Farewell to King’s English? Traditional accents ‘on the decline’

A study has found that traditional accents in the south of England are being replaced by emerging contemporary accents.

The research found that accents in the region are fluid and varied, forming diverse clusters with unique pronunciation patterns.

The study suggests that accents are not merely about pronunciation; they carry significant information about a speaker’s identity and social affiliations, such as ethnicity and gender. Such social influences are complex and not always easily predictable.

The study discovered fluid boundaries in accents, where features were shared across different accent groups, illustrating their dynamic nature.

Machine learning played a pivotal role in this research, offering new insights by highlighting subtle variations and interconnections within accents.

Researchers at Essex University analysed the voices of 193 people aged 18 to 33.

A computer algorithm was employed to “listen” to the pronunciation of vowels, categorising the speech patterns into distinct accents.

The findings displayed a decline in the prominence of the King’s English or Received Pronunciation, and Cockney accents among the participants.

The study found three prevailing accents: Standard Southern British English (SSBE), similar to the accent of Ellie Goulding or Prince Harry; Estuary English, a more muted accent sharing similarities with Cockney, exemplified by speakers like Adele; and Multicultural London English, a vibrant, contemporary accent articulated by individuals like Stormzy.

SSBE, encompassing 49 per cent of the participant’s speech, is perceived as a modern rendition of received pronunciation, holding a “neutral” sound quality.

Estuary English, spoken by around 26 per cent of participants, merges elements of received pronunciation with certain qualities of Cockney.

Multicultural London English, a rich blend of diverse linguistic influences, was spoken by 25 per cent of the surveyed individuals, often intertwining elements from various languages and dialects, reflecting the multicultural fabric of modern London.

Dr Amanda Cole, who led the study, emphasised the role of societal evolution, increased mobility, and universal education in fostering this linguistic transformation.

“Attempting to prevent accents from changing is like sweeping back an incoming tide with a broom – fruitless and defying nature. Instead, we should embrace linguistic diversity, work to combat ‘accentism’ (discrimination based on a person’s accent), and accept that accents will always continue to change,” Dr Cole said.

She highlighted the phenomenon of ‘dialect levelling’, where increased interaction and the blending of dialects have cultivated a sense of linguistic uniformity among the youth, as opposed to the distinctive accents held by preceding generations.

Updated: October 31, 2023, 2:40 PM

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