July 28, 2004

Estuary English

Adding to our discussion of the intricate dance of regional and social variation in British speech, Kate Joester emails a comment about Estuary English:

I think there's probably another dimension in prejudice against Estuary English in particular. It's associated with "youth culture" and with being a fake accent acquired by speakers who are "really" something else in order to be youthful and cool.
It's the universal accent for imitating the stupid young and the mutton-dressed-as-lamb, no matter where they come from.

The opposite of that ever-popular LL post "When's the last time you heard an old person say "dadburn it", perhaps?

Here's a diagram from the Varieties of English site at Arizona, from the page on Estuary English, which makes a related point graphically. The diagram is copied (I think) from the original 1984 study by David Rosewarne, who wanted to describe the development of speech varieties in between the local dialects and the (mostly class rather than locality-based) "Received Pronunciation":

I guess that there might be a similar set of attitudes involved in the U.S. with respect to the spread of speech varieties perceived as originating among southern Californian "valley girls", though in that case there is the additional dimension of sex-related stereotyping.


Posted by Mark Liberman at July 28, 2004 03:37 PM