English Dialectology

Standards and dialectal speech

are not simply cold linguistic systems studied in grammar books, but rather, tools for human communication. Therefore, as a human phenomenon, language is endowed with the spontaneous and ever-changing nature typical of us human beings. It is thanks to this medium that we can establish social relationships with other people, and so perform certain social functions, for there is no doubt that any speech act has a particular function in the context where it is taking place. In addition to the purely communicative function of language, we should not overlook that language is also a powerful source of personal information, in the sense that the way we speak our language is highly influenced by both our social status and our region of origin. Thus, if a given speaker comes from County Durham, for example, he or she probably uses the kind of language spoken by people from that part of the country. If this person is also a middle-class businessman, he uses the kind of language associated with people of this type. Kinds of language of this sort are often referred to as dialects, the first type in the previous example being a regional dialect and the second a social dialect.is a concept that tends to be confused with accent; however, it should be explained that dialect has to do with lexical, grammatical and phonetic differences between different language varieties, whereas accent refers solely to pronunciation. Taking the notion of dialect as a basis, I think that it would be convenient to define language as the compilation of all the dialects (or language varieties) of a given linguistic system used worldwide. Accordingly, the English language as a whole would include not only English English, but also American English, Australian English, Canadian English… As there mentioned, hence it becomes clear that the notion of a unique worldwide Standard English is simply an utopia which is quite far from becoming a reality, for as David Graddol suggests, “a standard variety of English can only actually exist in the shape of one of its regional variations”. [6;190]

In the previous paragraph, it is noticed about concept that surely stands out in any discussion revolving around dialectal issues: Standard English. This is the dialect which is normally used officially, that is, the kind of English to be found in printed books, newspapers, educational contexts, dictionaries, grammar books… However, it is obvious importance should not deter us from considering and valuing the existence of unofficial, or rather, non-standard dialects. As we shall see later on, it is when we start talking about standard and non-standard dialects that many social prejudices and misjudgments come into play. Having made clear some introductory concepts, it should be stated that the remainder of this part of term paper will be primarily concerned with one of the Standard English is mentioned above: English English. This term refers to the English language as spoken only in England. Even though “British English” is more commonly used than “English English” to refer to the same reality, we should not forget that the former is reserved to describe the features common to all UK language varieties (English English, Welsh English, Scottish English, and sometimes Hiberno-English), while the latter is restricted to the kind of English used only in England.mentioned above, dialects are both regional and social , so it is no wonder that any individual speaker’s speech shows traces of his/her home town, his/her upbringing, education… Peter Trudgill calls the reader’s attention to the fact that there are certain parallels between the development of social varieties and that of regional varieties. He explains that the development of both regional and social varieties has to do with the existence of barriers: geographical, in the case of regional varieties, and social, in the case of social varieties. [8; 23]

To provide an example of the first kind of barriers, it has been found that Traditional Dialect speakers in the areas of Britain north of the river Humber still have a monophthong in words like house /hu:s/, whereas speakers south of the river have used a diphthong for several hundred years /haus/. Regional variation is undoubtedly also affected by distance, so the greater the geographical distance between two dialects the more dissimilar they are linguistically. With regards to social dialects, we may say that they are also affected by the same kind of variables to be found when studying regional dialects: barriers and distance. Nevertheless, social barriers and distance are not as clear-cut as geographical barriers and distance may appear to be, for what comes into play now is not something physical (a river, a mountain) but abstract. In fact, the division of society into various strata is nothing but a fairly blurred and abstract classification based on the notion of privilege, which is a concept determined by power, wealth and status. Trudgill holds that it takes a long time for a linguistic innovation that begins among the highest social groups to spread to the lowest social groups, thus emphasizing the paramount role that social distance may play when it comes to dealing with linguistic matters. Before turning our attention to more social aspects, we should bear in mind that dialects are not discrete varieties, which means that it is not possible to state in exact geographical and linguistic terms where people stop speaking Cumbrian dialect and start speaking Geordie. Instead, we should refer to what sociolinguists call a dialect continuum, i.e. a range of dialects spoken across a geographical area, differing only slightly between areas that are geographically close, and gradually decreasing in mutual intelligibility as the distances become greater. If we choose to place clear dividing lines between several dialects, basing our decision solely on county boundaries, then we will probably be acting according to socio-political loyalties, rather than linguistic facts. This statement seems to make sense if we consider the distinction drawn between Geordie (Newcastle) and Mackem (Sunderland), a distinction certainly based more on football rivalry and loyalty than on actual linguistic facts., it may be deduced that dialects and accents in England are clearly related to differences of social-class background and prestige. Taking this idea into account, the reader may begin to understand why the terms Standard English (a social dialect) and RP (a social accent) are so controversial and so open to heated debate. Let us first provide some general background on the emergence and subsequent importance of Standard English. The rise of a certain dialect as the standard variety of that language takes place simultaneously with the rise of a given social group as the most powerful one. It is under such circumstances that the standard variety begins to acquire the social prestige with which we tend to associate the notion of standardness. In England, the standard variety derived from the south-eastern triangle around London, where the Normans established both their court and the university towns of Oxford and Cambridge. As centuries went by, the South-Eastern variety was gradually imposed from above over the range of regional dialects; thereby trying to obliterate linguistic variation and diversity in favour of what Trudgill calls a “superposed variety of language”. The arbitrariness associated with the standardization of a certain variety is evident if one conceives the possibility that had the Normans established their Court in the North-East (instead of the South-East), this superposed variety nowadays would have been closer to Geordie The official nature of standard English has led to its being regarded as the most perfect and accurate variety, against which all other English usage is measured. Contrary to expectations, however, the standard variety is not intrinsically superior to other (non-standard) varieties, for there is nothing linguistically (and hence, scientifically) relevant that proves that a given variety is better than another one. As explained below, judgments of this kind are based not on linguistic facts, but on socio-economic misjudgments or prejudices. For many years, Standard English has been closely linked to a particular accent, the so-called RP (Received Pronunciation). This upper-class kind of accent began to been utilized in the most famous English fee-paying or Public schools at the end of the nineteenth century. From then on, RP came to be viewed as the best English accent, that is, the accent everyone should master or aim at achieving. Due to its social and educational prestige, RP is also referred to as The Queen’s English or even BBC English (in the early years of broadcasting it was very rare to hear any other accents on the BBC). Surprising though it may seem, this social accent is not necessarily linked to Standard English, which can be spoken with any regional accent. Despite the widespread foreign (and ESL) belief that everyone in England speaks Standard English with an RP pronunciation, it should be pointed out that according to Melchers & Shaw , “only 12 per cent of the population of England are speakers of Standard English; nine per cent speak Standard English with a regional accent [ 7;47]. What these figures suggest is, first and foremost, that the number of speakers of Standard English in England is very small, and secondly, that only 3% of the total population of England speak Standard English with an RP accent. All things considered, it is paramount that we end this section by examining the interrelationship between geographical variation and social variation in England. In order to fulfill this purpose, we shall refer to Trudgill’s pyramidal illustration of these issues. [8; 30-3]already noted, Standard English is the language variety employed by those who have received a good education; hence, educated middle and upper classes. Since Standard English is not a fully homogeneous variety, it is not at all striking to find some small regional differences among educated speakers of this dialect. Nevertheless, as we proceed downwards in the social scale, we will find that regional differences among speakers increase gradually (precisely for this reason, some working-class dialects are so localized geographically and so difficult to understand).Concerning accent, we may observe that the rather flattened top of the dialectal pyramid turns into a clearly pointed top or peak. This change in shape may be explained by reference to the unique position of the RP accent; it is such a prestigious and educated accent that regional variation among those who use it (mainly upper class people) is non-existent.

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