Book Reviews: English Accents And Dialects

English Accents And Dialects:  An Introduction To Social And Regional Varieties Of English In The British Isles, by Arthur Hughes, Peter Trudgill, and Dominic Watt

Admittedly, I am a bit of a nerd when it comes to linguistics, as will probably surprise no one [1].  When I went to England in 1998, I had conversations with various people about what they thought about the various accents of England.  At the time, for example, I remember someone being very upset that an obviously native Scottish woman on BBC felt it necessary to affect a more refined accent.  Given my own complicated linguistic heritage, about which I may speak at greater length elsewhere, I am often intrigued in how different dialects are appreciated or stigmatized in other countries.  Of course, among other countries the British accent is among the most important to know given its wide familiarity within music and cinema and television.  This book was pretty surprising in just how in depth its materials were.  I was pleasantly surprised with the materials this book had to offer even if it was not quite as new a book as I had expected it to be.

In terms of its contents, this book has two interrelated sets of content.  The main area of interest, at least initially, will be the book.  It should be noted as well, however, that this book includes a cd that the book refers to often that gives audio examples of speakers of various regional dialects (including word lists as well as recorded conversations).  The book itself begins with various introductory material and then discusses variation in English, dialect variation, received pronunciation, regional accent variation, and then spends about half of the book giving examples of sixteen British Isles accents and dialects:  London, Norwich, Bristol, South Wales (Pontypridd), West Midlands, Leicester, Bradford, Liverpool, Edinburgh, Aberdeen, Belfast, Dublin, Galway, Devon, Northumberland, and Lowland Scots, before closing with suggestions for using the book and some helpful tips on further reading.  The book is full of charts showing the distinct variations within and between dialects and takes an approach that avoids stigmatizing regional dialects.  For those familiar with the debates about language, this book takes a strongly descriptivist rather than prescriptionist approach.  Whether or not you appreciate that approach will determine how much you really enjoy this book or not.

This book is written for a specific audience, and upon looking at this book even a little you will likely have some idea whether you are a part of that intended audience or not.  Do you enjoy reading books about linguistics that deal with shifts in vowel sounds and other forms of vocalization?  Are you okay with books that fail to label the increased use of glottal stops in a negative fashion?  Are you okay with not only reading a book on linguistics, but in reading a book which contains materials going back to the seventies?  This is by no means an up-to-date account, in other words.  Still, if what I have described sounds interesting to you, and a picture of British English in a great deal of its linguistic diversity in the early 1980’s sounds like it would be fun, then by all means I heartily recommend this book at least for those who already have some sort of curiosity about its contents. At under 200 pages this is not a book that takes very long to read, and so those who have an interest in what it has to say about the shifts of language and the persistence of variation in dialect will find much to enjoy and think about here.

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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5 Responses to Book Reviews: English Accents And Dialects

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