About the project
One of the most widely considered concepts in British variationist sociolinguistics has been regional dialect levelling. Levelling, or supralocalisation, is the attrition of linguistic features that are socially or geographically marked (Trudgill 1986), and their replacement over time by ‘unmarked’ forms. At the same time, we observe the spread of features from higher to lower population density areas by geographical diffusion (Kerswill 2003). Although the attrition of localised features is widely reported in the UK (e.g. Kerswill 1984, 2003, Britain 2002), there has been little attempt to examine the mechanisms of levelling and diffusion systematically across a single UK region. To do so would give new insight into how and why certain linguistic features spread faster and further than others. In this project, which runs from January 2010 to December 2012, we will address this overtly by undertaking a comparative study of phonological variation and change in 3 localities in the north-west of England: Liverpool, Skelmersdale and St Helens.
We aim to explain phonological change via an analysis of (i) 20th century migration patterns, (ii) geographical distances between localities and patterns of urban contact, including commuting, and (ii) folk-linguistic and regional ideologies, including psychosocial orientation towards or away from neighbouring localities.
The principal aim of the project is to enhance our understanding of phonological levelling, diffusion and divergence by providing a descriptive and theoretical model which incorporates geographical, attitudinal and perceptual data whilst at the same time enriching our knowledge of phonological variation in an under-researched region of England.
The overarching objective is to
discover the roles of and
between linguistic and non-linguistic factors in accent levelling,
geographical diffusion and phonological divergence. To achieve this, we
will examine the varieties of English spoken in three localities in the
Merseyside region: Liverpool, arguably the most well-recognised and
stereotyped accent in the area, Skelmersdale, a new town which has been
subjected to migration from Liverpool, and St Helens, a smaller town
which, because of changes in country boundaries, is variably affiliated
with Merseyside and Lancashire. Our measurable objectives are:
1. To discover whether levelling, diffusion and divergence in phonological features is occurring across localities. Are the accents of the different localities converging? Are features of Liverpool English spreading to both localities in the hinterland? Or are the accents of different localities changing in distinct ways?
2. To discover which features are spreading and which are recessive. Is there evidence of innovation?
3. To discover the effect of geographical & subjective distance on speakers' adoption or avoidance of particular phonological features. How important is the physical distance between localities (mediated by e.g. transport networks), and the distance between the smaller localities and larger urban centre? How are speakers' accents influenced by their sense of place and psychosocial orientation towards or away from particular localities?
4. To evaluate experimentally the notion of 'salience', in terms of how well it can be used to predict which features are adopted and which avoided by speakers.
5. To find out whether particular phonological variables index aspects of speakers' regional and social identity. Do speakers use these variables in identifying where another speaker 'is from' and/or in recognising other social categories?
6. To find out how people's perceptions of particular phonological variables are affected by stereotypes. Do speakers' reactions to the same phonological variables change according to their expectations about particular speakers?