Sociolinguistic typology, dialect formation and dialect levelling in industrial and post-industrial Britain: vernacular speech since 1800

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22 May 2015

Time: 6:30pm
Venue: Arts Two Lecture Theatre, Arts Two Building, Mile End Campus, E1 4NS

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5th Jenny Cheshire Lecture: 2015

In this talk Paul Kerswill considers the changes in the sociolinguistic patterning of vernacular varieties of English in Britain since the Industrial Revolution. Profound socioeconomic changes led to urbanisation on an unprecedented scale. Internal migration led to dialect contact and the emergence of new, koineised dialects in the new urban centres. Rural dialect differences became levelled, at least in the southeast. And yet traditional dialects persisted well into the twentieth

In attempting to link social change and linguistic change he makes use of Trudgill’s sociolinguistic typology model
and Andersen’s theory of open vs. closed dialects. Today, demographic change continues – on the whole – to lead to dialect levelling. At the same time, in Britain as in much of Europe we see a large-scale dialect loss which is not the direct result of demographic change, but must be linked to ideological changes in society. Although the last 200 years have seen a marked reduction in linguistic diversity, the same social factors, in the right combinations, continue to produce the opposing tendency: dialect divergence, often but by no means always following immigration, as exemplified by the Asian ethnolects of northern England and multicultural youth varieties of London, as well as the maintained and arguably diverging dialects of Newcastle and Liverpool.

Paul Kerswill is Professor of Sociolinguistics at the University of York. His research has focused on migration and dialect contact in both Norway and Britain, including Bergen and the New Town of Milton Keynes. He has collaborated with Jenny Cheshire on projects on dialect levelling and on the emergence of Multicultural London English. His publications include work on the role of children in language change, the phonology of new dialects and the representation of youth language in the media. He has co-edited Dialect change: Convergence and divergence in European languages (with Frans Hinskens and Peter Auer, 2005) and the Sage Handbook of Sociolinguistics (with Ruth Wodak and Barbara Johnstone, 2010). With Jenny Cheshire, Eivind Torgersen and Sue Fox, he is co-author of ‘Contact, the feature pool and the speech community: The emergence of Multicultural English'