Showing posts with label History of English Language. Show all posts
Showing posts with label History of English Language. Show all posts

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Write a note on the English regional dialects in the British Isles

Dialect describes a language variety where a user's regional or social background appears in his or her use of vocabulary and grammar. English language is well known for its dialectical differences. In the past English people used only dialects. But with the rise of the Standard English now speakers are aware of both dialect and Standard equivalents. So, in addition to the educated standard in each major division of the English-speaking world there are local forms of the language known as regional dialects.

The presence of regional dialects is is a feature that characterizes the British English more than the English of the former British colonies where English is used as the first language. But in Great Britain the  dialectical differences are very great. They go back to the earliest period of the language and reflect conditions that prevailed at a time when travel was difficult and communication was limited between districts relatively close together. Even among the educated the speech of northern England differs considerably from that of the south. In words such as butter, cut, gull, and some the southern vowel [Λ] occurs in the north as [U], and in chaff, grass, and path the southern retracted vowel [a:] occurs as short [a] in northern dialects.

In the great Midland district one distinguishes an eastern variety and a western, as well as a central type lying between. But such a classification of the English dialects is sufficient only for purposes of a broad grouping. Every county has its own peculiarities, and sometimes as many as three dialectal regions may be distinguished within the boundaries of a single shire. This wide diversity of dialects is well illustrated by the materials published since 1962 in the Survey of English Dialects. In the six northern counties at least seventeen different vowels or diphthongs occur in the word house, including the [u:] of Old English hūs.

The dialect of southern Scotland is also a dialect that has rich literary and historical backgrounds. In origin it is a variety of Northern English, but down to the sixteenth century it occupied a position both in speech and in writing on a plane with English. In the time of Shakespeare, however, it began to be strongly influenced by Southern English. When in 1603 James VI of Scotland became the king of England as James I, and when by the Act of Union in 1707 Scotland was formally united to England, English was plainly felt to be standard, and Scots became definitely a dialect. During the eighteenth century it managed to maintain itself as a literary language through the work of Ramsay, Ferguson, and Robert Burns. Since then it has gradually lost ground. English is taught in the schools, and cultivation of English has, rightly or wrongly, been taken as the first test of culture.

Irish English, or Hiberno-English is also a dialect that has left its mark on the literary tradition, although in different ways at different periods. In the eighteenth century, “stage Irish” was a familiar convention for representing and often ridiculing Irish characters in plays written by English authors whose use of stereotypical linguistic features was not always accurate. In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Irish authors, especially Douglas Hyde (1860–1940), J.M.Synge (1871–1909), and W.B.Yeats (1865–1939), used selected features to give an Irish flavor to their works. In the twentieth century there has been a more realistic tradition, including the work of Sean O’Casey (1880–1964) and Brendan Behan (1923–1964) and the use by James Joyce (1882–1941) of carefully collected dialect phrases in Ulysses and Finnegans Wake. The distinctiveness of Irish English derives from a mixture of three sources: the influence of the Irish language; the influence of Scots, especially in the Northeast; and the nature of the original English that was brought to Ireland from western England in the seventeenth century and that has remained quite conservative compared with both RP and American English.

Syntactic structures in Hiberno-English often reflect the patterns of the Irish language. The present perfect and past perfect tenses of English (have got, had got), which have no equivalents in Irish, can be expressed using after, the verb to be, and the present participle: He said that he knew that I was after getting lost (“…that I had got lost”). Irish also does not have the equivalent of indirect questions introduced by if and
whether; instead of the declarative word order of Standard English, these sentences have the interrogative word order that is found in other varieties of English, including African American Vernacular English . He wanted to see would he get something to eat. The influence of the Irish prepositional system upon Hiberno-English is evident in the use of with instead of for meaning “for the duration of”: He’s dead now with many a year; He didn’t come back with twenty-eight years. The lack of an expression for no one in Irish, explains why anyone is used where no one is expected in Standard English: Anyone doesn’t go to mass there.

Thus, we see that there are a number of recognizable dialects in the British Isles that have significant literary and linguistic heritage.  


A History of the English Language. Baugh, Albert C., and Thomas Cable. 4th ed. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 1993.

What are the causes of the Uniformity of American English?

Though people from different geographical areas and ethnic groups settled in America, there is a uniformity in American English . The reasons for this uniformity have been discussed below.

Traditionally American is called a Salad Bowl and the most prominent characteristic of the occupation of the United States is the constant mingling of settlers from one part with settlers from other parts. Not only the English settlers, but also the French and German settlers also have this tendency.  Thus colonists from Massachusetts went north into Maine and New Hampshire and south into Rhode Island and Connecticut. Others moved from New England into New York, New Jersey, and colonies as far south as Georgia, as when a body from Dorchester in Massachusetts, known as the Dorchester Society, moved to Georgia in 1752.

Thus, due to this admixture of peoples the American society has become highly homogeneous. Linguistically the circumstances under which the American population spread over the country have had one important consequence in the fact that the English spoken in America shows a high degree of uniformity. Those who are familiar with the pronounced dialectal differences that mark the popular speech of different parts of England will know that there is nothing comparable to these differences in the United States.  Thus, being much more unsettled, and moving frequently from place to place, the Americans  are not so liable to local peculiarities either in accent or phraseology.

The merging of regional differences through the mixture of the population that has been described has been promoted since by a certain mobility that characterizes the American people. It has been said that it is unusual to find adult Americans living in the place in which they were born, and while this is an obvious exaggeration, it is nevertheless true that change of abode is distinctly common. Americans are so accustomed to distance that they disregard it.  So, the Americans share a feeling that tends to create an attitude of mind that may almost be said to diminish space.  

The Americans share an  instinct of conformity and the fact that they readily accept standardization in linguistic matters as in houses, automobiles, and other things.

Another factor that helped the American English gain a uniformity is the influence of Webster. Americans respect in language the authority of those who are supposed to know  it. So, the language of the Americans was influenced by Webster’s spelling book and Lindley Murray’s grammar. The  public education in America has been a constant influence in the uniformity of the American English.  

It is true that like any major language of the world American English also has some variations. There are at least nine varieties of American English which have enough coherence within themselves and distinction from other varieties, to warrant their description as separate dialects. But the variations are so negligible that the speakers of any dialect can easily understand the dialect of other groups. Thus,  compared to the  situation in European countries, such as France or Italy or even England, dialect differences in American English are relatively small.


A History of the English Language. Baugh, Albert C., and Thomas Cable. 4th ed. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 1993.

How were the English spellings reformed in the latter part of the nineteenth century?

In the latter part of the nineteenth century renewed interest was manifested in the problem of English spelling. For nearly 400 years the English have struggled with their spelling. It was one of the chief problems that seemed to confront the language in the time of Shakespeare , and it  continued to be an issue throughout the seventeenth and to some extent in the eighteenth century.

The publication in 1837 of a system of shorthand by Isaac Pitman led to his proposal of several plans of phonetic spelling for general use. In these schemes Pitman was assisted by Alexander J.Ellis, a much greater scholar. They were promoted during the 1840s by the publication of a periodical called the Phonotypic Journal, later changed to the Phonetic Journal. The Bible and numerous classic works were printed in the new spelling, and the movement aroused considerable public interest.

By 1870 the English Philological Society had taken up the question, and the Transactions contain numerous discussions of it. The discussion spread into the columns of the Academy and the Athenaeum. America became interested in the question, and in 1883 the American Philological Association recommended the adoption of a long list of new spellings approved jointly by it and the English society. Spelling Reform Associations were formed in both countries. In 1898 the National Education Association formally adopted for use in its publications twelve simplified spellings—tho, altho, thoro, thorofare, thru, thruout, program, catalog, prolog, decalog, demagog, and pedagog. Some of these have come into general use, but on the whole the public remained indifferent.

In 1906 there was organized in the United States a Simplified Spelling Board, supported by a contribution from Andrew Carnegie. Their first practical step was to publish a list of 300 words for which different spellings were in use (judgement—judgment, mediaeval—medieval, etc.) and to recommend the simpler form. This was a very moderate proposal and met with some favor. Theodore Roosevelt endorsed it. But it also met with opposition, and subsequent lists that went further were not well received. Newspapers, magazines, and book publishers continued to use the traditional orthography, and though the Simplified Spelling Board continued to issue from time to time its publication, Spelling, until 1931, its accomplishment was slight, and it eventually went out of existence.

The efforts that have been described produced only slender results,because many people opposed to any radical change in English spelling.  But the efforts were successful  in stimulating public interest for a time and gained the support of various people whose names carried weight.  It is probably safe to say that if English spelling is ever to be reformed, it must be reformed gradually and with as little disruption to the existing system as is consistent with the attainment of a reasonable end.


A History of the English Language. Baugh, Albert C., and Thomas Cable. 4th ed. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 1993.