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Guest Lecture: “Demographic change and dialect levelling in southern England”

Lecturer(s)Prof. Dr. David Britain (University of Berne)
DateWednesday, 3rd November 2021, 10:15 - 11:45
LocationOnline Basel Switzerland

Demographic change and dialect levelling in southern England

Prof. Dr. David Britain (Universität Bern)

Southern England has been undergoing dialect levelling – the eradication of marked and/or highly localised and/or stigmatised dialect variants in favour of features that are less marked and/or less stigmatised and/or with a wider regional currency – for well over 150 years (see, for example, Ellis 1889). The usual explanatory trigger for this levelling has been ‘mobility’, without significant investigation of what kinds of mobilities they are, where these mobilities are most dramatic and whose mobilities they are. Linguistic evidence of this levelling, furthermore, has often come from studies of individual locations, conducted in different ways at different times by different people, so it has been difficult to reliably establish the broader geographical scope of these levelling changes.

In this presentation, I attempt to address both of these issues in dialect levelling research, by presenting evidence from two studies which have been able to chart levelling across multiple sites simultaneously, using similar methods across each site. I begin by examining the scope and pervasiveness of a set of prevalent mobilities in southern England that are intimately linked to relatively recent socio-economic and demographic upheaval. I demonstrate that that these mobilities are socially and geographically differentiated, and thereby help us to explain the linguistic direction of changes that are being driven by those mobilities. I then move on to outline the two aforementioned studies – one is a ‘traditional’ variationist sociolinguistic survey, based on the collection of a corpus of data, but from multiple sites across one region – East Anglia, the other is a smartphone-based survey – the English Dialects App – that was able to map geographical variation across England based on over 50,000 users’ answers to a dialect quiz.

Results show considerable evidence of levelling, but levelling which distinguishes between different levels of language (lexis v phonology v morphosyntax), levelling which is sensitive to issues such as salience as well as levelling arrested by the marking of regional identity.

If you would like to listen to this guest lecture, please contact PD Dr. Jakob Leimgruberto obtain the necessary Zoom link.