Regional accents – on the up, or not?

The Daily Telegraph has a story that they are.

Forecasts have suggested accents would disappear and merge into a national way of speaking, albeit with some class and regional variations. But experts found that Geordie, Scouse, Mancunian, and Brummie accents are, if anything, becoming more distinct. However nuances between districts within the big cities are disappearing.

Outside the cities, the hundreds of accents that once distinguished small towns and rural districts are gradually being subsumed into regional “super-accents”. Experts have identified eight to 10 of these likely to predominate within the next 40 years. They include estuary English, the burr of the southwest and separate accents in the West Midlands, Yorkshire and north and south Wales.

But Russ wondered if the headline and the story were out of sync (from his email):

“Britain’s regional accents are becoming more widespread despite the increasingly homogeneous nature of society, according to academic studies.”

But what they then talk about the research finding is that the individual features of accents are becoming more prevalent rather than the actual numbers of people using or identifying with regional accents becoming larger.   They report that in Southern England, only London and Bristol have strong accents, which seems to go against the line they take in disagreeing with the assertion that:

“Accents will disappear and merge into a national way of speaking, albeit with some class and regional variations”

One main point that they miss is that identity through language is as much what people say (dialect) as the way in which they say it (accent).  Looking at one as a marker of identity, without looking at the other can only give part of the picture.  Also looked at across a longer time line, I would argue that there is an ever increasing homogeneity of the way in which we communicate.  A couple of centuries ago, villages only 20miles or so apart would be almost mutually incomprehensible.  In comparison, pretty much any two ‘English speaking’ individuals from the UK would be able to speak with and understand each other fairly clearly.  Given another couple of centuries of language evolution, we may well end up with an ever diminishing number of people identifying with a regional accent or dialect but who use its features more vociferously as a marker of their differentiation.

Alternatively, it may be that the most common features of the super accents they identify (London. Bristol, Geordie, Scouse, Mancunian, and Brummie) are co-opted by other speech groups and that over time (centuries) we will end up speaking a mish mash of all of them (Perhaps this is what is happening with the Scouse ‘ch’ sound moving into Northern Wales as they report).”

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About thenextwavefutures

Andrew Curry is a consultant who specialises in futures for The Futures Company, based in London. All views are personal, etc.

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