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The English Language in the United Kingdom is rich with many accents and dialects influenced by historical, geographical and socio-economic aspects. However, many regional dialects face the danger of dying out due to increased use of modern Standardized English. This development can be attributed to geographical diffusion, a process that facilitates the spreading out of linguistic features of dialects from densely populated and economically and culturally dominant areas to those characterized by contrary attributes, thus influencing the latter to adopt the new features (Trudgill 1982b: 52-87).
Geographical diffusion causes to some extend dialect levelling, the act of reducing or slowly doing away with the use of certain linguistic features or entire dialects perceived by the speakers as either unusual or as used by the minority, (Trudgill 1986a: 98). Therefore, the preservation of the original dialects and accents of the UK should be a vital priority in the society in order to not only uphold the rich English history, culture and identity but also to reduce the amount of social prejudice within the English Society.
Language and culture are closely related and therefore difficult to recognize or appreciate one without the understanding of the other, (Wardhaugh 2002: 220). The way an individual perceives aspects of life and his behavior towards them and the language he speaks mutually influences each other. The history is part of the culture of any given society. This being the case, it would be unfortunate to let the dialects die out by themselves because it is through them that the modern generation and the generations to come will learn about the history as part of the English culture and the heritage of the UK.
In addition to that, the future generations will be robbed of their identity not really knowing who they are and what led to them to being the way they are.
Although the standardization of the English language has induced a positive linguistic development by bringing clear structure and uniformity in the language system, it also has a major downside. It has developed consciousness of a correct and canonical language system among the speakers, namely Received Pronunciation (RP). This has led to the false belief that any language system that contradicts RP is inferior, despite the lack of sufficient scientific proof, (Hudson 1981: 337).
Social prejudice against speakers of dialects other than the RP is very common in the UK where non RP speakers are discriminated and looked down upon. Letting the other dialects die out only supports and will worsen this negative development. Preserving them at all costs will ensure that they find an important place in the English society and might develop a more positive attitude towards them and therefore decrease the degree of social prejudice within the English society.
Difficulty in understanding certain dialects is one of the major reasons that make them unpopular to both native speakers of English and those learning it as a foreign language. One of the aspect of these dialects that is hardest to understand is the accent in which these dialects are spoken. An accent is a distinctive way of pronouncing a language, especially one associated with a particular country, area, or social class. Many of the old dialects have various linguistic aspects that are closer to Old (450 and 1100AD) and Middle (1100 to 1500AD) Middle English in comparison to Modern English.
However, The Great Vowel Shift, a major change in the pronunciation of the English language took place in England between the 15th and 18th centuries. (Wyld, H. C. 1957). The long vowels shifted upwards meaning vowels that were earlier produced in one place in the mouth would be pronounced in a different place, higher up in the mouth. The shortening of vowels is also one of the outcomes. The term Great Vowel Shift was first studied by Otto Jespersen (1860-1943), a Danish linguist and Anglicist, (Labov, William 1994: 145). Due to this fact, an English speaker in the 21st century will definitely encounter some difficulties understanding the pronunciation of certain dialects that still have pronunciations that existed before the Great Vowel Shift.
Aside from the different pronunciation in vowels, some dialects have a different sound system when it comes to consonants compared to RP. A good example is the Devonshire accent from west country where unvoiced consonants change to voiced consonants at the beginning of words for example, /fe s / changes /v ð z 3/. Furthermore there is rhoticity and the dropping of /h/ at the beginning of words. This can be very confusing for a Modern English speaker. In conclusion, the presence of unfamiliar sounds in a language can contribute to make it very difficult to understand because a speaker is accustomed to the sounds in his familiar language.
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