of all class-derived elements – social groups, strata, occupational, cultural and other groups including primary units (small groups).» (38)

Western sociolinguists such as A.D. Grimshaw, JF.Z. Fisher, B. Bernstein, M. Gregory, S. Carroll, A. Hughes, P. Trud2 gill and others, are oriented towards small groups, viewing them as «microcosms» of the entire society. Soviet sociolinguists recognize the influence of society upon language by means of both micro – and macro-sociological factors.

Every language community, ranging from a small group to a nation has its own social dialect, and consequently, its own social accent.

British sociolinguists divide the society into the following classes: upper class, upper middle class, middle class, lower middle class, upper working class, middle working class, lower working class.

The validity of this classification is being debated in sociolinguistics. The problem of social stratification and of group theory has only recently been tackled by the science of sociology. The serious study of social dialects must be proceeded*, or at least accompanied by significant advances in sociology and especially in the more precise definition of the notions, such as class, nation, nationality, society, language community, occupation, social group, social setting, occupational group, and so on.

It is well worth to understand that classes are split into different major and minor social groups (professional, educational, cultural, age, sex and so on). Correspondingly every social community has its own social dialect and social accent. DA. Shakhbagova defines social dialects as 'Varieties spoken by a socially limited number of people.»

So in the light of social criteria languages are «characterized by two plans of socially conditioned variability – stratification, linked with societal structure, and situational, linked with the social context of language use.» (38, p. 6)3

Having had our main terms straightened we may speak now of the «language situation» in terms of the horizontal and vertical differentiations of the language, the first in accordance with the spheres of social activity, the second-with its situational variability.

It is evident that the language means are chosen consciously or subconsciously by a speaker according to his perception of the situation, in which he finds himself. Hence situational varieties of the language are called functional dialects or functional styles and situational pronunciation varieties – situational accents or phonostyles.

It has also to be remembered that the language of its users varies according to their individualities, range of intelligibility, cultural habits, sex and age differences. Individual speech of members of the same language community is known as idiolect.

Now in conclusion it would be a perfectly natural thing to say that language in serving personal and social needs becomes part of the ceaseless flux of human life and activity. Human communication cannot be comprehended without recognizing mutual dependence of language and context. The mystery of language lies, if nowhere, in its endless ability to adapt both to the strategies of the individual and to the needs of the community, serving each without imprisoning either. This is what makes sociolinguistics as a science so important. In this book, though, we shall focus our attention on territorial modifications of English pronunciation viewing them as an object of sociolinguistic study.




2. The main part


2.1 Spread of English


It is common knowledge that over 300 million people now speak English as first language. It is the national language of Great Britain, the USA, Australia, New Zealand and Canada (part of it).

English was originally spoken in England and south-eastern Scotland. Then it was introduced into the greater part of Scotland and southern Ireland. In the 17th and 18th centuries it was brought to North America (mainly from the West of England). Later in the 18th and 19th centuries English was exported to Australia, New Zealand and South Africa owing to the colonial expansion. A flow of emigrants who went to invade, explore and inhabit those lands came mostly from the south-eastern parts of England.

English became wide-spread in Wales at about the same time. Welsh English is very similar to southern English, although the influence of Welsh has played a role in its formation. Then in the 20th century American English began to spread in Canada, Latin America, on the Bermudas, and in other parts of the world. Thus nowadays two main types of English are spoken in the English-speaking world: English and American English.

According to British dialectologists (P. Trudgill, J. Hannah, A. Hughes and others (61, 78) the following variants of English are referred to the English-based group: English, Welsh English, Australian English, New Zealand English; to the American-based group: United States English, Canadian English.

Scottish English and Irish English fall somewhere between the two being somewhat by themselves.

On the whole this division seems rather reasonable and the «English» types of English will be treated first in this book, though it is safe to say that English, Welsh English, Scottish English and Northern Ireland English should be better combined into the British English subgroup, on the ground of political, geographical, cultural, psychological unity which brought more similarities than differences for those variants of pronunciation.

To our regrets, the lack of space gives us no chance to describe all the territorial and national variants of English pronunciation.


2.2 English-based pronunciation standards of English


2.2.1 British English

As was mentioned before, BEPS (British English Pronunciation Standards and Accents) comprise English English, Welsh English, Scottish English and Northern Ireland English (the corresponding abbreviations are EE, WE, ScE., NIE).


Table 1 British English Accents

English English

Welsh English

Scottish English

Northern Ireland English





Sc. Eng.

Regional Varieties


1. Southern

1. Northern


2. East Anglia 3. South-West

2. Yorkshire 3. North-







4. West






2.2.2 English, English

In this chapter we are going to look in greater detail at the Received Pronunciation (RP) and at the regional non-RP accents of England.

Roughly speaking the non-RP accents of England may be grouped like this: 1. Southern accents.

1) Southern accents (Greater London, Cockney, Surray, Kent, Essex, Hertfordshire, Buckinghamshire);

2) East Anglia accents (Lincolnshire, Norfolk, Suffolk, Cambridgeshire, Bedfordshire, Northamptonshire, Leicestershire;

3) South-West accents (Gloucestershire, Avon, Somerset, Wiltshire).

2. Northern and Midland accents.

1) Northern accents (Northumberland, Durham, Cleveland);

2) Yorkshire accents;

3) North-West accents (Lancashire, Cheshire);

4) West Midland (Birmingham, Wolverhampton).

It has long been believed that RP is a social marker, a prestige ac-cent of an Englishman. In the nineteenth century «received» was understood in the sense of «accepted in the best society». The speech of aristocracy and the court phonetically was that of the London area. Then it lost its local characteristics and was finally fixed as a ruling-class accent, often referred to as «King's English». It was also the ac-cent taught at public schools. With the spread of education cultured people not belonging to the upper classes were eager to modify their accent in the direction of social standards.

We may definitely state now that RP is a genuinely regionless accent within Britain; i.e. if speakers have it you cannot tell which area of Britain they come from; which is not the case for any other type of British accents.

It is fair to mention, however, that only 3–5 per cent of the population of England speak RP. British phoneticians (Ch. Barber (44),4 A.C. Gimson (57), A. Hughes and P. Trudgill (61) estimate that nowadays RP is not homogeneous. A.C. Gimson suggests that it is convenient to distinguish three main types within it: «the conservative RP forms, used by the older generation, and, traditionally, by certain profession or social groups; the general RP forms, most commonly in use and typified by the pronunciation adopted by the BBC, and the advanced RP forms, mainly used by young people of exclusive social groups – mostly of the upper classes, but also for prestige value, in certain professional circles.

«This last type of RP reflects the tendencies typical of changes in pronunciation. It is the most «effected and exaggerated variety» of the accent. Some of its features may be results of temporary fashion; some are adopted as a norm and described in the latest textbooks. Therefore, it is very important for a teacher and learner of English to distinguish between the two. RP speakers make up a very small percentage of the English population. Many native speakers, especially teachers of English and professors of colleges and universities (particularly from the South and South-East of England) have accents closely resembling RP but not identical to it. P. Trudgill and J. Hannah call it Near-RP southern. So various types of standard English pronunciation may be summarized as follows: Conservative RP; General RP; Advanced RP; Near-RP southern.

Changes in the Standard

As was stated above, changes in the standard may be traced in the speech of the younger generation of native RP speakers. These changes may affect all the features of articulation of vowel and consonant phonemes and also the prosodic system of the language.

Considerable changes are observed in the sound system of the pre-sent-day English, which are most remarkable since the well-known Great Vowel Shift in the Middle English period of the language development. It is a well-established fact that no linguistic modification can occur all of a sudden. The appearance of a new shade in the pronunciation of a sound results in the coexistence of free variants in the realization of a phoneme. The choice between permissible variants of [w] or [М] in words is an illustration of what is meant by the process of variability and free variants. In Russian we observe free variants of the pronunciation of the words of энергия, темп type: non-palatalized and palatalized vertions of [H] – [H'] and [T] – [T']. The degrees of variability are different. The most perceptible and stable changes are described in the works of British linguists and have been investigated by Soviet phoneticians. The RP of recent years is characterized by a greater amount of permissible variants compared to the «classical» type of RP described by D. Jones, L. Armstrong, I. Word.

The phenomenon is significant both from the theoretical and practical viewpoint. The variability concerns mainly vowels. Most of English vowels have undergone definite qualitative changes. The newly appeared variants exhibit different stability and range.

The qualitative distinctions manifest new allophonic realizations of the vowel phonemes. Ch. Barber comes to the conclusion that a definite trend towards centralization is observed in the quality of English vowels at present. (44)

Changes of Vowel Quality

1. According to the stability of articulation. 1) It is generally acknowledged that two historically long vowels [i], [u:] have become diphthongized and are often called diphthongoids; the organs of speech slightly change their articulation by the very end of pronunciation, becoming more fronted. Ch. Barber tries to draw a parallel with the Great Vowel Shift which took place in Middle English, where diphthongization was just one part of a complete change of pattern in the long vowels. He claims that there is some resemblance to this process today and other phonemes may move up to fill the places left vacant.

2) There is a tendency for some of the existing diphthongs to be smoothed out, to become shorter, so that they are more like pure vowels.

a) This is very often the case with [ei], particularly in the word final position, where the glide is very slight: [ta'dei], [sei], [mei].

b) Diphthongs [ai], [au] are subject to a smoothing process where they are followed by the neutral sound [ə]:

Conservative RP: [tauə], [faiə]

General RP: [taə], [faə]

Advanced RP: [tα:], [fα:]

c) Also diphthongs [oə], [uə] tend to be leveled to [o:]. Thus the pronunciation of the words pore, poor is varied like this:

older speakers: [poə], [puə]

middle-aged speakers: [po:], [puə]

younger speakers: [po:], [po:]

It should be mentioned, however, that this tendency does not concern the diphthong [iə] when it is final. The prominence and length shift to the glide, this final quality often being near to [¬]; dear [diə] – [di¬].

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