Thursday, 8 December 2011

Multicultural London English - part 4

A apple, a orange and a change of rule



Researchers Jenny Cheshire, Paul Kerswill, Sue Fox and Eivind Torgersen report on the use of the indefinite article (a/an) and the definite article (the) before words beginning with a vowel. In standard English the forms are roughly a and thuh before a consonant e.g. a pear, ‘thuh’ pear, and an and thee before a vowel e.g. an apple, ‘thee’ apple. Older speakers in London conform to this standard English pattern. However, some recent studies have shown that young people in London are not varying their use of the article forms but are using the pre-consonant forms in both contexts i.e. a pear but also a apple and ‘thuh’ pear but also ‘thuh’ apple.

The results from the Multicultural London English study confirm this trend. There are, however, interesting differences between the ‘Anglo’ speakers (the term used for speakers of British origin whose families had lived in the area for two or more generations and roughly equivalent to ‘white British’) and ‘non-Anglo’ speakers (speakers whose families were of more recent immigrant background). For the Anglos there is a decrease in frequency of the new forms as they get older and the researchers say that this is due to them being exposed to more competition from the input they receive – the newer forms used by their non-Anglo peers against the standard forms of their caregivers (the Anglo caregivers hardly ever used the new forms). On the other hand, the non-Anglos of all ages have very high frequency rates for the new forms and this is consistent with other studies of contact varieties of English around the world, e.g. South African English, Singapore English and African American Vernacular English.

The researchers state that this is another feature of language change which has probably come about due to the language contact situation in London. The clear patterns shown by the results of this study suggest that the dominant variants in the ‘feature pool’ (see previous post Multicultural London English - part 1) are a and thuh which are used by the majority of the non-Anglo speakers. The evidence that these forms are influencing the speech of the Anglos is shown in the fact that  the young Anglos use the new forms much more than their caregivers.
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Cheshire, J., Kerswill, P., Fox, S. and Torgersen, E. 2011. Contact, the feature pool and the speech community: the Emergence of Multicultural London English. Journal of Sociolinguistics 15/2: 151-196.

DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-9841.2011.00478.x

This summary was written by Sue Fox


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