THE BRITISH LIBRARY

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106 posts categorized "Accents & dialects"

07 May 2018

Recording of the week: Doric dialect

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This week's selection comes from Andrew Booth, PhD placement student working on the VoiceBank collection.

An intriguing and unique variety of English spoken in the British Isles is Doric dialect. Doric refers to a Scots dialect spoken in the northeast of Scotland and to the outside ear (mine), it can be a difficult one to master. My favourite Doric contributions to the Library's WordBank are given below. Could you decipher what this speaker means?

Sair forfochen (C1442, uncatalogued)

Sair forfochen [= 'tired and hassled']
Faur div ye come fae [= 'where do you come from']

This speaker from Aberdeen explains question words in the local dialect, which I find equally interesting:

Fit like, Faur, Foo (C1442/6804)

Fit like [= 'how are you']
Faur [= 'where']
Foo [= 'how']

For more information about accents and dialects in the northeast of Scotland, see this article on the British Library website.

Doric Dialect

Follow @VoicesofEnglish and @soundarchive for all the latest news.

27 April 2018

Linguistics at the Library - Episode 8

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PhD placement students, Andrew Booth and Rowan Campbell write:

Have you ever wondered how linguistic researchers find people to interview? In this final episode, Andrew and Rowan discuss the methods they use to carry out their research on the Isle of Man and Cardiff, and how these are different to those used for the Evolving English: VoiceBank collection. We also talk about the Survey of English Dialects, and how to categorise speakers when they have a mixture of accent influences.

Tweet us: @VoicesofEnglish

This week’s ‘What’s the feature?’ used a clip from:

BBC Voices Recording in Bangor. BBC, UK, rec. 2005[digital audio file]. British Library, C1190/41/13. Available: https://sounds.bl.uk/Accents-and-dialects/BBC-Voices/021M-C1190X0041XX-1301V0

References and links:

Labov, W. 1972. Sociolinguistic Patterns. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Penhallurick, R. 1985. Fieldwork for the Survey of Anglo-Welsh Dialects: North Wales 1980-81. In W. Viereck (ed.) Focus on: England and Wales. 223-234.

Spoken English collections: https://www.bl.uk/collection-guides/english-accents-and-dialects

Linguistics at the Library Episode 8

23 April 2018

The Evolving English collection – what’s in it?

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PhD placement student Rowan Campbell writes:

By 3rd April 2018 – which is, incidentally, seven years after the closing day of the exhibition – the Evolving English VoiceBank has reached 7,914 catalogued items. The last 2,100 of these have been accessioned by Andrew Booth and Rowan Campbell as part of their three-month PhD placement. While there are many records still to be catalogued, as today is English Language Day it seemed like an opportune moment to sketch out an overview of what we have in the collection and who is represented in it.

Visitors to the Library’s Evolving English exhibition in 2010/11 could record themselves reading the children’s book Mr Tickle (© Hargreaves, 1971) or donating a dialect word or phrase to the WordBank – and we now have 5,471 recordings of Mr Tickle, and 2,796 WordBank contributions catalogued. 1,462 visitors did both; 842 simply gave us their personal information such as location and year of birth; and some recorded themselves multiple times – perhaps they remembered new words, or decided that they did want to read Mr Tickle after all.

Our oldest speaker was born in 1914 and the youngest in 2006 – meaning that the age of participants ranges from 5 to 97! Interestingly, the gender of our contributors is heavily skewed towards female (65%). This may be in line with the gender split of those who are interested in linguistics or who visit British Library exhibitions (for example, the VoiceBank’s @VoicesofEnglish Twitter followers are 61% female), but it is still an unexpectedly large bias.


As would be expected, most participants were from the British Isles – that is, England, Scotland, Wales, the Isle of Man, the Channel Islands, Northern Ireland and Ireland. However, nearly 25% were from outside the British Isles, with 87 other countries represented! The twenty least represented countries had only one speaker each, and include Guyana, an English-speaking country in South America with a population about the size ofLeeds.

Top 20 countries World cities

The United States had the biggest representation, making up 44% of international contributions, but we are sadly lacking voices from five states – Idaho, Maine, Nevada, North Dakota and Wyoming. If you are from one of these places and want to record a contribution for us, please get in touch!

Unsurprisingly due to the locations of the recording booths, England was the most represented region of the British Isles, making up 91% of the collection. RP speakers (mainly from the British Isles but some from other countries) make up 25% of the collection overall, and are proportionately at their highest in Wales (40%) and lowest in the Republic of Ireland (1%).

Pie chart

In terms of representation within the British Isles, England is very well-covered, with speakers from every county except Rutland (the heat map shows no data around the Stockton-on-Tees area due to different regional classifications – we do have a number of speakers from here). As can be seen, Scotland and Wales have patchier representation but they also have far fewer contributors in general than England – around 250 and 100 respectively, compared to the 5,400 from England.

Heat map

There are also some surprises in the most-represented cities. The table below shows the top 16 British and Irish cities in the collection, with at least  20 contributions each – numbers in brackets refer to the city’s ranking in terms of population size*.

British and Irish cities

Immediately noticeable is the higher occurrence of Northern cities such as Liverpool, Newcastle, Nottingham, Hull and Derby, and the non-appearance of large cities such as Bristol and Cardiff, 6th and 11th most populous cities respectively. The first explanation for this is likely to be simply that there are fewer large cities in the South – in fact, only Bristol and Cardiff are in the top 20 at all. A second explanation could be that there were recording booths in some other cities outside London – Norfolk, Birmingham, Plymouth, Newcastle and Liverpool.

However, this does not explain the large difference in ranking of the Northern cities that did not have a recording booth. Instead, dialect levelling might be a concept to consider. Due to factors such as geographical proximity, greater mobility and fewer major accent differences between South West England, South East Wales and the South East and Greater London area, we might expect these areas to be more susceptible to dialect levelling towards RP. This has the potential to over-represent RP in these areas and thus obscure the location of contributors: while someone with an RP accent may have been ‘born and bred’ in Devon, their accent would be categorised as RP rather than Devon. Conversely, phonetic, geographical and social factors such as covert prestige and strong regional identity mean that fewer Northerners orientate to the South East and thus to RP – which could help to explain why Northern cities have climbed the rankings in our dataset respective to their actual population.

*It has not always been possible to be consistent regarding whether figures used are for greater metropolitan areas, urban areas, etc., as these are not always comparable, but this ranking has been arrived at based on the distinctions made in the collection categorisation system. Thus why we have Greater London and Greater Manchester, but not West Yorkshire (Leeds-Bradford) as this would require merging two cities.

20 April 2018

Linguistics at the Library - Episode 7

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PhD placements students, Andrew Booth and Rowan Campbell, write:

What happens when you have a collection of recordings of endangered languages but little further information about what’s actually on them? Guest speaker Dr Alice Rudge, a cataloguer in the sound archive, talks to Andrew and Rowan about the fascinating stories she has discovered through her work as part of the HLF-funded Unlocking Our Sound Heritage project, and the collaborations with curator Andrea Zarza Canova and linguists Professor Janet Watson, Abdullah Musallam al-Mahri, and Dr Miranda Morris that enabled these stories to be heard.

Tweet us: @VoicesofEnglish and @BL_WorldTrad

This week’s ‘What’s the feature?’ used a clip from:

Millennium Memory Bank Recording in Stoke-on-Trent. BBC, UK, rec. 1998 [digital audio file]. British Library, C900/16541. Available: https://sounds.bl.uk/Accents-and-dialects/Millenium-memory-bank/021M-C0900X16541X-2100V1

Interesting links:

Unlocking Our Sound Heritage: https://www.bl.uk/projects/unlocking-our-sound-heritage

Information on the major, international, community-based project that focuses on the documentation and ethnolinguistic analysis of Modern South Arabian languages, and is coordinated by Dr Janet Watson and funded by the Leverhulme Trust can be found here: https://www.leeds.ac.uk/arts/info/125219/modern_south_arabian_languages

Deposits of Modern South Arabian linguistic materials can be found at the Endangered Languages Archive: https://elar.soas.ac.uk/

Friends of Soqotra: http://www.friendsofsoqotra.org/

World and Traditional Music collection: https://www.bl.uk/collection-guides/world-and-traditional-music

British Library Sound Archive on NTS Radio: https://www.nts.live/shows/british-library-sound-archive

Linguistics at the Library Episode 7

17 April 2018

Manx English Then and Now

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PhD placement student, Andrew Booth, writes:

The Library’s sound archives contain voices from all over the world and up and down the British Isles. The Isle of Man was included in the Survey of English Dialects in the 1950s and 60s and the Sounds website features a fantastic recording of Amanda Crellin (b.1878) made in Ronague in 1958. For a more recently created collection, the Evolving English VoiceBank, participants recorded a reading of the children’s book, Mr Tickle (Hargreaves, 1971). Fortunately a contributor from the Isle of Man recorded their voice in 2011 so we are able to compare voices from the past and the present from the same location.

Laxey Wheel

The Manx Loaghtan sheep may not have changed since the 1950s but it seems the Manx English GOAT vowel has. When linguists describe different vowel sounds, they refer to a set of key words which contain the target vowel. Words in the GOAT set – home, open, boat, know – are likely to be pronounced with the same vowel as in the word goat.

Listen to Amanda Crellin’s GOAT vowel, recorded in 1958, in the following sentences:

all the way home; I was brought up in a very good home; and I don’t know; I was brought up in a very good home we weren’t allowed to do things like that; I went to a lady an old woman

C908X11C2 GOAT

The vowel sound is a single sound – the monophthong /o:/ – similar to what you might hear today in a typical Geordie accent and in some Yorkshire dialects.

Now listen to our modern day speaker’s GOAT vowel in the following sentences:

you didn’t know; so do you know what he did; opened the kitchen door; opened the biscuit tin; but nobody was there

C1442X6729 GOAT

This speaker does not use the single /o:/ vowel in these words, but favours a pronunciation with two vowel sounds to create a diphthong which is represented as /əʊ/ in a phonetic transcription. As you can hear, it begins with one vowel sound and ends in another.

The same process is apparent in the FACE vowel – i.e. the vowel sound in words like face, such as day, today, came, made etc. – whereby our 1958 speaker has a vowel with a single sound – a monophthong – and our modern speaker has a pronunciation with two vowel sounds – a diphthong.

Listen to Amanda Crellin’s pronunciation of the FACE vowel in these sentences:

no cinemas in them days; there were no pictures in my young days; I went to a lady an old woman; in the school there was a cane; here’s no cane there’s only learning

C908X11C2 FACE

compared to our modern speaker:

today looks very much like a tickling day he thought to himself; after Mr Tickle had made his bed; eventually Mr Tickle came

C1442X6729 FACE

Accent and dialect change is inevitable in all accents of the British Isles. The Manx English accent has changed in terms of the way the speakers pronounce the vowel in words like day and made, and know and home. You can hear changes in most accents of English over time and even though the Isle of Man is an island with a natural sea border, the accent may still be subject to influences from across the water. However, some features of the traditional Manx English have been retained over the years. There is a similarity in both speakers’ STRUT vowel, which you can hear in words such as fun, funny, up, upstairs and munched. Both speakers use a pronunciation shared by speakers in much of the north of England. Listen to Amanda:

C908X11C2 STRUT

and then to our modern speaker:

C1442X6729 STRUT

There are other features of Manx English which have been retained and make a unique and wonderful accent of English. To read more about accents on the Isle of Man, please visit my website in which I chronicle changes of Manx English today within my own field recordings.

06 April 2018

Linguistics at the Library – Episode 6

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PhD placement students, Andrew Booth and Rowan Campbell write:

Are there any words your family use that no one else has heard of? Can you guess what fruckle, woga, elpit and pivoed mean? This week, Andrew and Rowan look into this phenomenon, with lots of examples from visitors who donated to the Evolving English WordBank! In the process, we explain how new words are made and how they might spread, via a (very) brief history of the English language.

Tweet us: @VoicesofEnglish

This week’s ‘What’s the feature?’ used a clip from:

Millennium Memory Bank Recording in Chelmsford, Essex. BBC, UK, rec. 1999 [digital audio file]. British Library, C900/04060. Available: https://sounds.bl.uk/Accents-and-dialects/Millenium-memory-bank/021M-C0900X04060X-0100V1

Interesting links:

Evolving English WordBank: https://sounds.bl.uk/Accents-and-dialects/Evolving-English-WordBank

Back slang: http://www.victorianweb.org/history/slang2.html

Hybrid words: https://stancarey.wordpress.com/2011/11/28/the-monstrous-indecency-of-hybrid-etymology/

How to make up new words: http://www.slate.com/blogs/lexicon_valley/2015/06/19/neologisms_lexicon_valley_guide_to_making_up_words.html

The English Project. 2008. Kitchen Table Lingo. Lonfdon: Virgin http://englishproject.org/activities/kitchen-table-lingo

Linguistics at the Library Episode 6

03 April 2018

An Elegant Sufficiency, or the Curious Case of a Victorian Meme

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PhD placement student Rowan Campbell writes:

It sometimes strikes me just how much chance and canny timing have to do with the way we experience the world. While cataloguing audio files, I came across the following speaker (born 1944, London) who tells us that her great-grandmother used to say “I’ve had an elegant sufficiency”, which then became a family saying for when you have had enough to eat.

C1442 uncatalogued ELEGANT SUFFICIENCY

It is fairly common for kitchen table lingo to be submitted to the Evolving English WordBank, and having never heard it before, I assumed it to be one of these idiosyncratic family phrases and thought no more of it.

But the universe must have decided that this wasn’t good enough, and presented me with the phrase the very next day. To my offer of a second helping, a dinner guest replied, “I’ve had an elegant sufficiency, any more would be superfluity.” This was a phrase used by their grandmother at least two generations later than attested by the woman above, and I was now intrigued enough to dig further into where it might have come from.

It seems that I’m not the only one who is curious about it – a Google search reveals more questions about it than answers, with many believing it to be a phrase or joke unique to their family. It is attested in places as far-flung as the UK, Ireland, the USA, Canada, Australia, Sweden, Norway and a Swiss finishing school; variations of it crop up in novels by Margaret Atwood and Fred Chappell, and even more recently in radio and television shows The Archers and Last Tango in Halifax. So much for having died out in the sixties – although it does seem to exhibit age-grading tendencies, with each generation associating it with their grandparents.

Something about its verbose formality may have always seemed old-fashioned, and Frederic G. Cassidy’s investigation suggests that it rose out of the need to have politely appropriate stock phrases to hand, since “the spur of the moment can urge a speaker to disastrous infelicities.” The association with etiquette is taken further by one Guardian commenter who describes a class-based trickle-down effect whereby irony in the aristocracy is mistaken for gentility by the middle classes, then adopted by the “upper lower class” in a “valiant attempt” to better themselves. This is also implicit in the clip above, where the phrase immediately follows an ‘elocution lesson’ and exhortation to ‘speak properly’ from the speaker’s grandmother.

“An elegant sufficiency” first appears in James Thomson’s 1728 poem Spring, albeit in a context devoid of food. In the years between then and 1840, where Cassidy traces it back to, it seems to have become something of a pre-digital-age meme. Cassidy explains that it became “fashionable” to “invent new, amusing elaborations” on the two-part formula outlined above – much like the humorous and self-replicating concepts known as memes since the commercialisation of the internet in 1995.

In the North American context, this appears to have given rise to variations of “My sufficiency is fully surancified; any more would be obnoxious to my fastidious taste.” The word at the core of this has a variety of spellings and pronunciations, presumably due to not existing in any dictionary, but seems to have fossilised into phrases like sufficiently suffonsified and elephants and fishes eggs.

Unfortunately, however, I am not sufficiently suffonsified by my investigation. How did this concept proliferate and propagate without the internet, or at least written records? Will my millennial generation finally finish it off with our disregard for etiquette? Or will this blog help to enshrine it and give it a new lease of life for future generations?

02 April 2018

Recording of the week: anyone for tig/it/tag?

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This week's selection comes from Jonnie Robinson, Lead Curator of Spoken English.

The Lore and Language of Schoolchildren (Peter and Iona Opie, 1959) lists numerous regional variants for ‘truce terms’ – the code word used to withdraw briefly from a playground chasing game or to seek immunity from capture – including barley in the West Midlands, skinch in the North East, kings in Yorkshire, cree in South Wales and the West Country and scribs in Hampshire. The Lore of the Playground (Steve Roud, 2010) confirms continued use of many of these terms alongside more mainstream national variants such as time out, paxies and freeze and previously unrecorded local forms such as twixies in Essex, jex in Croydon and bugsies in Devon. 

Fingers

When we invited visitors to the 2012 Evolving English exhibition to submit contributions to the Library's WordBank, children's playground games proved a particularly rich source as can be seen from the contributions here of fainites from London, squadsies from Leicester, skinchies from Skipton and thousies from Bournemouth. It's also worth noting how the contributor from Bournemouth uses both it and tag to refer to a basic chase game as this, too, is known variously across the country as it, he, tig, tag, ticky, dobby, touch, king etc. and that the contributor from Leicester is unsure whether the past participle of tig is regular (i.e. tigged) or strong (i.e. tug).

Fainites (C1442/1873)

Squadsies (C1442/1487)

Skinchies (C1442/993)

Thousies (C1442/351)

You can hear over 100 recordings made by Iona Opie from the 1960s onwards of children demonstrating and discussing playground games across the UK.

Follow @VoicesofEnglish and @soundarchive for all the latest news.