Sound and vision blog

48 posts categorized "Voices of the UK"

21 November 2014

Jolly chuffed to spend a very hockey sticks weekend in Dulwich village

 Jonnie Robinson, Lead Curator of Spoken English, writes:

Last weekend I went to Dulwich to watch my daughter play hockey, which gave me the opportunity of exploring Dulwich village for the first time. The highlight of a thoroughly pleasant stroll was stumbling across a rather intriguing use of the word chuffed [= ‘pleased’] – a term used by millions of speakers of British English on a regular basis. Chalked up on a blackboard inside a wonderful artisan baker’s was a sign thanking customers for nominating the proprietors for a local trade award (I hope they win: the bacon bap I had was delicious). The sign declared that the owners were very chuffed to be nominated; an expression that immediately struck me as slightly odd - do people actually say very chuffed? Isn’t very somehow just too mainstream to combine with a word like chuffed? Aren’t more colloquial intensifiers like really, pretty and so or vernacular forms such as dead chuffed, proper chuffed and well chuffed more natural?

Very chuffed

A quick glance at several authoritative reference works seems to confirm my hunch. The entry for chuffed in the Oxford English Dictionary (online edition) includes six citations - the earliest from 1957 - and two examples each of chuffed, pretty chuffed and dead chuffed.  The New Partridge Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English (2014) agrees with the OED's dating and also includes the following observation:

originally northern English dialect […], adopted by military, then wider society […] often qualified by intensifiers DEAD, REAL, WELL

Both dictionaries include the antonym dischuffed – presumably formed by analogy with pleased/displeased rather than happy/unhappy – and the Dictionary of Contemporary Slang (2014) provides further support for Partridge stating that chuffed:

probably originates in northern English dialect […] and is still most frequently heard in the North and Midlands [...] embellished forms are ‘dead chuffed’, ‘chuffed pink’ and ‘chuffed to arseholes’

In 2004/5 the BBC Voices survey investigated the words we use for 40 everyday concepts, including the notion PLEASED. Researchers in the British Library’s Voices of the UK project are currently compiling an inventory of the terms captured in the study and have thus far catalogued over 100 variants for PLEASED. Apart from pleased itself, chuffed was by far the most common response and certainly seems to have been taken up enthusiastically outside its northern and midland heartland, but as far as I’m aware we haven’t encountered many – if indeed any – examples of very chuffed. Plenty of contributors supplied dead chuffed, well chuffed, chuffed to bits, chuffed to naffy break (also in Partridge) and even chuffed to buggery, but not very chuffed. And yet, by extraordinary coincidence this week a contestant on the BBC quiz show Only Connect said he had been very chuffed with his team's performance in the previous round. I dunno - you wait for ages for a very chuffed and all of a sudden two come along at once.

If you'd like to hear any of the numerous  variants for PLEASED just listen to one of the 300 BBC Voices Recordings. From thrilled, delighted, tickled pink, cock-a-hoop and on cloud nine to made-up, thrimmed, over the moon, baktalo (Anglo-Romani for ‘happy/lucky’) and stoked each gives subtle clues to a speaker’s geographic background, age, ethnicity and/or social status.

My daughter’s team lost by the way, although in scoring her first goal of the season I suspect she was chuffed and dischuffed in equal measure, but – all things considered –  probably not very chuffed.

21 July 2014

The shifting sand(-shoes) of linguistic identity in Teesside

Jonnie Robinson, Lead Curator for Sociolinguistics writes:

This month we've uploaded linguistic descriptions of conversations about local speech in Coxhoe, Hartlepool and three discussions in Middlesbrough (one with a group of young friends, one with rival football fans and one with three generations from the same family). Together they constitute the set of BBC Voices Recordings made by BBC Radio Cleveland. The descriptions list the participants' responses to a set of prompt words and, in the case of Coxhoe and the friends in Middlesbrough, also include a detailed description of the phonology and grammar of the speakers.

Teesside was the focus of considerable linguistic debate last summer when BBC business correspondent, Sophie McGovern, revealed she received regular complaints from viewers about her Middlesbrough accent. This followed reports earlier the same year that a Middlesbrough primary school had solicited parental support in addressing teachers' concerns that local dialect features were compromising children's formal written English. Personally I've always enjoyed the accents and dialects of the region and local celebrities such as Bob Mortimer (from Acklam, Middlesbrough), Vic Reeves (from Darlington, County Durham) and Mark Benton (from Guisborough, North Yorkshire) are extremely popular figures whose speech patterns are, I sense, an integral part of their appeal.

The backgrounds of these three entertainers hints at the competing cultural and linguistic influences in the area as Teesside straddles the historic counties of Durham and North Yorkshire - Middlesbrough itself was historically in North Yorkshire. Successive changes in administrative nomenclature (North Riding, North Yorkshire, Teesside, Cleveland) have been hotly contested locally as confirmed by this Middlesbrough family and this repeated upheaval underpins the study of Middlesbrough dialect by academic linguist, Carmen Llamas, who explores how local linguistic features reflect speaker identities across generations.

Intriguingly the Middlesbrough accent is frequently confused with accents further up the east coast in Newcastle upon Tyne and, perhaps more surprisingly, on the west coast in Liverpool. Similarity with speakers in Tyneside is most apparent in a shared tendency to glottalise the sounds <p>, <t> and <k> between vowels in words like happy, better and lucky. This distinctive pronunciation is a recent innovation on Teesside thought to be influenced by increasing identification - especially among younger speakers - with the North East. The equally striking pronunciation of word final <t> in words like it and that (pronounced as if it were a <h> sound) and the vowel sound used in words like first, bird and turn is probably more widely associated with English on Merseyside and thought to reflect the earlier influence of large-scale migration from Ireland to Teesside - and Merseyside - in the nineteenth century. All three phenomena can be heard frequently in the recording with former Middlesbrough schoolfriends.

What is also clear from this set of recordings is that the area remains lexically distinctive with examples of 'pan-northern' vocabulary (e.g. lass [= 'girl']), words shared with the North East (e.g. netty [= 'toilet'] and cuddy-wifter [= 'left-handed']) and with Yorkshire (e.g. mafted [= 'hot']) and iconic Teesside items (e.g. nick off [= 'to play truant']). The emergence in Middlesbrough of a second person plural form yous is also shared with other northern cities (notably Liverpool, Newcastle and Glasgow), while the recording in Coxhoe is particularly rich in typical local discourse markers:

0:07:31 by you're all proper from Cassop man

0:17:34 saying that mind [...] they certainly have interest when it comes round to the presentation evenings

0:19:56 you used to get great crack to them how but

0:35:33 that's just as old-fashioned as the hills like

0:36:48 why let them start their own clubs

23 May 2014

How about a bit of PR for RP?

Jonnie Robinson, Lead Curator for Sociolinguistics writes:

This month we've uploaded linguistic descriptions of conversations about local speech in Cambridge (one with two young hip-hop artists and one with regulars at a pub), Ely, Peterborough and Wisbech. Together they constitute the set of BBC Voices Recordings made by BBC Radio Cambridge. The descriptions list the participants' responses to a set of prompt words and, in the case of Ely, also include a detailed description of the phonology and grammar of the speakers.

Unlike previous dialect surveys, the Voices project intentionally targeted speakers from a wide variety of backgrounds and these five recordings from Cambridgeshire represent a particularly diverse set of speaker groups. In Wisbech you can hear localised pronunciation features such as yod-dropping on commuters ['kuhmooters'] and stupid ['stoopid'] and dialect words such as docky [= packed lunch]. Two young Cambridge musicians provide examples of multi-ethnic urban youth slang such as spar [= friend], safe [= great, excellent] and crisp biscuit [= attractive], while elsewhere in Cambridge we hear evidence of polari expressions in bona capella [= nice hat] and I'm gonna get me riah [= hair] done. There's also insight in Peterborough into the code-switching that's typical of bilingual British Asians in forms like khabbu [= left-handed] and the list of pairs used to distinguish between paternal and maternal grandmother such as dadi and nani.

The Voices archive also includes a number of speakers of Received Pronunciation (RP) - the middle-class, geographically neutral accent of England and, to a lesser extent, other parts of the British Isles. Contrary to much recent popular and media opinion RP is neither out of date nor disappearing and has in fact always encompassed a range of speech types. The Voices data set includes examples of upper-class RP in recordings with an aristocratic family in Ingatestone and members of the Arnesby Hunt. RP as manifested in the Armed Forces is captured in Worston, while typical middle-class RP is represented by a group of female golfers in Sevenoaks and a recording with three generations of a long-established family of Devon landowners in Newton St Cyres. Or you can explore Public School RP by comparing former boarding school female friends in Clapham with young students here in Ely.

In common with all accents RP is changing. The recording in Ely, for instance, shows clear evidence of change on one feature - the pronunciation of the <t> sound between vowels.  As young speakers of British English it's not surprising to hear several examples of glottal stops, but pronunciations with a <d> sound occur pretty frequently too - the word little, for instance, occurs both with a glottal stop and with <d>. Although a pronunciation with <d> is  perhaps more readily associated with speech in the USA, it's actually a long-established feature of  RP and other British accents and the presence of both alternatives here shows how adolescent speakers fluctuate between a more 'conservative' <d> and  the innovative variant with a glottal stop.

27 March 2014

Bristol L - what a wonderfa ideal

Jonnie Robinson, Lead Curator for Sociolinguistics writes:

This month we've uploaded linguistic descriptions of conversations about local speech in Bristol, Knowle West, Dulverton, Ilminster and Wellington. Together they constitute the set of BBC Voices Recordings made by BBC Radio Bristol and BBC Somerset Sound. The descriptions list the participants' responses to a set of prompt words and, in the case of Knowle West and Dulverton, also include detailed descriptions of the phonology and grammar of the speakers.

A unique feature of Bristol dialect is 'parasitic L' (or 'Bristol L' as it's often called in popular descriptions). This refers to the process whereby a word that in most accents ends in a weak vowel - e.g. area, idea and cinema - is pronounced in Bristol dialect with a word final <l> - i.e. to sound like 'areal', 'ideal' and 'cinemal'. This feature is often caricatured in stereotypical portrayals of Bristolian speech, but it's likely very few people have heard an authentic example. You can hear several spontaneous examples in the conversation in Knowle West here, including:

0:41:11 I can remember the first time I had a bananal [= 'banana']

0:41:45 I know at one time he came home ... and our ma was stood at the living room windle [= 'window']

The second example above is particularly striking as it reveals a two-step phonological rule: firstly the final syllable of window is interpreted as containing an underlying weak vowel - i.e. 'winda'. This is a pretty widespread phenomenon in speech across the UK (and elsewhere) as confirmed by common pronunciations like 'fella' [= fellow], 'borra' [= borrow] and 'marra' [= marrow, friend]. There's a platform announcer at Kings Cross underground station in London, for instance, who on a daily basis alerts passengers to Metropolitan Line trains stopping all stations to 'arra' [= Harrow-on-the-Hill]. In Bristol this process creates an environment where parasitic L can occur - hence window > winda > windle. You might think, therefore, that pairs like idea and ideal or area and aerial are indistinguishable in Bristol dialect, but in fact speakers who use Bristol L invariably convert word final <l> to a weak vowel so that aerial is pronounced 'area' thus maintaining the distinction. Again you can hear evidence of this in the conversation in Knowle West such as: 

0:03:26 I lived at where the old origina Whitfield tabernaca was

Indeed the name Bristol itself (historically Bristow but re-interpreted locally and subsequently nationally as Bristol) is a tribute to this wonderfa loca feature that in my humba opinion makes Brista my ideal of an idea dialect areal.

21 February 2014

Observing dialect shift in Berkshire

Jonnie Robinson, Lead Curator for Sociolinguistics writes:

This month we've uploaded linguistic descriptions of conversations about local speech in Bradfield, Purley on Thames and three recordings in Reading (one with work colleagues, one with young British Asians and one with a Bajan family). Together they constitute the set of BBC Voices Recordings made by BBC Radio Berkshire. The descriptions list the participants' responses to  a set of prompt words and, in the case of the Bajan family and Purley on Thames also include detailed descriptions of the grammar and phonology of the speakers.

It's fascinating to see how these two apparently unrelated recordings illustrate the same linguistic process: dialect shift. Not surprisingly, the Caribbean heritage of speakers born in Barbados, but now living in Reading, is reflected in their accent. They all use several pronunciations here that are typical of Bajan English, such as the so-called GOAT vowel in words like stone, road and know. The younger generation - born and brought up in Reading - vary between this pronunciation and a more obviously southern British variant. Listen, for instance, to Kevin fluctuate between the two variants in the same utterance:

1:18:46 yeah, you call him a  'poser', "he's a poser, man, look at he posing with cheap gold and fake gold and designer clothes"

His initial pronunciation of the word poser contains a typical southern English vowel sound, but he subsequently uses a Bajan-like vowel on the second instance of poser, posing, gold and on the word clothes. This illustrates perfectly how dialect contact produces incremental change within a single family - one pronunciation is used consistently by older speakers, but competes in the next generation with a more dominant and/or socially prestigious variety in the community.

The recording in Purley allows us to observe the same process of dialect shift over three generations, albeit in the context of a well-established local family and on a  different linguistic variable: rhoticity - i.e. the presence or absence of a <r> sound after a vowel in words like start, letter and nurse. The oldest speaker (b.1928) invariably pronounces this <r> sound here, while his son (b.1947) varies between including and omitting <r> in this environment.  In contrast the two younger speakers (both born in the 1970s) consistently omit this <r> sound, showing that the loss of postvocalic <r> is completed over two generations in this family.

Although this process of change occurs on different pronunciation variables in each recording (and is presumably prompted by different reasons), it nevertheless shows how a linguistic feature gradually 'shifts' in prominence across successive generations of the same speech community. For speakers like the Bajan family who have relocated to a completely different country, the older speakers are outnumbered by speakers of the local dialect so the younger generation naturally accommodates towards their local peers. The loss of rhoticity in the Purley family, however, reflects a trend that has been noted across southern England over the last century, and can be attributed to continuous waves of migration of non-rhotic speakers, especially from London, out into the surrounding Home Counties like Berkshire.

07 January 2014

You cor call Black Country Brummy but they both ai half bostin!

Jonnie Robinson, Lead Curator for Sociolinguistics writes:

This month we've uploaded linguistic descriptions of conversations about local speech in Kings Norton, Dudley, Hampton-in-Arden, Handsworth and Wolverhampton: the set of BBC Voices Recordings made by BBC WM. The descriptions list the participants' responses to a set of prompt words and, in the case of Dudley and Hampton-in-Arden, also include a summary of the grammar and phonology of the speakers.

In a recent review of Channel 4 sit-com 'Raised by Wolves' Guardian TV critic Stuart Jeffries bemoaned the dearth of actors able to produce convincing West Midlands accents and general lack of awareness of the distinction between speech in Birmingham and in the Black Country. Although these conversations confirm a number of shared pronunciation features and common vocabulary, e.g.babby [= 'baby'], caggy [= 'left-handed'], mom [= 'mother'] and pumps [= 'child's soft shoe worn for PE'], they also demonstrate that the differences, albeit subtle to outsiders, are extremely important locally.

A striking feature of Black Country dialect that distinguishes it from speech in Birmingham is the negative marking of verbs. I remember one of my earliest encounters with Black Country negation was when my school cricket team (in 'posh Brummy' Sutton Coldfield) crossed the border into the Black Country to play a match in Walsall. Batting second and requiring six from the final over, our batsman launched the ball to 'cow corner' (the term favoured by our purist cricket master to express his disdain for any unorthodox leg-side slog). As the ball landed agonisingly short of the boundary their closest fielder yelled enthusiastically to his team-mates it day goo owva. The umpire, rightly interpreting this statement as confirmation that the ball 'did not go over' [the boundary], signalled four and indicated a home win.

This is an example of the Black Country English system of marking a verb as negative simply by modifying its vowel. This occurs in a small number of verbs in Standard English, such as will > won't, do > don't, can > can't and shall > shan't, in which a word final <-nt> sound also clearly represents a contracted form of the negative particle not. In Black Country dialect, however, speakers not only omit the final <-nt>, but also extend the pattern of vowel modification to most auxiliary and modal verbs such that 'be', for instance, is negated as ai in the present tense and wor in the past, negative 'do' surfaces as doh in the present and day in the past tense, negative 'will' converts to woh, 'can' mutates to cor [= 'can't'] and so on. There are numerous examples in the recording in Dudley, such as:

0:46:41 how could you say that a bloke who was a pattern-maker or summat like that in a foundry that that'd got a strong dialect accent who who was building things that were being shipped round the world [...] these blokes wor [= 'weren't'] thick they was anything but

0:55:38 I've just spoke about, you know, the passion of the industry and stuff like that but I kind of rebelled against that I day [= 'didn't'] wanna work in a factory I day [= 'didn't] wanna work in a foundry I day [= 'didn't'] wanna do all them jobs

The routine use of mom [= 'mother'] in the West Midlands is, interestingly, considered an Americanism by British Jamaicans in Handsworth, although Stuart Jeffries' fury at the 'misuse' of mum in 'Raised by Wolves' suggests mom's the word in this part of the UK and has been for quite some time. These speakers' preference for muma and other wonderful Jamaican English expressions like crepes [= 'child's soft shoe worn for PE'], fenky-fenky [= 'easily tired'], bringle [= 'annoyed'] and no brought-upsy [= 'ill-mannered'] alongside well-established Black Country and Brummy terms in these conversations gives a sense of the  diversity of voices to be found in and around the UK's second city.

05 November 2013

'angin in Mancs and rhoticity in Lancs

Jonnie Robinson, Lead Curator for Sociolinguistics writes:

This month we've uploaded linguistic descriptions of conversations about local speech in Bury, Coldhurst, ManchesterOldham and Salford: the set of BBC Voices Recordings made by BBC GMR. The descriptions list the participants' responses to a set of prompt words and, in the case of Coldhurst, Oldham and Salford, also include a summary of the grammar and phonology of the speakers.

I still remember the first time I ever met a Manc - the nickname for Mancunians used here by a Salford student's relatives in Liverpool. October 1983, first week at university and a fellow fresher with roots in Prestwich and the Gujarat informed me the beer in the union bar was angin. Mystified at first I soon learnt that virtually anything of which he disapproved could be dismissed as 'angin' - an iconic Manchester term used with the same enthusiasm thirty years later by these Salford sixth-form students and by Steph Britton in an episode of Coronation Street (25.02.13) earlier this year: olive in a cocktail glass - dead sophis but tastes angin.

As this small set of recordings illustrates, Manchester, like most British cities is a fascinating blend of linguistic continuity and innovation. Take the word vexed [= 'annoyed']. Is it an old-fashioned term, a Lancashire phrase or contemporary urban street vernacular? Well, all of the above, apparently. While the group in Coldhurst associate vexed with older speakers, in Oldham it's considered typical of speech locally and in Lancashire more generally. Two young singers in Bury, however, identify it closely with hip-hop lyrics, and claim they frequently adapt it when rapping to the more elaborate vexated. Just shows you can never categorise a word as solely 'archaic', 'dialect' or 'slang'.

Above all, though, the gradual change in accents as one moves across the Greater Manchester conurbation is what I enjoy most about this corner of the North West. Take a single pronunciation feature: rhoticity. Speakers in the city itself are typically non-rhotic - that is they don't pronounce the /r/ sound after a vowel in words like hard, warm, turn and better. Travel the short distance north to Oldham and beyond into East Lancs and you'll find one of the few places in the north of England where you hear a pronunciation that at one time characterised the whole of the British Isles. As all cricket fans will know, although they're both proud former Lancashire cricketers, there's a huge difference in the way Athers (Failsworth-born former England captain turned commentator Michael Atherton) and Bumble (Accrington-born ex-Lancashire captain turned broadcaster David Lloyd) say start the car.

19 September 2013

London Calling

Jonnie Robinson, Lead Curator for Sociolinguistics writes:

This month we've uploaded linguistic descriptions of conversations about local speech in Clapham, Marylebone, Hackney and Southall: the set of BBC Voices Recordings made by BBC London. The descriptions list the participants' responses to a series of prompt words and, in the case of Hackney, Clapham and Marylebone, also include a summary of the grammar and phonology of the speakers.

It would be impossible in such a small set of recordings to present a comprehensive picture of the enormous diversity of English spoken in the UK's largest and most diverse city, but this sample at least hints at the extraordinary variety of voices. Discussions in Clapham reveal continued middle-class disdain for words like toilet, lounge and couch, suggesting that the notion of U and non-U speech popularised by Nancy Mitford in Noblesse Oblige and satirised by John Betjeman in How To Get On In Society remains relevant today. We hear contrasting views of 'traditional' London features like rhyming slang, which although considered embarrassing and old-fashioned by some, survives nonetheless in established, widely used terms like brassic ['brassic lint' = 'skint'] and taters ['taters (i.e. 'potatoes') in the mould' = 'cold']. Perhaps more significantly, there's evidence in more recent coinages like got the zig ['Sigmund Freud' = 'annoyed'] and Hank ['Hank Marvin' = 'starving'] of enduring enthusiasm for the sheer creative fun of rhyming slang.

Current influences are evident in the recording with British Asians in Southall, where young speakers provide glimpses of contemporary slang with butters [= 'ugly'], tick [= 'attractive' as in he's tick, man] and rinced [= 'tired'], while the affectionate forms of address mama-ji and mummy-ji capture blends formed by adding the Hindi-Urdu honorific suffix <-ji> to English variants for 'mother'. Equally intriguing are instances of English-Punjabi code-switching when choosing between food shopping or kappre [= 'clothes'] shopping or when pacifying someone whose gussa [= 'anger'] level's too high.

We only scratch the surface of London English here, but even a brief selection of terms of approval that occur spontaneously in these conversations reveals subtle sociolinguistic distinctions and confirms that London English is frightfully cool (Clapham), the business (Marylebone), sick (Southall), possibly even (with a little nod to Del Boy) lovely jubbly (Southall).

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