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LVLT talk: "An investigation of rhythm in London English" Eivind Torgersen & Anita Szakay

Date: 28 June 2010 Time: 1.00 pm

Venue: Phonetics Laboratory, County South C41

Language Variation and Linguistic Theory Research Group

Monday 28 June, 1pm

Phonetics Laboratory, County South C41

Eivind Torgersen (Lancaster University) & Anita Szakay (University of British Columbia)

Work on rhythm shows that dialect and language contact may lead to varieties of English becoming more syllable-timed (Szakay 2008). However, apart from examining reading passages in RP (Deterding 2001; Grabe & Low 2002), few studies have investigated rhythm in British English.

Existing work on London English has found innovation in inner city areas (Cheshire et al. 2008; Gabrielatos et al. 2010; Kerswill et al. 2008; Torgersen et al. under revision), most likely as the outcome of dialect contact. These innovations are shared by speakers of different ethnic backgrounds born in London, and have been identified as features of Multicultural London English (MLE).

We hypothesised that MLE speakers would also show suprasegmental innovations, having more syllable-timed rhythm than what has been reported for RP. Narratives as told by 30 inner London teenagers of different ethnic backgrounds, 8 elderly London speakers born between 1920 and 1935 and 4 London speakers born between 1874 and 1895 were extracted from sociolinguistic interviews. The speech was segmented into consonantal and vocalic elements by forced phonemic alignment (Yuan & Liberman 2008). All segmentation was then checked and corrected, and measurements of vocalic PVI (Grabe & Low 2002) were calculated.

The results show that speakers of non-Anglo backgrounds (born in London, but from immigrant families) are more syllable-timed than Anglo speakers (living in London for more than three generations), though the results are complex with effects of parents' language backgrounds. Additionally, the Anglo speakers were more syllable-timed than what has been found for RP and also more syllable-timed than the older speakers. This seems to be a combined effect of language contact and age. The results of the present study combined with work on other varieties reinforces the idea that the tendency for English to become more syllable-timed over time is a global phenomenon fuelled by language and dialect contact.

All welcome

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Who can attend: Anyone


Further information

Associated staff: Willem Hollmann, Paul Kerswill, Eivind Torgersen, Kevin Watson

Associated projects: Multicultural London English: the emergence, acquisition and diffusion of a new variety

Organising departments and research centres: Language Variation and Linguistic Theory (LVLT), Linguistics and English Language


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Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences
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