21 March 2018
Time: 4:30 - 6:00pm
Venue: Laws 1.00
t-flapping vs. glottalling in Lancashire, London and beyond: a sociophonological analysis of variation and change
This paper is a present-day analysis of t-flapping and voicing patterns found in intervocalic position in the accent of Blackburn, Lancashire. This process, whereby /t/ is realised as voiced, or as flap between vowels (e.g. better is realised as [beɾəɹ] rather than [betəɹ]), is found in speakers throughout the speech community. The paper’s main aim is to present a quantitative apparent-time analysis of the t-flapping situation in present-day Blackburn English, in order to better understand the relationship of sound change over time in a variety where the process is still highly variable. A secondary aim is to link these patterns with other related phenomena such as the t-to-r rule and how the lack of which in Blackburn may be linked to the fact that the accent is still rhotic. The data, taken from sociolinguistic interviews with 18 local speakers, is auditorily coded, and the focus in this paper is on the three primary variants: fully realised [t], the flap or voiced variant, and glottal replacement.
Although t-flapping in English is almost always reported with reference to American varieties, it is clear that this variant as spoken in Lancashire has existed for a long time, and is certainly not an adopted innovation from outside. This is supported by historical data from Minkova (2014), who reports evidence of flapping/voicing in England as early as the 15th century. The data from Blackburn demonstrates that, as in line with Minkova’s evidence, this is not a new variant and, in fact, seems to be on its way out, with younger speakers flapping at much lower rates than older speakers. Instead, younger speakers are exhibited much higher rates of the glottal stop, as found throughout the UK. We also gain an insight into the contexts in which flapping cannot occur here e.g. after long vowels, giving us an insight into the potential progression it took in American English.
These patterns are compared to flapping patterns found in London speakers, where the flap seems to be making inroads. It is proposed that the phonological patterning of flaps in London is different to that found in Lancashire, in that it is possibly a newer variant which is an optional variant in addition to intervocalic glottalled /t/. This is also compared with data from Newcastle upon Tyne, where speakers have a reinforced glottal variant that is also restricted to intersonorant position.