English in the Southwest of England

Presentation of a Regional Variation of English

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2008

17 Pages, Grade: 1,7


Table of contents

1. Introduction

2. Dialectology
2.1 What is Dialectology? Dialect vs. Accent
2.2 Regional Variation
2.3 Traditional vs. Mainstream Dialects

3. English in the Southwest of England
3.1 Boundaries of South-western England
3.2 Characteristics of the area
3.3 Features of Southwest English
3.3.1 Phonetic Features
3.3.2 Grammatical Features
3.3.3 Lexical Features

4. Conclusion

5. References

1. Introduction

Like all languages, English is very varied. It comes in many different regional and social varieties. All these varieties are linguistically equivalent. No variety of the language is linguistically superior to any other.[1]

Since English is one of the most widespread languages in the world, a vast number of varieties can be found all over the world. These varieties all differ from each other and are marked by regional and social aspects. Investigating these aspects helps to prevent misunderstandings (e.g. the same words meaning different things in different varieties) and offers a lot of information on historical topics. Very often research is done on geographically far away territories as it is the case between Britain and America. This is a pity since there are a lot of varieties within British border which are worth being discussed. That is why this paper deals with a regional variety situated in England: The south-western variety. This essay will give an overview on the English spoken in the Southwest of England.

But before the essay is focused on this regional variety chapter two will present dialectology to the reader. What is dialectology? Which are its aims? Where is the difference between Dialect and Accent? Why is observing regional variation so important? To what extend influences social status the occurrence of a social variation? All these questions will be dealt with in chapter two in order to make the reader aware of the importance of language study and especially dialectology.

Chapter 3 then will deal with ‘English in the Southwest’. After a short presentation of the difficulties of locating exactly ‘south-western’, the boundaries of the regional variation are defined. Next will be a presentation of characteristics of the region in order to make the in the next chapter presented features of south-western language easier to understand.

The presentation of linguistic features will include phonetics, grammar and lexis. It will be based on Martyn F. Wakelin’s The Southwest of England, since not much research has been done on that topic and the work of Wakelin seems to be the most adequate for this paper. Furthermore, this essay will not present every feature which can be found when talking about the dialect. Mentioning all would not be capable for an essay of this size, hence shall the reader keep in mind that the features and examples are only a subjective selection by the author and could be extended endlessly.

The last part of this essay will be a conclusion, summing up what was said in the term paper.

2. Dialectology

2.1 What is Dialectology? Dialect vs. Accent

Dialectology is a sub-field of linguistics and deals with the different varieties of a language. ‘Different varieties’ does not only mean that dialectology observes dialects, as the term dialectology might suggest. Accents of a language are regarded as kinds of varieties and, therefore, are observed as well. But what is the difference between dialect and accent ? Arthur Hughes:

We use dialect to refer to varieties distinguished from each other by differences of grammar and vocabulary. Accent, on the other hand, refers to variations in pronunciations.[2]

This definition explains that an accent is a variation only in pronunciation; dialects differ from each other in grammar and vocabulary. This is a quite understandable definition, if it is kept in mind that this definition is not as strict as it might be seen: A dialect, of course, also contains variation in pronunciation but in contrast to an accent, not only that. Consequently, an accent can become part of a dialect. The problem that emerges then is the distinction between dialect and language. Why do you call the variety, spoken in the south of Spain ‘Andaluz’, a dialect, whereas in Catalonia they speak the language ‘Catalan’? Martyn F. Wakelin defines language and dialects as follows:

The word dialect itself is used with various shades of meaning, but for the present purposes dialects will be taken to be variant, but mutually intelligible, forms of one language, whereas language is assumed to imply a form of speech not on the whole intelligible to other languages. Thus, the vernaculars of Devon and Yorkshire are dialects, whereas those of France and Spain are languages.[3]

Wakelin further states that the difference between the two terms is only “of degree, not one of kind”[4] and that a language is “only one stage of development further on from a dialect”[5].

Having defined language, dialect and accent, dialectological research “starts from the assumption that all dialects are linguistically equal”[6] and then tries to describe them.

Dialects are not good or bad, nice or nasty, right or wrong - they are just different from one another, and it is the mark of a civilised society that it tolerates different dialects just as it tolerates different races, religions and sexes.[7]

But Dialectology’s aim is not only to describe how dialects are and where they occur. It tries to abolish “demeaning stereotypes about people from other parts of the country, or of the world”.[8] This aim is tried to achieve by examining either the regional or social variation, due to the fact, that these two factors are determining for the existence of varieties:

Variation most commonly occurs as a result of relative geographic or social isolation and may affect vocabulary or features of grammar or pronunciation or both.[9]

In the near future the impact of regional aspects is regarded to decrease, whereas the social variation will become more and more the focus of dialectological research.[10] Nevertheless, observing regional variation will always be important since it conveys interesting information on languages that existed centuries ago. Especially rural dialects are very stable since they normal do not change so much through the years due to a lack of language contact. But what is regional variation all about? This will be discussed in the following chapter.

2.2 Regional Variation

Bearing in mind what was said about dialectology, its aims and the difference between dialects and accents, examining regional variation is one consequence of looking at a language and its varieties. Focusing and, therefore, having a closer look at English and its varieties in England, this means that all dialects and accents which can be found within the state’s boundaries can be linked to a certain region in England. Furthermore, these accents and dialects most times can be linked to a social class as well. But social class or only the term social, in this context, is to be regarded with care. Here it is an only additional variable in classifying varieties since the concept of regional variety and its geographical boundaries is predominant. It is therefore different to what is known as a sociolect. A sociolect is not bound to a geographical region, it is “a […] DIALECT or variety of speech used by a particular group, such as working-class or upper-class”[11] which does not necessarily have to but can be found in a certain region or all over the world. An example for this could be the Received Pronunciation (RP) in England and the rest of the world. Only about 3 to 5 per cent of the English’ population speak with the accent very well know from the BBC. Nevertheless, it is regarded the most prestigious and, for foreign learners, worth-learning accent. Why is it so important? RP has its origins in the way of speaking in London and, consequently, could be regarded as a regional variety. However, these origins are only historical. What is more important for understanding why it has such a great influence of the English known today is that in the past RP in combination with what today is known as Standard English (RP being the accent and Standard English referring to grammar) was taught at British public schools. Since education was a privilege of only a few who could afford school fees, RP and Standard English became the dialect of the upper class and gained more and more prestige throughout the years culminating in state-run schools trying to emulate the public ones and its predominance in radio and television programs of the BBC in the 20th century.[12] It could, therefore, be said that RP loosened its connection to London and spread all over England. It became a sociolect combining a certain group e.g. the upper middle or upper class, or even the group of foreign learners of English.

Coming back to regional variation and what the influence of social class on the speakers of regional accents and dialects is like, explains Hughes in his book on English Accents and Dialects. The link between regional accents or dialects and social class is as follows:

Speakers of RP tend to be found at the top of the social scale, and their speech gives no clue to their regional origin. People at the bottom of the social scale speak with the most obvious, the ‘broadest’, regional accents. Between these two extremes, in general (and there are always individual exceptions) the higher a person is on the social scale, the less regionally marked will be his or her accent, and the less it is likely to differ from RP. […]This relationship between accent and the social scale can be illustrated with figures for ’H-dropping’ (for example, where hat is pronounced /at/ instead of /hat/) in Bradford area of West Yorkshire (Petyt 1977)[…][13]

The figures mentioned in the quote show that the appearance of this phonetic phenomenon differs corresponding to a social class. Where it occurs in 12 per cent in the upper middle class of Bradford, 93 per cent of the lower working class aspirate the initial /h/.


[1] Trudgill (1994: 1).

[2] Hughes (2005: 2).

[3] Wakelin (1981: 1).

[4] Wakelin (1981: 1a).

[5] Wakelin (1981: 1b).

[6] Trudgill (1994: 2).

[7] Trudgill(1994: 2a).

[8] Crystal (2003: 298).

[9] http://www.britannica.com/eb/article-9030256/dialectology

[10] CF. Wakelin (1981: 62-63).

[11] http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1O29-SOCIOLECT.html

[12] cf. Arthur Hughes ( 2005: 3).

[13] Hughes ( 2005: 9-10).

Excerpt out of 17 pages


English in the Southwest of England
Presentation of a Regional Variation of English
University of Duisburg-Essen  (Department of Anglophone Studies )
Language, Variation and Change
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
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444 KB
English, Southwest, England, Language, Variation, Change, Variety, Dialectology, Dialectologie, Regional, Regional Variation
Quote paper
Jens Strohmeyer (Author), 2008, English in the Southwest of England, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/118299


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