Journal of Linguistics


Local accents in England and Wales

J. C. Wellsa1

a1 Department of Phonetics, University College, London W.C.I

1. Dialectologists in England have concentrated on the speech of small and relatively isolated rural communities (see, for example, Orton and Dieth, 1962: Introduction, 14). Other linguists and phoneticians concerned with the English of England have almost without exception described Standard English and the form of pronunciation they call, using an established but less than happy term, ‘Received Pronunciation’ (Jones, 1967:xvii). Yet the English of most English (and English-speaking Welsh) people is neither RP Standard English nor a rural dialect. The vast mass of urban working-class and lower-middle-class speakers use a pronunciation nearer to RP, and lexical and grammatical forms much nearer to Standard English, than the archaic rural dialects recorded by the dialectologists. Yet their speech diverges in many ways from what is described as standard. The purpose of this article, which must be regarded as preliminary and tentative, is to sketch the principal phonetic variables among such local, mainly urban, forms of English.1 It is the task of anyone concerned with the description of these ‘accents’ of English to investigate whatever phonetic variables can be identified and to establish their correlation with the non-linguistic variables of age, social standing and education, and geographical provenance. (For discussion of some of the problems of urban dialectology, see particularly Wright, 1966.)

(Received January 02 1970)