Selective reference Essay
It has been claimed that our accent and speech can reveal a great deal about us. It can give clues about the speaker’s place of origin, education, community values and social identity. By selective reference to examples taken from your own studies of accent and speech, show to what extent you think the statement to be an accurate one. Each person in our country has a distinctive accent and dialect, which gives us indications as to where he or she are from, their social background and education.
This is a fairly accurate statement as from the accents of many people we are able to identify their place of origin and from their dialect we are able to tell what sort of education they have had or their social identity. Accent and dialect give us strong clues to people, the way they live and their history, but it is not always correct. Accents are very noticeable things in many cases. In Britain there are a lot of accents but some renowned. These include Liverpool (Scouse), Newcastle (Geordie), London (Cockney), Leeds (Yorkshire) and Wales and Scotland have their own accents too.
These accents have specific characteristics that distinguish them from others. For example, in Liverpool you will hear people say that something is not “fur” rather than fair. The word fair is pronounced here. Also, words with a here sound, whether it be in the word initial position as in the word ‘early’, or the word medial position as in the word ‘bird’, are pronounced here. Another characteristic of this language is that words with ‘ng’ in the word final position, is pronounced here, for example ‘long’ sounds like ‘long-g’.
The sound here may be an alveolar tap that is the distinct initially in ‘rabbit’ and ‘run’ and the middle parts of ‘curry’ and ‘ferry’. Also the word ‘pin’ is pronounced here. In Newcastle the accent is non-rhotic. The ‘h’ in words isn’t dropped. Also in a Geordie accent the ‘l’ is clear. The ‘l’ in the word ‘bottle’ is like the ‘l’ in the word ‘pleasure’. What’s more, because of the influence running forward from the alveolar voiced plosive the ‘r’ in ‘dry’ is similar to the ‘r’ in dvorak, a Czech word. The Cockney accent has its own specific characteristics too.
The ‘h’ is dropped in words and one would hear about ‘ouses’ and ‘ospitals’. The ‘f’ and ‘v’ differ from all other varieties of English. The ‘f’ sounds like here and the ‘v’ sounds like here. Because of this we hear words such as ‘firty’ as opposed to ‘thirty’ and ‘muvver’ not mother. Cockney is also well known for the elongation of its vowel sounds. Distinct examples are here in ‘seat’, here in ‘great’ and here in ‘high’. There is also a large use of the glottal stop in this accent, especially for medial and final heeeeeeere as in ‘but’, ‘butter’, ‘hectic’, ‘technical’ and a glottalized here as in the word ‘actually’.
Another interesting characteristic is that there is no postvocalic here in Cockney. It is non-rhotic like the Geordie accent. Here is how Cockneys say ‘grass’ and here is how they say ‘great’. These accents are unique and tell us mainly about their place of origin. However, they do not tell us much about their education, community values and social identity, but instead, if anything, give us a perhaps inaccurate stereotypical view of that place of origin. A person’s dialect is a much better indicator of somebody’s education and community values.
Contrary to popular opinion, Standard English can be spoken in any accent. It is the dialect we aspire to but you can speak it in any accent. One is unable to speak in North East Geordie language in a Cockney accent because it would simply sound stupid. However, saying this, we all have the ability to ‘dialect switch’. This is when you change your language to fit in to your surroundings. There is also such thing as ‘accent switch’, which is what everyone does when they speak on the telephone. Two people in a conversation will seek to converge if they like each other.
For example, if you were to meet the Queen your language would become a lot more formal. Also it is normal to see Roy Keane saying he is ‘delighted’, but you would hardly ever hear him saying this normally. On the other hand, if two people are talking and they do not like each other they will seek to diverge. For example, in a pub if two builders saw two lawyers at the bar they may talk down and use foul language to seem different from them. So how does accent and dialect relate to social identity? Well the accent tells us where they are from.
But does one assume a person speaking with a Geordie accent has a poor education? No, the dialect gives an indication of their education. For example, if someone speaks in Standard English and tends not to swear we can infer that that person has had a good education, possibly private and are erudite people. However, if someone uses a lot of colloquial language then it is fair to assume that they come from a less privileged background. Standard English is but one dialect of English. Intrinsically, it is of no greater worth than any other dialect of English.
However, it does suit speech communities (such as the English speaking community) to have a standard form used for education, broadcasting, media etc. The news is read by people that speak Standard English because everybody in the country can understand it. If a Cornish worker and a Geordie worker they wouldn’t be able to understand one another and so would effectively ‘meet halfway’ and speak Standard English. Foul language is being used more and more today. They do not necessarily indicate a poor education as many use them in ‘dialect switch’.
Solecism is another good example of a poor education if not being used by someone who is perhaps diverging. ‘I ain’t done nuffink’ This is an example of solecism and also of a double negative. It is an incorrect use of grammar from someone who ought to know better. In relation to Standard English it is poor. Community values are also represented by dialect. Certain pronunciation is adopted by the way people in the community say or view things. An example of this is when a boy from a rich background who speaks in Standard English ‘talks down’ in order to fit in.
The boy speaks with a lower prestige accent. He would perhaps tend to replace word medial ‘t’ in ‘bottle’ with a glottal stop, giving here. The ‘l’ at the end of the word is so dark that it becomes a ‘w’. Some also use swearing as in their community it is seen as normal or acceptable behaviour to swear. It is common to go past a playing field nowadays and hear children of nine or ten swearing. Some people even try to fit in because there is a degree of embarrassment or perhaps shame that they speak differently to others. Double negatives are used again when people attempt to fit in.
‘I never done nothing’ This shows a desire to talk in a similar manner to one’s friends. Why do people talk down though? Embarrassment, shame, guilt. Some feel like ‘a fish out of water’. In today’s world it is increasingly important to fit in to prevent being on the end of bullying and such that this can change how someone speaks. It also depends on who you’re talking to. For example, if you’re talking to a teacher or a policeman you would tend to use more standard English, however if it is a friend, you may use much more colloquial language and possibly swear.
In conclusion it is clear to see that accent and dialect do indeed tell us a lot about people, although we can’t be entirely clear about our perceptions. Our accent does give us a fair idea about the origin of people and the speech and language used by people also gives us a sense of their social identity and community values, even their education. I can conclude that the statement is fairly accurate, however there are more factors that need to be considered.
University/College: University of Chicago
Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter
Date: 8 July 2017
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