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Are accents disappearing? 
Posted: 19 October 2013 12:28 PM   [ Ignore ]
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Happydog asked this in the Meta thread on My Accent and I thought it might raise some interesting replies.  I can speak only for what I grew up with and what I see when I return to the place I grew up in, an area now overtaken by people who’ve bought second (holiday) homes there.  Because of the influx of affluent, southern accents, the local accent has much softened. When I returned there in the 1970s after a stint in South Africa, I found some of the old local accents I grew up with and understood well, very hard to understand.  Now, however, people’s accents have been flattened out and the broad accents in that region have all but disappeared, except among the elderly.  However, the accents still linger in the less touristy regions, and with the people whose livelihood means they are in some way isolated, eg the farmers and fishermen and the young farmers are still proud of their accents and their heritage.

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Posted: 19 October 2013 01:22 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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If accents aren’t disappearing, I’d say they’re in retreat; like dialects.

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Posted: 20 October 2013 12:33 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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Apparently not disappearing and the short answer seems to be that we learn how to speak from the real people in our lives and not mass media.

Are Dialects Fading?

Regional Accents Are Alive and Well

Dialects Changing, But Not Disappearing In Philadelphia (NPR)

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Posted: 20 October 2013 02:24 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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They may not be disappearing but I certainly found the same flattening process that Eliza describes when I visited my home county of Devon recently for the first time in years. My mother’s family come from the Barnstaple area of North Devon and when I was younger the accents there were broad in the extreme. Especially notable was the marked difference in pronoun usage from standard English, eg ‘Er be waitin’ outside for ‘ee, Mother, she’s waiting outside for you, Mother. I found that changed when I went up there, especially among the young. The accent was still there but much flattened and a far wider use of the normal pronouns. Nothing scientific about this, of course, just my own experience.

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Posted: 21 October 2013 12:40 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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If you retain any vestiges of a Devonian accent, aldi, hang on to them for all you’re worth. The accents of Devon are among the most delightful to the ear of any English speech I’ve ever heard. I occasionally declaim “Drake’s Drum” to myself (strictly in my head - I value my neighbors ;-), imitating the accents of Devonian friends (one of the few bosses I’ve ever cared for was born in Exeter). It’s like listening to music, or the sound of the sea. Oddly enough, Newbolt (says wikipedia) was born in Staffordshire, nowhere near the sea, though apparently a naval historian of distinction.

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Posted: 21 October 2013 01:46 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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I agree, Lionello, it’s a wonderful sound, but alas I never had a vestige of the accent. I only lived in Devon for the first couple of years of my life while my father, a Scot in the Buffs, was overseas. When he returned he was stationed in Dover, then Canterbury, so I spent my formative years as a budding Man of Kent (not Kentishman, that term applies to those benighted souls West of the Medway). My mother had developed an accent that was pure RP when she served with the Wrens in London during the war, although her Devonshire brogue was still alive and well and would bud forth instantly on our visits to the West Country.

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Posted: 22 October 2013 07:27 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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I spent my formative years as a budding Man of Kent

Great choice, aldi: suits what we here all know of you, down to the ground. According to A.A.Milne, it’s a land of resourceful intellectuals:

Of all the Knights in Appledore
The wisest was Sir Thomas Tom.
He multiplied as far as four,
And knew what nine was taken from
To make eleven. He could write
A letter to another Knight.

No other Knight in all the land
Could do the things which he could do.
Not only did he understand
The way to polish swords, but knew
What remedy a Knight should seek
Whose armour had begun to squeak.

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Posted: 22 October 2013 08:47 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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Apparently not disappearing and the short answer seems to be that we learn how to speak from the real people in our lives and not mass media.

They may not be disappearing but I certainly found the same flattening process that Eliza describes when I visited my home county of Devon recently for the first time in years.

People travel more and are more mobile nowadays. Youth, if they don’t end up living a thousand miles away from where they grew up, often spend several years away from home at university or in some employment. Even people who never leave home are apt to have neighbors and co-workers who are from somewhere else. In my own family, my grandparents never lived more than 50 miles from where they were born. Yet, two generations later, having grown up in New Jersey, I’ve lived substantial portions of my adult life in Germany, Washington DC, California, and now Ontario.

Accents are still there, just not as sharply defined as contact with other accents flattens them out.

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Posted: 22 October 2013 01:54 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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Fortunately, they flatten slowly. A girl cousin of mine acquired a posh accent at a girls’ school on the Sussex Downs (“anyone for lacks?”). At the age of about 21, she married an American serviceman and went to live in Connecticut. Her accent got her a job as receptionist at an upmarket B&B, which she held for several decades. She had very little contact with her English relatives, and developed what I suppose was a sort of Connecticut accent; but even after forty years, you could tell instantly, when she answered the phone at the B&B, that she’d been to that school on the Downs.

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Posted: 23 October 2013 08:11 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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Maybe it’s the poshness and its associated upper-class breeding that some people don’t intend to lose.  We know some people who’ve both been to public schools and speak just as they do on the old 1930s films.  Their accent marks them out, and some folks in our little neck of the woods sadly despise them for their accents alone, though they are a bit “eccentric” as well. I use the inverted commas advisedly.  In fact, their ridiculously posh accent is so strong that it turns heads in restaurants because even most of the royal family now speak with a normal well-bred English accent.

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Posted: 23 October 2013 11:08 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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When I lived in London, I noticed that several of the guys from work would accent shift between work and the pub. It was all RP at work, but the in the pub, the “home” accents came out.

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Posted: 23 October 2013 01:00 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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Well, naturally, in any class-conscious society (what modern society isn’t?), the way you speak defines you to a very considerable extent.  Nancy Mitford talks about this very entertainingly, in her book Noblesse Oblige, published about 60 years ago.  [I have a feeling we’ve discussed this before. If so, Dr. Techie is sure to remind us ;-) ]

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Posted: 23 October 2013 02:14 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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The classic study of class-based accents and code-switching is William Labov’s 1972 “The Social Stratification of (r) in New York City Department Stores.”

Labov and his students went to three department stores in Manhattan, upscale Saks, mid-range Macy’s, and discount S. Klein. They asked questions of clerks that would require a response of “fourth floor.” If they clerk dropped any of the Rs, they then asked the clerk to repeat the answer, pretending they hadn’t heard. In the initial response, the employees at Sak’s had the highest number Rs pronounced, those at S. Klein the least, with Macy’s in the middle. But when repeating the answer, a greater number of employees from each store pronounced their Rs, code-switching into a standard accent. The difference at Sak’s was slight, that at Macy’s highest in absolute terms, and at S. Klein highest in percentage, but low in absolute numbers.

Labov concluded that the Macy’s and S. Klein clerks were most aware of the difference and that they consciously aimed for a rhotic accent, even if they didn’t normally use it when not thinking about it. The upscale clerks at Sak’s were most secure in their accents.

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Posted: 23 October 2013 03:00 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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Dave Wilton - 23 October 2013 02:14 PM

The classic study of class-based accents and code-switching is William Labov’s 1972 “The Social Stratification of (r) in New York City Department Stores.”

.

That can’t be right. The USA doesn’t have classes.

Don’t use the term the other side uses. Who does Barack Obama talk about all the time? The middle class. Since when in America do we have classes? Since when in America are people stuck in areas or defined places called a class? That’s Marxism talk.
- Rick Santorum

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Posted: 23 October 2013 06:54 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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lionello - 23 October 2013 01:00 PM

Well, naturally, in any class-conscious society (what modern society isn’t?), the way you speak defines you to a very considerable extent.

The whole “judged by your accent” thing is virtually nonexistent in California compared to what I saw in London. We think any accent other than our own is “cute.”

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Posted: 24 October 2013 05:17 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
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I [picture of heart] California

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