Anthony Pym

Variation in English

Variation in England

(Word version here)

General rule: The longer a language has been in a place, the more complex its dialectology. So there are many dialects in England, and very few in Australia. (thus standardization is easier in the newer situations).

Crystal (1995: 318-327) gives some instructive dialect maps and notes on the underlying ideology: .

1873: English Dialect Society
1978: The Linguistic Atlas of England (informants were locally born, working class, mainly over 60, mainly men, mainly employed in agriculture... as in Pere Navarro’s atlas of the Terra Alta).

Show maps on:
1. Vowel Variation (ARM)
Trace rhotic non-rhotic.... cf. map in Graddol. Relative complexity: fricatives, retroflex, uvular, diphthongs (NW). Reasons why this is studied.

2. Lexical Variation:


3. Morphological Variation:
1. M’NOT
2. ‘S NOT.... cf. American dialects
3. ‘M NONE
4. AIN’T... Midlands, South-East
5. EN’T.. further west
6. YUN’T... further west
7. ISN’T
10. AMNO’
11. BAIN’T
12. BAAN’T
13. BEN’T
14. BYEN’T
15. BYUN’T
16. BINNO’

Basic forms: I am / are / be / bin / is


1. Give it me
2. Give it to me
3. Give me it.

(Pronoun-less GIVE ME is recorded in Surrey)

very few cars made it up the long hill

very: veree/veri
few: few/foo
cars: cahs/carrs
made: mehd / mayd
up: oop /up
long: longg / long (South Lancashire and the West Midlands)
hill: hill / ill / iooll

N/S boundary is now near the border with Scotland (see Graddol map of isotopes).

Putting the maps together

Isotopes sometimes more or less correspond (see map from Graddol et al., p. 271). This happens where they are based on vowel variation (consonant variation is more erratic, except in cases like h-dropping.. see Crystal p. 319).

BUT: External factors (language attitudes) play a role here: 1) the linguist selects variables; 2) these variables tend to be the ones socially perceived as identifying a dialect; 3) dialects tend to be perceived as historically rooted, as belonging to the past.

These dialects now belong to literature, parody and popular imagination (but also to feelings of belonging).... they are dialects as supported by EXTERNAL evidence.

New dialect forms have grown with URBANIZATION. These are new varieties, with different criteria:


Study of more complex situations, in cities and areas affected, looking more at younger speakers and phenomena of language change.

Urban influence: see trough/manger map in Crystal. cf. network theory in Belfast (Milroys); the importance of intermediaries (especially people who work outside the area where they live).


Reading adolescents:
An -s ending occurs with all subjects except the third person singular:
That’s what I does. I just ignores em.

Tyneside (NE: Geordie)
Double modals are acceptable:
I can’t play on Friday. I work late. I might could get it changed, though.
He wouldn’t could’ve worked, even if you had asked him.
He cannot get a job since he’s left school. (modal with perfective meaning) (Graddol, pp. 252-3)

Farnworth (N of Manchester)
Normal YES = aye
YES when answering a negative question = yigh (cf. SI in French).
-I can’t find the scissors.
- Yigh, they’re here.

Normal NO = No
Contradicting NO = Nay
Nay, by gum, I’m not having that!

Double and triple negatives:
I’m not never going to do nowt.

The reality of RP as a standard against which variations are seen as deviation AND SOCIALLY EVALUATED AS SUCH, in terms of both class mobility and social identity.

‘Estuary English”: People shifting to Standard English (grammar) while retaining part of their local pronunciation. This is entering press and TV, replacing RP.

Kerswill (in Graddol, pp. 292-300)
Dialect levelling: example of Milton Keynes study of children’s speech: different regional accents are brought to a new town, and one prevails, often the RP but also non-standard markers of oppositional identity.  (see graph, p. 295). Older children as doing this linguistic work

Variety slides and jumps (style shifting vs codeswitching)

Trudgill (1983: 191) suggests that southern British speakers have a continuous slide from their rural speech to RP or ‘school language’, and they are thus engaged in ‘style shifting’. All the factors concerning style variation must thus be taken account of. See graphic here.
Northern speakers, on the other hand, have a wider gap between regional varieties and some kind of Standard English, and thus jump quickly from one to the other. Differences would be the urban speech of Edinburgh, Newcastle, etc. Note the differences between the way the Beatles talk and the way they sang.

Transparency: diagram on p. 191 of Trudgill 1983.

Is there a Standard English?

Yes, to the extent that style shifts move in a common direction (in cases of overt prestige).

Yes, to the extent that we have been able to identify many variations with reference to an intuitive standard that we have somehow acquired. (This is not the case with Scottish vowels: some are perceived to be longer than RP, but they are simply monophthongs unshortened by the final /r/…. Since southern vowels became dipththongs when the final (r/ was lost. E.g. /bee/ and /beer/ (Hughes and Trudgill 1983: 70).

Yes, to the extent that frustration was felt when Standard speakers were found in the middle of Scotland and Ireland.

Yes, to the extent that morphological and syntactic variations tend to be socially stratified or unmarked (eg. It isn’t vs It’s not), whereas phonetic variations are regional. This suggests that dialects are disappearing and being replaced by accents.

Yes, to the extent that there is virtually no literature written in dialect, except for Lallans Scottish. Varieties are represented in dialogue.

No, because there is variation within Standard English (case of pronunciation of ‘Irish`) or of PAW, PORE, POOR (Hughes &  Trudgill p. 27). RP is moving downmarket and this creates significant doubt.

No, because there are many Englishes outside of Britain (look at the Set Language tool in Word).


© Anthony Pym 2007
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